Unfair Grace – A Reblog

Readers – i first wrote this piece as a guest post in Tamara Out Loud – Thoughts on Real Life and Real Faith. Today as I think about grace, I wanted to once again post these words.

Unfair Grace

“I read Ann Voskamp’s book” pause “And I was thankful for a few days”

This came from my friend as we sat together drinking free coffee from an inn on the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The inn thought we were guests – they offered us both the coffee and cookies embossed with a cursive E, (“Signature cookies!” we were told with a smile) free with no questions asked. A good lesson that there is free lunch if you walk with confidence.

We both laughed at her statement about the well-read and loved book One Thousand Gifts, for reading a book is one thing and working out the details of the challenges presented within is completely different.

Whenever I get together with this friend we go for the jugular vein of faith conversation. We don’t waste time or words. Both of us are in something of a waste land when it comes to friends who share our faith so we go deep. Quickly. The conversation was like rapid gun fire going from head to heart, from gratitude to grace. And there is where we stopped and struggled.

She relayed a recent conversation she had with a parent whose children are doing remarkably well. They are productive members of society who love God and others. They have jobs, marriages, and communities. The other parents in the group are in agony. These parents have kids are not doing well. Adult children who don’t have jobs; who don’t seek God; and who don’t have loving communities surrounding them, loving them, calling them out with care. The parent with the kids who are doing well sighed at one point and said “But by the grace of God go I…”

And my friend reacted.

“But why you?” she said. “Why do you get his grace and we don’t?”

We watched the grey ocean waves peak and splash over rocks as we talked; the grey sea working through a physical storm while we worked through a spiritual storm.

The storm of “why them”? Why do they get grace while I don’t? Why are their kids doing so well and mine struggling? Why is their job amazing and mine mediocre? The questions can be asked about anything.

But for the Grace of God go I…

We were calling into question the very nature of grace. That it’s not deserved. That the parent who stays up late weeping soundless tears as they think of their kids who have traveled to the far country needs grace; that the parent with the kids who are poster children for good upbringing and strong parenting needs grace. Grace is not fair. In a world that wants fair, that demands fair, Grace is un.

Will I willingly drink the cup of grace when I am offered and begrudge another their drink when they are offered? Will I call my life blessed on one day, cursed the next? Grace is good when offered to me, unfair when offered to others?

It was at this point that I referenced One Thousand Gifts for in a chapter midway through the book I found myself reading and re-reading thoughts on grace. And I both loved and hated those thoughts. The words “What is good? What counts as grace? What is the heart of God?” go through my brain like my iPod on repeat.

Like many of our conversations, there were no answers that fully satisfied. But I felt remarkable peace. Perhaps it was posing these questions by the ocean, where somehow in those giant waves crashing, falling, retreating and repeating, a miracle is worked and, while delivering no answers, the waves satisfy my soul.

As I walked away from the conversation, through pelting rain and wind, I thought about the phrase “But for the grace of God go I” – how often I’ve used it, and perhaps abused it. But it was while doctoring up cheap potato salad for a graduation party that I realized in an epiphany that maybe we have the phrase wrong for all of it is by grace. Every step. Every breath. Every cell. Every word. Every wave. Every storm. All of it. Perhaps it’s not “But by the grace of God go I” but “By the grace of God I go”. The thought crashed against the rocks of my soul and all I could do was whisper the word “Grace”.

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16 thoughts on “Unfair Grace – A Reblog

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  2. I too am sitting by the ocean as I read this — although my ocean is in Korea, and I’m pondering grace like I do every time I sit here next to the ocean seeking God’s answers. I feel like the very nature of grace is in the not knowing, the not deserving. It doesn’t make it any less easy to deal with when it seems that grace and blessings are unfair. It’s not the “Christian” way to be so questioning is what I’ve felt from time to time, but as I sit and think about it, maybe my form of grace comes differently. It’s hard to grasp, but it is there, just beyond my reaching hands….

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    1. I feel like I’m sitting by the ocean with you with this comment. Yes – the not knowing, the not deserving. There is something about the ocean that allows me to get these questions out in a healthy way. So glad to have you join me in these thoughts and questions.

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  3. “By the grace of God I go.” I love this. Such simple words but so profound. Reading your essays always give me food for thought, Marilyn, and a fresh perspective. Thank you.

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  4. “there but for the grace of God…” seems to me to be a phase best dropped from our vocabulary. It seems to inherently position one party in a ‘favored’ status, and forces us into thinking competitively (that is, of ‘us’ and ‘them’). It is a phrase which is bankrupt of meaning if we really understand ourselves to be ‘in this together’–no matter which side of the equation you find yourself on (the ‘haves’ or ‘have-nots’ of said ‘grace’). Your joy is my joy, your sorrow is my sorry, your triumph is mine, your loss is a loss to me. Namaste.

    Rampant individualism allows us to separate ourselves so neatly. Grace pulls us together in the messiness of life.

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