Today I want to talk to my daughters about grace. I almost don't like the term grace because its many definitions render it a poor communication tool. In Christian theological circles, grace is considered unearned favor in the proverbial eyes of God. But that's not the kind of grace I'm concerned with here, although it is similar. Instead I'd like to make a case for human grace, or good will, as a default position to take towards others. And not only that, but even into areas where someone has provoked an attack on you with ineptitude or outright foolishness.
I think the best way for me to make a case for this is to reflect on two events in my past. One in which I was badgered into showing grace against my will, and the other in which I was shown grace I had clearly not earned.
I don't remember the specific occasion, but one night in my early college years I was out with my close friends having dinner in a really crappy seafood restaurant. Our waitress sucked. I mean SUCKED. It took her forever to take our orders. When she finally took them, we waited an eternity for our drinks. When we finally got our drinks, she didn't return to the table the rest of the night. After an excruciating wait some other servers came and delivered our food. Naturally, I was hacked off. I wanted to go back into kitchen and get my own refill, a statement I've made before with delicious satisfaction, but my friends had me trapped in the booth.
Eventually we finished our dinner and got up to leave. I took great pleasure in keeping my tip but that wasn't enough to satisfy me completely. I was going to go and fetch our sorry, good for nothing waitress AND her manager and chew them both out. I was notorious for being an ass. Well, my friend Ginger wouldn't let me. She kept pushing back and saying not to worry about it and everyone has bad nights and blah blah blah. Ginger is one of these frustratingly nice people. Too nice sometimes. For whatever reason I let it go and we all filed out of the restaurant. Ginger was last.
I remember waiting in the parking lot and Ginger took her time coming out to rejoin the group. Finally she did, she had recognized the hostess as a friend and she stopped to mention our lousy service. The hostess told Ginger that our server had been raped earlier in the week and the only reason she was at work was because she was trying to get her mind off of things.
And the Tool of the Year Award goes too...
Fast forward a year. I'm working my first serving gig at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. I've been doing it long enough to feel pretty comfortable carrying around big trays of food and beverage. My customers are seated and looking over the menu. I take drink orders and return with a pot of piping hot coffee. I'm doing it right, you know? I have a circular tray in one hand and the other is firmly griping the pot's handle. I reach out and pour two cups and as I return the pot to my tray, it lands wrong and begins to wobble. I tighten my grip and clasp the pot and tray together, and thankfully I don't drop the pot.
As it were.
My violent over-correction causes a huge splash of steaming hot coffee to arch out of the pot and down onto my customer's newborn baby's face.
The dining room stands still.
The other patrons, and my coworkers, watch in hushed tones as the young parents interlace soothing the screaming infant with assessing the damage. I don't remember one word I said, or even if I said any. I just remember standing there feeling this... this... indescribable feeling in my chest. Eventually I get an unimpeded view of the multiple, large red blotches swelling up on the baby's forehead and cheek.
I've heard it said that the dominant thing in a person's heart is what will come out when they are squeezed. This young father, whose kid I had just burned, never gave me so much as a harsh word. He could have come back and found me any day after that for months and he didn't. I'm sure some of it had to do with him being more concerned with his child than me and my incompetence, but that only goes so far I think.
Sydney and Savannah,
This world is a messed up place. Some people have been chewed up and spit out. Some are merely careless and irresponsible. My hope for you both is that your gut reaction is to extend good will, in the form of patience and understanding, during the significant and mundane moments of your life.
I'm not asking you to be doormats. In fact, in matters of premeditation, or where you've been deceived, I expect the opposite. I want you to be shrewd and uncharitable. In these matters err on the side of justice and firm boundaries.
I used to think the path of least regrets for me was one in which I let justice rule the day. I used to think I was obligated to hold others accountable for their actions no matter what. I no longer believe that. Now I feel more obligated to choose grace over justice, even at times when it might seem unwise. By justice and by grace I have grown as a man. Both are appropriate in different circumstances. But only one can be the default position.
I choose grace.
Have any of you had occasion to give or receive grace? Do you have regrets in either direction?