If I offer everything but grace to those I love most deeply,
we will all be found wanting.
Grace is a concept I can hardly wrap my heart around. As the day was coming to a close a few weeks ago, I experienced something as a parent that helped me understand it all more.
The day had been full. Too full, probably. The boys and I were all tired. After tending to my two youngest I found my eldest in bed and in tears. I had no idea why he was upset. My impulse that evening was to be tired and frustrated (because I was) and to silence his sorrow with, I don’t know what’s wrong but you’re tired; just get your pj’s on, brush your teeth and get back in bed. It’s what I wanted to say (and unfortunately, what I most often say on nights like that). But as I noticed his almost-too-big-for-the-bunk-bed-body stretched out, something led me to consider how long it had been since I had taken a few minutes to just be all his. To be whatever he needed, whatever ear he needed, whatever comfort he needed, whatever guidance he needed. To set aside my stressed out and tired self and just be present with that young but growing boy.
Within moments Aedan began to tell me of his disappointments of that day. Of working hard at something he cared about for so long and failing at it. Of regretting not having gone about it another way. Of effort and time spent with nothing to show for it but to start over again some other day. And while those experiences were those of a 10 year old, with passions and a mind fit for his age, I knew how he felt. His issue may have seemed small in the grand scheme of things (even he knew that), but the reality is he’ll face those same battles for the rest of his life. It won’t be the last time he works hard at something and fails, wondering what the point of it all was and wondering if he even cares to try again.
What came next was something I wasn’t expecting. It was his words of confession having to do with issues unrelated to what we had been talking about, of household rules that he had been breaking for weeks. I had been curious if those rules weren’t being broken by him in times past, but I knew that trust between two people has to be built deep within their hearts and souls, so I opted to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what came of it. Plus, I know my Aedan. I knew if he was being dishonest with me that he’d one day find that he couldn’t hold that burden–it’s just how God has wired him. But as he broke down in tears and confessed all that he had been deceitful about, my heart’s response was one of complete gladness and joy. I realized in that moment that to receive a confession from him, rather than having to confront him on it, leads to two completely different experiences. I honestly had nothing to offer the boy but grace. I do wish I were made more of grace; my bent is to be harder on the boys sometimes than I want to be. This moment, though, was beautiful and not of our own doing. The Holy Spirit had worked conviction and repentance in him and was working His grace in and through me.
Aedan went to sleep in peace that night and I couldn’t get my mind off the experience. I couldn’t help but consider that the delight I had felt in those moments as a parent was but a fraction of what God must feel when we come to Him with our sorrows and sin. I began to wonder if I’d mindlessly come to believe that God’s forgiveness and comfort for me had become His dutiful obligation, lacking in affection. Perhaps I’d thought that while the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross bore evidence to the extent of God’s love for His children, was the sacrifice so great that it diminished God’s ability to delight in us? I don’t know why I would believe this except that sometimes parenting in this fallen world feels more like duty and less like delight. When my affection for my boys feels dimmed I assume that God must feel the same way towards me. It’s much too easy to project my parenting experiences upon God. Though our parent/child relationships may at times mirror how God loves us, they are never to define God’s love for us, for our love is marred — His is not.
It was clearly faulty thinking, for I realized that even in my weariest moments as a parent I don’t love my boys purely out of dutiful obligation; I love them because they’re mine. I always long for them to be whole and glad and full of life. And when all hindrances (fatigue, stress, fear, etc.) are removed from my life and heart as a parent, there is revealed at the core nothing but pure delight for my boys. And then to understand that God delights not only in us, but because of us, was a connection I’d yet to drink deeply of. That when we come to Him with our repentant or sorrowed hearts His heart is actually made glad. And when all hindrances (sin, pride, fear, etc.) are put aside as a child of God, I am able to see that there is nothing left but His delight for me. Maybe that’s what God meant when He said that sacrifice is not what He desires, but a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He delights in us not only being called His children but He also experiences delight as we are in the process of being made righteous. He loves us, even now, because we’re His. And His grace bestowed upon us is not out of duty but out of pure delight.
Grace does not just change the person who receives it,
it makes glad the person who is offering it.