Working with teens and preteens in a junior high school is fantastic. The students are funny, snarky, and bristling with love and laughter while at the same time struggling with insecurity, rebellion, confusion, anger, and a whole heap of attitude. Junior high is a melting pot of emotions and I love it.
Recently I was thinking about the more challenging teenage characteristics in regard to one particular student. When the school year began, she was on a straight and narrow path, listening to all her teachers, following the rules while regularly demonstrating strong leadership skills among her peers. Then one day, something changed. The young lady began to veer way off course, leaving teachers and peers shocked by her radical change in behavior and the poor choices that followed.
I was praying for this student while at the same time preparing to write this article. To my surprise, the more I prayed, the more confused I became in both areas. I felt unsure as to the best example to use regarding this wonderful thing called grace that I’ve lived under for the past 25 years. I also felt unsure as to the best way to connect with this student.
As I continued to seek God on both matters, a crazy thing happened. I imagined myself giving the student a picture I had painted during the holidays, an image of a table wreath with three burning candles in the center. I had brought it to school as part of the Christmas decorations, and I knew she liked it.
The impression was strong. I couldn’t help but wonder what giving away a painting had to do with my prayer of connecting with this student, or my prayer of direction for this article on grace. More importantly, why did I feel so resistant to the idea?
I asked God why I was struggling and what the connection was and in no time the answer was made clear.
This student had stood apart from all the other students at the start of the school year. She had displayed strength, determination, and integrity on campus. She did the right things and naturally encouraged the same from those around her. Then she had that week, that day, that moment where she jumped off track and went the other way and it was disappointing.
I realized that up to that point I had only seen one side of her but in truth, just like every other person on the planet, she had an on-track side and an off-track side, and both were very much a part of who she was.
God helped me see that I was subconsciously questioning whether she deserved the painting or would even appreciate it. In truth, I was questioning whether she had earned the right to receive it in light of her choices.
And there it was, my true motive. I wanted her to earn the free gift.
Oh, how unlike God’s grace that is.
In the New Testament, theologians have described grace as “God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. His goodness toward those who have no claim on, nor reason to expect, divine favor.” In other words, grace is God extending his love to us without our having done a single thing to earn or deserve it.
We often overcomplicate God’s free gift of grace because we are accustomed to earning good things instead of simply receiving them. As children we earn certain privileges for behaving well or getting good grades. As adults we earn promotions at work when we take initiative or excel. Earning what we receive is a way of life in our society. But not so with God. When it comes to his grace, we can’t earn it or deserve it; we can only receive it, if we so choose.
The View of Grace
When we finally get to a place of truly receiving God’s grace, our view changes. Where we may have once viewed ourselves or others with a condemning or critical eye for falling short, we now view ourselves and others through a grace-covered lens of forgiveness and mercy.
Yes, we still trip over our own feet and fall short of honoring God in our daily walk, but in receiving the gift of grace, we begin to grab hold of the truth found in Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (English Standard Version). Through grace we get up, dust ourselves off, and walk with our heads held high with our Savior, as do our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When we understand that grace brings freedom, it makes perfect sense that God would have us be saved by grace through faith, and not by our own efforts (see Ephesians 2:8). Because God’s love and favor are extended through grace, we claim his Son as our Redeemer and we have the privilege of approaching God’s throne of grace with confidence (see Hebrews 4:16) to receive abundant mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. And we all have times of need, don’t we?
Unlike my initial instinct to clutch tightly to the painting and place subconscious contingencies upon it before giving it to the student, God freely hands us his gift of grace and invites us to live there without contingency.
Everything about God stems from this truth. From salvation through his son Jesus, to the forgiveness of our sins, to our purpose on earth. God’s gift of grace stirs within us a sincere desire to worship and serve him in all we do because of all he has already done.
My temptation to withhold grace from this young student, even for a moment, after all the grace God has given me, was a hard pill to swallow. I’m thankful God revealed this area of needed growth to me.
With a better understanding of how to connect with this student and the perfect example for this article, I called the young girl into the kitchen where I was preparing lunch for the students. I lead the young girl to the food pantry, climbed on top of a milk crate, and pulled the painting from the top shelf. I handed it to her and explained that I wanted her to have it as a gift. I told her that each time she looked at it, she should remember that she is a light meant to shine.
If I had held onto the contingency of giving a free gift to a girl who needed grace just as much as I did, I would have missed out on a most humbling experience—the heartfelt hug she gave me and the tears that followed when she whispered, “Thank you.” Her response reminded me that we all have a place to live under God’s grace.
Monica Cane (www.monicacane.com) is a freelance writer from Northern California with numerous published articles appearing in faith-based magazines nationwide. She is the author of Scrambled Hormones: 60-Days of Encouragement for Moms Raising Teenage Daughters, The Lost Coin, A Breath of Inspiration, and A Journey toHealing: Life After SIDS.