Today I was thinking about grace. Grace sounds so nice. It brings images to mind like a graceful flower or a swan. Beautiful, peaceful, gentle, natural.
In the dictionary, I found some interesting definitions here. Grace is a deep word. I’ve heard it defined as unmerited favor. The word can be what a king does when he visits a peasant. It can mean approval, favor, mercy, or pardon. It can mean “sense of propriety or right,” which seems to contradict some of the other definitions. Our Sunday school teacher in Spokane keeps saying that grace is scandelous. It doesn’t seem right. It’s unnatural.
In my observation, grace is hard. It’s costly and active. It demands tremendous self-sacrifice to bestow unmerited favor. It’s unfair.
This got me thinking about my experience with grace, especially as it relates to conflict. When my siblings and I were kids, we were great at getting underneath one another’s skin. Allison and I are the closest in age, and had the most run-ins. She was always a lot cooler than me and although 13 months younger she was always socially a step ahead. I remember several instances when it went like this:
She did something that hurt my feelings.
I could have chosen, at this point, to respond with grace.
However, I responded naturally, and got angry. Acting on that anger, my fists started flying. I was always a lot bigger and was also a good fighter, so the physical odds were decidedly in my favor.
The circumstances, however, were not. The one who gets in trouble when a fight starts is almost always the big one who is punching, no matter what the little one did to deserve it.
I have a vague memory of my mom making me apologize while I was still seeing red. Imagine her holding me back so I couldn’t continue the physical onslaught.
Mom: “Laura, apologize to your sister.”
Laura (spitting the words): “I’m sorry.”
Allison: “Mom, she didn’t mean it!”
Mom: “Laura, you know how we do this in our family. Look her in the EYES, say you’re sorry, and ask her to forgive you.”
OH the pain of that moment! Trying to make myself apologize was swimming against the current of every emotion in me. Sure, I knew I shouldn’t have been beating my sister up. But from my perspective, she totally deserved it! I had reacted in the only way I knew I could win. In my eyes, I was justified.
If I apologize, doesn’t she get off scot-free for what she did to me? Worse, to ask for forgiveness was to ask her to be gracious to me. Maybe she would see that as weakness and use it against me. Still, I knew I wasn’t going to get out of the situation until I did an unnatural thing: apologize.
Breathe. Stop looking at your feet. Just get it over with.
Laura (pushing out the words while trying to make eye contact with her smug opponent): “I’m sorry. (Long pause, breathe, breathe, breathe.) Will you forgive me?”
Mom: “Allison, tell her you forgive her.”
Allison (reluctantly, and looking a little less smug): “I forgive you.”
Although somewhat forced, she did grant me favor with those words.
In that feeling of swimming upstream against my emotions, I was learning some big lessons. I felt I had the right to make her pay. She hurt me, and how else could I convey how hurt I was other than to show her what hurt feels like? Still, I wasn’t right to make her pay. In hindsight here is no way I could have punished her fairly. You may think that my reaction was disproportionate to her crime. But it certainly wasn’t to me!
The Bible has a lot of unnatural commands regarding dealing with conflict. This one comes to mind today:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”