“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with the wings of eagles.” Isaiah 40:21
Remember the exhilaration of driving alone for the first time? In Kentucky, where I was raised, you had to be 16 before you got your permit and then had to wait at least 30 days before the driver’s test. As I recall, I went the day of my birthday for my permit and the 31st day for my exam, a youthful zeal my mother did not share
My first stop was Mom’s work place. She was suitably proud and told all of her coworkers who looked at my goofy picture and vowed to be watchful for me on the roads, etc. Anxious to be off on my own, I told her where I was going and when I’d be home. Free at last, I ventured into the tangled late afternoon traffic in a Ford Galaxy 500, which was about the size of a minor aircraft carrier.
I returned home at the appointed time to find my mother dabbing tears, as she often did over us children for no reason other than we were in a world that was simply waiting to pounce on the Ellis clan. Mom wouldn’t go into Mammoth Cave for fear that it was just waiting untold millennia for the opportunity to fall on an Ellis. I’m not making this up.
The cause of her tears this time was a minor fender bender on the road outside her place of work after I left…about an hour after I left. Mind you I was nowhere in the vicinity of the accident, and had returned home unscathed. Nevertheless, that set mom to ponder the certainty that the Fates were planning my fiery demise on the highways at any moment.
Mom was a classic worrier, but I don’t mock her or deride her for that. I used to, laughingly, but then I had kids, who turned 16, and began driving. I believe it was after Gregory got his license that I took him immediately to the insurance agent for “the talk” that was much more important than where babies come from. I wanted him to know how much his new freedom was costing me and how grateful and careful he should be. Yes, I really did that.
John, the agent at the time, waited until Gregory left the room. He turned to me and said, “you know he’s going to have an accident, don’t you?” He quoted the statistics and told me to be prepared to find out that it would not be the end of the world, and to pray that no one would get hurt which they usually do not. Good advice.
Of course Grego did have an accident, a minor one. So did Lauren. Both knocked off so many side view mirrors that I could have paid off my mortgage by now. And both apparently learned from the minor accidents and are today safe and proficient drivers. I’m sure they, like me, became better drivers because of the early mistakes they made.
When it comes to life, I have this perspective retroactively. God has it proactively. He knows the mistakes we make are not the final verdict on the value of our lives. In fact, God knows that my mistake in life brings me one more step toward His vision for me, and that’s quite remarkable.
As reluctant as we are to endure failure and pain, surely one of the central lessons of the gospel is that the good news involves dealing rightly with the bad news. When it comes to sin and suffering, the persistent and irritating refrain of the Word is that hardships are the pathway to peace. You don’t get there without collecting a few scars along the way. It’s just not possible.
But God’s economy of grace changes the whole equation. Though I might see my mistake or misfortune, whether by my own hand or simply as the result of living in a jagged and broken world, as one more piece of condemnation, God sees it as one more step to my completion. God regards my falls as opportunities for growth, not confirmation that He’s wasted time on me. I bemoan the fact that I’ve fallen in the same way for the sixteenth time, for example, but God rejoices because He knows I will learn to live the right way after my seventeenth time of failing in the same way.
This is raw, unfiltered, straight from the Source grace. That’s why it sounds too good to be true. Until a soul vibrates perfectly with the eternal rhythms of grace, then grace will always sound a little suspicious. Most of us fear that if everything is so freely forgiven, then what’s to keep us from piling up the numbers and airily saying that’s just one more step to my completion?
The answer is twofold. First, there’s nothing free about forgiveness. The cross was costly. Just because we didn’t have to pay the price doesn’t mean that grace is free.
Second, and this is the consistently overlooked facet of “graceology,” grace has a certain gravity. It draws us, and the closer we get to the source, the more speed we pick up. Receiving grace doesn’t mean we’ll cast off every moral restraint and live like heathens. Grace is the soil of both humility and gratitude, not licentiousness.
I’m not consistently soaring yet, as Isaiah promised. Too many accidents. But the accidents don’t mean I’ll never get my wings. And I think I’m learning, as God knows well, that unbroken success just inflates my ego. The accidents, the falls, the failures, those are God’s real opportunities.
So I have to accept that most days I just limp along, but that’s all right. Grace will help me one day to limp into a circle of light, and then I will soar. But not yet. Until then, it’s one day at a time, one mistake at a time, and grace for every moment and every accident. Perhaps in God’s sight, all my mistakes are not really accidents at all.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 27, 2016