…and we were by nature children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved— … (Ephesians 2:3b-5)
I have seen it for myself. I have seen the power of this amazing grace work wonders in people’s lives. Not often enough, I’m sad to say, for too much of the time you and I choose the fleeting satisfaction of living as ‘children of wrath,’ as the words of Ephesians have it today. Why this is, I cannot quite see, for once you have witnessed the power of grace, there would seem to be no other choice. I have seen the other though, and for one who has seen or experienced this, there is no turning back.
This is how it was. I was called into a hospital room to visit someone I knew only a little. Once we exchanged pleasantries, I asked how she was. Lying flat on her back in a hospital bed, being sustained by oxygen and iv fluids, her face crumpled. I thought she was about to speak of her physical illness. Instead, she spoke of a lifetime of regret. Of deep grief. And of her resulting despair.
I did not know then and I do not know now all the details. I know I struggled some for what to say for even then it was clear that the fault was not all, nor even primarily, hers. Even so, I spoke of God not letting go, of God never letting go. I spoke the truth that there is nothing God cannot, nothing God will not forgive. I offered absolution. I offered prayer. And I went home with a heavy heart.
Late the next day I returned to this. She was sitting up in a chair. She was off the oxygen. The iv’s were taken away. And she was smiling.
No doubt she was smiling because she was better. The antibiotics had finally done their work and the oxygen was no longer necessary. It was more than that though. For she spoke of a burden having been lifted and she spoke with energy and hope as to what lay before her now. Did words of grace and forgiveness heal her? I don’t know for sure, but perhaps they did. For we know that mind, body, and spirit are of a unity, don’t we? I have certainly seen the opposite where anger and bitterness just eat people up from the inside out. And while I don’t doubt there is a long ways for her to go, either way? In my many years as a pastor, I had not ever seen anything quite like it. I went home with a lighter heart than I had experienced in a long time.
And then not long after I saw it again. This time I was not the conduit for grace at all, just a witness to it. I was planning a funeral with a family and it was quickly evident that the adult children were in very different places. Their mother had lived a hard, hard life. She was as tough as she could be, according to those who survived her, but she was wounded and she wounded others in turn. Even so, her daughter smiled through her tears. She spoke of how her mother forgave her over and over again. It was clear that at least one of her brothers had not had the same experience. Maybe he had simply been hurt in different ways. Whatever was so, you could see in his demeanor the truth that he had somehow not known grace and that, in turn, he was also not able to extend it. He had been cut off from his mother for some time and he had seen to it that his children were as well. At the same time, he showed up in the last weeks of his mother’s illness. And, in addition to his residual pain, he was able to speak of the good she had done for him and his siblings. So perhaps this powerful grace which sets us free will find a way. I pray that it does.
I don’t know if you have seen this powerful grace have its way. I don’t know if you have experienced it for yourself, but I pray that you have. In your life. In your ministry. For in this broken world, it may well be the only viable path forward which we have left.
I wonder what it would look like if in our places of living and serving we simply told and listened to stories of ‘this powerful grace’ this week. Do you suppose that might open the way for more and more of the same? And can you imagine that perhaps then we might all find ourselves standing up a little taller with greater hope for what remains before us in this life and in the next?
Wouldn’t that be something to see? Indeed, might that not just change everything?
- What stories of ‘powerful grace’ have shaped your life? Your ministry?
- When have you seen someone turn from their former life as a ‘child of wrath’ to a new life where the old resentments and guilt and hurts are cast aside?
- What difference might it make if we simply told these stories of ‘powerful grace’ more often? How might that alone change the world?