The Tight Rope of Grace
The tweet read: “It would probably enrage my kids to know much of this parenting stuff I am making up as I go along.” Like most tweets, there was a story behind it that, honestly, I can’t remember. It almost certainly goes like this: one of my three kids was either doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing or not doing something that they were supposed to be doing. The details aren’t important. All that really matters is that I was doing my darnedest to change behavior and was flying by the seat of my pants in determining the response that would best yield the desired result.
If my kids have taught me anything, it’s that everything is really subjective. I’ve lost my temper over tiny, insignificant stuff. I’ve kept my cool in the face of tremendous disobedience. But most of the time, I find myself trying to figure out how to respond. When your kid falls down and gets hurt while running around the house, all you want to do is say, “see, I told you that if you ran around the house you’d get hurt.” But, there are hurts to fix and tears to stop so all you can really do is give them a hug and try to make it better.
Parenting, more often than not, seems like a great intellectual exercise of determining when to respond with consequence and when to respond with grace. I have to think that, as God is our eternal father, this explains a lot of the “confusing” parts of the bible. Luckily for you and me…He finally landed on grace.
Over the past week, I’ve had quite a few conversations about grace. It all started last week, when, huddled in our favorite booth at a local Starbucks, a friend admitted, “I wish I had a better appreciation of grace.”
Initially, the statement took me off guard. “What do you mean?” I asked.
He told me about a Protestant friend of his who talked quite a bit about the grace of Christ. “It just seems like that’s all he has to do, just appreciate and enjoy the grace of Christ” my friend said, “and I feel like I don’t do enough of that.”
His statement kind of struck me between the eyes. I remember my days as a Protestant, standing in lively worship services with the music swirling around me and emotions rising, feeling a deep appreciation and joy for the grace of God through his son Jesus Christ. My friend’s statement was disarming because it caused me to think, “have I lost that appreciation and joy?”
In subsequent conversations, I’ve asked others, “Do Protestants appreciate grace more than Catholics?” In other words, are we, as Catholics, so focused on pursuing the “spiritual life” and being changed that we forget to stop and just revel in the fact that, ultimately, despite all of our shortcomings and failures, Jesus has already paid the price for our salvation?
It seems to me that our relationship with grace, as Christians, Catholic or Protestant, is a bit like walking a tight rope. On one side of the tight rope is the tendency to sit back and say, “Jesus Christ has paid the price,” and to stop pursuing holiness and sanctification in this life. On the other side is the temptation to focus so much on “working out our salvation” that we try to wrestle the saving act out of the hands of Jesus and take it upon ourselves. Whether you fall off the tight rope on one side or the other, the end result is the same.
As Catholics, perhaps our perceptions of grace fall victim to the fact that “grace” itself is not a buzz word that we use all of the time. It’s not something we just talk about, it something we participate in by seeking it out in the sacramental celebrations of the church, which themselves are visible signs of the invisible grace that Christ has won for his bride.
In these sacraments is mystery, beauty, glory and grace. It’s easy to forget that and just go through the motions. But, the key to “enjoying” the grace of Christ is participating in the life of the Church and being transformed, through each sacramental act, into a follower more like our Master.