Show a Little Grace
Several years ago, when Sara and I had moved to a new church, we were invited by a family one night to their house for dinner. A third family (friends of our host) also came. What instantly struck me as odd was when the visiting family (acting as co-hosts) came in, their 12-year-old son went up to the second floor den and began playing video games while the rest of us sat at the table and began eating. Throughout the dinner, we could hear him playing the game; at one point, he became belligerent because the game had glitched and he wanted someone to come upstairs and help him fix what was wrong. The entire time this was going on, I remember marveling to myself that the host family was acting so cool about this obviously very obnoxious, undisciplined child. To not eat with everyone else was one thing; to demand that someone stop eating and come help him with the video game was even worse. "Wow, I can't imagine what my dad would have done to me if I had ever acted like that," I mused to myself. Imagine my profound embarrassment when, a few weeks later, I learned that this young boy was severely autistic.
Human beings do not naturally find it easy to show grace to others when it is needed. To those with a physical handicap, there is a visual cue to remind us that a blind/deaf/wheelchair-bound individual needs extra grace from us. But for so many others, that visual cue does not exist. For someone who suffers from a debilitating mental illness (bipolar, depression, etc.) or is developmentally challenged in some way, their need for grace is just as great as someone who is physically handicapped.
Too often, however, we jump to conclusions just as I did that night at dinner. On the one hand, there's no way I could have known that this young man was autistic. On the other hand, however, a better strategy might have been for me not to be so judgmental or so quick to criticize and condemn.
This has especially hit home with me in the last three years. In May 2012, I learned that I suffer from a very mild, high-functioning case of Aspergers syndrome. At the risk of being too simplistic, it affects my ability to connect and communicate appropriately with other people. I come across as rude, dismissive, or narcissistic when I'm honestly not trying to be. As I have learned more about my limitations, I've realized how much I am in need of extra grace from others... and how much I've denied giving that same grace to those who needed it themselves.
Grace is certainly never an excuse for someone to continue in bad or sinful behavior. But too often, we use THAT fact as an excuse NOT to extend grace. It's akin to refusing to encourage someone because they might get the big head, and pride is a sin, so we just won't encourage at all.
That thinking is hopelessly twisted, but so is not extending grace under the excuse that we might enable bad behavior...
Imagine if God adopted the same policy.
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. — Eph. 4:1-2 NLT
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