When I was a little girl, I was told a story about grace. It went something like this...
God made a perfect world, but we humans are sorry, ungrateful creatures. We disobeyed God. In fact, we made such a mess of things that we can't even be near Him. Then Jesus, His Son, said "Look, how about I go down there and live a perfect life, then die for their sins? That way, when you look at them you'll see me instead." To which God huffed a resentful "Fine". So Jesus did just that, and if we believe in Him, He'll save us from God’s wrath. The End.
Amazing Grace, how ... sweet? the sound...
Granted, over the years - as I was introduced to various theological interpretations - my understanding of grace grew more sophisticated, but one core truth always remained: God didn't like me very much. He had no choice but to love me, but if it weren't for that deal He made with Jesus, nothing would make him happier than to drop me into a pit of burning flame (courtesy of Jonathan Edwards).
There's a problem with this story. Well, there are a lot of problems with this story, but the biggest one is this - it doesn't work. When you really need saving, this grace is too small.
In 2002 we moved a 3 year old, 2 year old, and 2 week old from my home state of Virginia, to Charlotte. Just months before, our oldest had been diagnosed with autism, so before I’d even had a chance figure out how to get to the grocery store, I jumped into specialists' appointments and IEP meetings. What we didn't know at the time was that I was also physically sick. All I knew was that I felt completely inadequate. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. And eventually, Hopeless ... Ashamed ... Depressed.
I needed saving - not from hell after I die, or from some theological abstraction we call "sin". I needed grace to get out of the bed in the morning, to put food into my mouth and swallow it, to smile at my husband, to not scream at my children ... to keep breathing.
I needed saving in the worst way.
What saved me wasn't the grace of a cosmic legal transaction or a magic prayer of conversion. I was saved - I am being saved - by a simple but profound truth. I am dearly loved. Extravagantly, immensely loved. Freedom came in renouncing lies I'd agreed to and rejecting ugly pictures of God painted for me by others, and instead daring to embrace what I'd longed to believe all along: God is Love. And God loves us. All.
This is what is saving me today: recognizing that Grace is Light, Love, Power from an ultimate source of Good that never runs dry, available to me at every moment. Grace is the sun on my face, the wind in the trees – grace is the air I’m breathing in right now, then back out again as I speak these very words. Grace is a force that literally changes the world. Jesus LIVED grace, and invites me to do the same.
This is often harder to believe than the story I'd been told as a child. As far-fetched as that one sometimes sounds, it’s neat - wrapped up and clean. THIS grace? It's scandalous! And the more I grow in it, the more confused I become about what I know for sure and what I don't. So I try to stick to what I DO know: Breathe. Walk. Love. Pass what has been given me on to others.
As I do, I continue to be awed by the sweet sound ... of amazing grace.