The girls had a tussle the other day, one that I could hear building in the dining room as I was making dinner in the kitchen.
Katie, ever the big sister, was attempting to get Abby to go along with her game, giving commands with increasing urgency and frustration.
Abby, the quintessential little sister, was blithely ignoring her.
I looked up to see Katie manhandling her sister, both arms wrapped around her middle as she pulled her off of her chair.
“I am showing you so much grace right now,” she said through gritted teeth.
Which brought two thoughts to mind:
I am, apparently, not modeling the use of that phrase especially well (which begs the question: is there a good way to use that phrase?),
She has about as good a (mis)understanding of grace as I do.
More often than not, this parenting thing feels like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of endeavor, one where I am unceasingly praying (literally) for divine intervention (again, literally) to protect us all from disaster (and a third time, literally).
I feel the constant tug-of-war between my kids’ need for consistency and their need for grace, the uncertainty of whether this particular infraction calls for firm boundaries or for a little give.
I desperately want to get this thing right.
And so, when I’m unsure, I have a tendency that comes from good desires but maybe doesn’t play out how I expect it to play out: I tell them when they’re getting off light.
“I’m showing you grace right now,” I say.
Which didn’t seem like such a bad idea until I heard my words in the mouth of my girl.
To be fair, I don’t say those words through gritted teeth – or at least, I don’t think I do.
And yet, I wonder if I am giving her a good picture of grace. Am I pointing her to a Father, lavish in love, eager to pick us up and dust us off, longing to offer us His peace and His joy and His presence?
Or is what she sees something held out stingily, reluctantly, with a closed fist and muttered words, with the deserved consequence hanging heavily in the air?
Here’s the thing about grace, the thing I so often forget in my own stumbling walk:
Grace is transformation, not transaction. It is not a little leeway in exchange for modified behavior, a slap on the wrist in exchange for a new direction. It isn’t a threat: this is what you should have gotten, what you will get next time if you don’t shape up.
Grace is offered freely, abundantly, in the hopes that the recipient will change – not because you’re buying that change, but because the riches of kindness and forbearance and patience work deep in a person’s heart and soul and lead them to repentance.
Grace never comes from a place of fear of from a desire to control. It always, always, always flows from love.
It’s that last bit that I’ve gotten wrong.
More often than not, when I say, “I’m showing you grace right now,” it stems from this fear that, if I don’t let her know how she transgressed, if I don’t remind her of the consequence she deserves, she’ll think she’s getting away with something.
And you know what? Maybe she will. She’s five.
But, in the midst of my own imperfect attempts to model the Father’s love, even as I relax boundaries that should remain firm and hold lines that should give, my hope is that I will somehow, still, manage to point her toward the perfect parent.
I pray that, in spite of my failures, she will catch a glimpse of the divine love that will not let her go, of the One who demonstrates what it truly looks like to offer grace.
That we both will.