Tomorrow morning I'll be heading to a jail an hour away to visit a guy who's been in and out of jail since he was a teenager. He's probably in his thirties now, and in all these years, he hasn't been able to figure out how to follow the law. He's like so many of my clients. Many times they have no family support--not a single person they can ask to write a letter of recommendation or support before sentencing. Many times they have mental health issues that prevent them from living productive, healthy, love-filled lives. Many times they break the law because their culture tells them to or because it's the only thing they know to do.
Society doesn't agree on much, but almost everyone wants to send these criminals away forever. If you read my local newspaper, after every crime-related story, there are comments flippantly calling the community to banish them forever. An occasional commenter will challenge the cost and result of incarceration, but on the whole, we'd like them to get out of our backyard and as far away as possible.
It's a simple word, but it's oh, so hard to practice. It's the art of acknowledging that a wrong has been committed but forgiving and moving on as if it had never happened. It's the act of choosing to believe that in the future the person will not reoffend. It's believing that change is possible, and believing that a person's hurtful actions in this situation are not the sum of all that they are, but a reflection of the brokenness that we all share.
And although we could never practice only grace without judgment in our society, we are called to have grace as followers of Jesus--because he gives us grace each and every day. And I'd venture to say that it's one thing that, when actually present in a community of believers, sets it apart from other communities.
It was the grace of my local community that first began to plant and water the seeds of faith in a friend's life. As she reflects on her journey, she points to our interactions and explains that they challenged and ultimately changed her. It is grace that I struggle to find in my relationships with people who don't follow Jesus--grace for when I can't pick up the phone or when I say something wrong or when I simply fail to be the kind of person I want to be or that I'm called to be.
It's grace that, when offered to another person along with personal vulnerability allows a deep and lasting friendship to form. It's grace that calls people into the heart of God, and makes us believe that it's even possible to find grace there from him. If we can learn to receive grace from those around us, we are one step closer to receiving it from God. And since it is by grace we are saved through faith, that's a lesson that we all have to learn.
How can you show grace to those in your spiritual community? How can you show grace to those in the world around you? How might you be an instrument of grace in the darker places of the world--like jails and hospitals and nursing homes?