Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness

I learn from my kids every day, sometimes deep and wonderful things, sometimes things that are a bit unsettling.
Recently I've had the kids give me such a good lesson in mercy that I want to share it.  This actually happened twice with different children involved, within the past few weeks. I'll relate one instance for you.

Jonny has a beloved toy, a metal Elmo lunchbox.  He frequently has it packed full of any number of treasures and totes it around.  On the day in question, he was actually using as a lunchbox and had, among other items, a large apple.  All things combined gave the box a bit of heft.  Which was all just fine until he, for some reason, swung it at Joy's head and connected.  She got a pretty good whomp on the had and was crying a bit. As part of his consequence, I took away his Elmo lunchbox.  Soon his cries joined hers.  A few minutes later, two teary children appeared in my doorway, her arms around her attacker, Joy interceded for leniency on his behalf.  "Please Mommy, don't take his lunchbox for a whole day, He loves his Elmo."  I replied, "Joy, he hit you with it, on purpose, and hurt you. Of course I have to punish him for that."   "I know mommy," she said, "but he's sorry, I'm sure he is."

Wow.  Instead of demanding justice and the fullest extent of the law brought down on the head of the one who had hurt her, Joy was shining a lesson in grace and forgiveness to me.  On her behalf, I did decide to extend mercy to the offender and gave him his Elmo Lunchbox back after a 20 minute "time-out" rather than the overnight I had planned on. 

Of all people, I know that justice is necessary and in fact, I'm quite fond of it.  I am very weak in the area of grace and often find it hard to give grace to others; I'm a no-nonsense, not-longsuffering-for-foolishness kind of person.  

There have been a few instances recently that have hurt my heart as I witnessed them, strident justice, untempered with Godly grace and mercy, laid upon people who admittedly did wrong.  It is hard to understand how we as Christians who have been the recipients of boundless grace and mercy, can so easily forget how much we have been forgiven and be so eager to bring down justice on the heads of those who offend us. 

Again, I'm not advocating that we NEVER seek justice, but I wonder if we have so thoroughly convinced ourselves that "God is a God of justice, sin must be stopped!" that we have forgotten that Jesus repeatedly told us not to be surprised if people hate us and do wrong to us, that he told us to turn the other cheek and give our cloak.  

Looking at the scenes that played out between my children, I think I understand why a little better.  It's not because we as Christ-followers are supposed to be mealy-mouthed door mats, no.
It is because there is nothing like the experience of having someone whom you offended/hurt turn and intercede on your behalf, to bring a small ray of understanding of exactly what Jesus did for us to the lost heart of someone who has not yet understood mercy and grace.  Perhaps our mercy and grace and forgiveness is meant to be an object lesson that will pierce the heart of our offender. 
What if mercy and grace were our first reaction rather than something we are reluctantly driven to?  What if even when legal justice has been meted out we chose to pour out personal grace and mercy on those who offended us? 

This is a personal challenge that the Lord has shown to me through the gentle hearts of my children, not a sermon given from a place of having already arrived.   All I can say is that the change in the heart of child who was being punished when the "victim" asked me to show mercy was something that pure justice could never bring about. It spoke to my heart and revealed things to me that have always bothered me about those "turn the other cheek" teachings. 

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