October 11, 2010
Putting Grace in Its Place
Beth Webb Hart, She Reads Featured Author
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5: 6-7 (NIV)
I came face to face with grace in the wee hours of a summer night at the tender age of eighteen. I had just returned home from my first year of college, and after making a series of bad and destructive decisions, I could barely stand to be in my own skin. My mother, a new Christian, sensed my despair, and she sat me down late one night when the house was quiet and insisted that I tell her what was wrong.
Weary and depressed, I told her everything - all of my wrong-doings and the darkness which was consuming my heart as a result. She cried as any mother would. And I cried because I was ashamed and sorry, and I knew there was nothing I could do to turn back the clock and make things right. When the last tissue was frayed to bits, I looked up expecting her to write me off for good. It was certainly what I deserved. However, when our eyes met, her face softened, and she straightened up and said, "Jesus loves you, and He forgives you." Then she walked across the room, embraced me and added, "And so do I."
Grace. There it was. In an instant I felt the full weight of the truth proclaimed on the church marquee signs along the southern back roads of my childhood: "Jesus Saves," "Washed in the blood," and "There is a Redeemer." Jesus had sacrificed His life, not while I (or the rest of mankind) were well-behaved girls and boys, but while we were downright bad ones. Imagine.
"Thank you," I prayed as I stepped into the light. I could almost feel the rewiring of my heart, the restoration of my soul and the redirection of my very life.
Now it has been more than twenty years since that summer night, and I sometimes I wonder if I extend grace more often than not to the people around me. Do I keep a list of grievances against those who have hurt me? Do I habitually tally the debts I'm owed in terms of my time, my money and my service? Do I give family, friends and even that stranger on the city street who zips into the parking place I've been waiting patiently for (with my blinker on, I might add) the benefit of the doubt? How I wish I could say the answer was yes.
In my new novel, Love, Charleston, three tight-knit cousins in their late thirties find themselves living lives far different than the ones they daydreamed about as young girls growing up together in downtown Charleston. Anne, a bell ringer at a historic church, has never found love while Lish, a successful doctor, is blind-sided by an illness just as her husband's affection begins to wane. Lastly there is Della, a struggling writer, who begins to doubt the simple scrape-by life she and her sculptor spouse have chosen. It takes a miracle of grace to provide a joyful ending for these three Charleston women, and the resolution does not come without a willingness to reach out and love each other in the midst of the tough times.
Here are the questions my characters (and I) continually ask ourselves: How can we put grace in its proper place? How can it form the foundation of our everyday actions? How can we keep it in our very bones so that we don't wind up like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 who throws a debtor into jail just moments after the merciful king has cancelled his debts and set him free?
Dear Lord, thank You for loving me while I was a sinner. Help me not to grow numb to Your sacrifice, and show me how to extend Your grace to others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Visit She Reads for a chance to win a beautiful St. Michael's Gates necklace, the children's book Of Mice and Bells, and copies of Beth's new novel Love, Charleston.
Think of the person in your life who could never pay you back for a nice lunch or dinner. Prepare a lovely meal and invite them over.
Think of someone who has hurt or insulted you over the last year. Do something kind for them.
Do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that your good works keep you in good standing with God? Why must you get rid of this notion in order to fully receive His love?
Look around. Whose life appears to be a mess? Also, whose life seems picture perfect by the world's standards? Could a little unmerited favor and love set both of these folks free?
John 15:12, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." (NIV)
Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (NIV)
Matthew 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (NIV)
© 2010 by Beth Webb Hart. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
616-G Matthews-Mint Hill Road
Matthews, NC 28105