Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
I remember reading a story about an older woman who went to the grocery story almost every day and bought just a few items—about enough food for one person for one day. The clerks thought it odd wondering why she didn’t save trips by buying food for a week. One of the clerks got brave one day when she came in and asked her, “Why do you come in every day and buy just a few things?” The woman sighed. “You might not know that I am a widow. I live with my nephew. And I hate his guts. When I die, I don’t intend to leave him any extra groceries.”
There it is! The human instinct to withhold any grace or goodness from those we don’t like. This shriveled reluctance is seemingly a part of our natural human wiring. We withhold blessings from others, and we rejoice when they suffer.
A lesser form of this ungraciousness is grudging goodness. Maybe we take a meal to someone who is ill, but we grumble throughout the preparation and even after the delivery.
This kind of smallness is quite characteristic of human interaction. As C. S. Lewis observed, “When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.” We are, on the whole, grudging creatures.
And there is the big difference between we ordinary humans and Jesus. He is gracious, generous, and redemptive. He is expansive beyond belief!
Let me give you an example. Many years ago, when I was a faculty member at a southern university, a student came to see me with a question. She was from Utah and had been a Latter-day Saint, but she did not participate in the local branch and was quite actively breaking the commandments.
She came to see me because she was perplexed. She said, “It seems like Jesus keeps knocking on the door of my life and wants in.”
I smiled. “And how do you respond to His knocks?”
“Well, I tell Him to take off! I don’t need Him coming into my life complaining about the mess I’ve made of my life. I have enough problems without Him lecturing me and punishing me!”
I was tempted to wonder why she was telling me this. I hadn’t heard a question. But I suspected one was coming. I waited.
“What do you think I should do?” she asked.
An idea popped into my mind. “I think that the next time you hear Him knocking on the door of your life, you should go to the door and tell Him that He can come in as long as He goes directly to the linen closet, does not wander around or cause any trouble, and leaves after five minutes.”
She was shocked. “I can’t say that to Him!”
“I think it is better than your what you have been saying.”
She mumbled, “I don’t think I can do it.”
I smiled and shrugged.
About a week later the same student came to see me again. She was very sober. She took a seat in my office. “It happened.”
I nodded and waited.
“I was sitting in my class, listening to the lecture, when I felt that He was knocking on the door of my life again.”
I smiled thinking how clever He is; He came knocking when she was trapped in a class and could not distract herself with television, web surfing, or eating. He met her in a place where she was peaceful and stuck.
I asked, “What did you do?”
“Well, in my mind, I went to the door of my life and told Him that he could come in for five minutes if He stayed in the linen closet and didn’t cause any trouble.”
She was quiet for a while before asking, “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why did I grow up in the Church and no one told me what it was like when He comes in?” She paused. “He loved me. He encouraged me. He spoke words of kindness. He gave me hope. It was so different from what I expected!”
Yes. That is what Jesus does. He loves, He lifts, He blesses, He encourages. It is the misunderstood Jesus who loves to torment and annoy us. The real Jesus heals the sick, comforts the afflicted, and lifts from the mire those who are stuck.
I adore Him! I rejoice in Him! He is the personification of grace.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
He understands pain, failure, and sin better than any of us because He bore all of it! Then He uses His understanding of awfulness to defeat it.
Jesus keeps loving us even when we act foolishly and sinfully. Jesus keeps reaching for us even when we turn away from Him. Jesus keeps knocking on the door even when we sit inside resentful and resistant.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. (2 Nephi 26:24)
Jesus is exactly what some ancient religious leaders were not. He chided the Pharisees for burdening the people with impossible loads of law and expectation and failing to help them carry the burdens (Matthew 23). Jesus did exactly the opposite of the Pharisees! He who was guilty of no sin bore our sins so we could make the journey of mortal discovery purposefully and joyfully.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
That is grace.
When the widow whose story began this article is filled with grace, she may still make a trip to the store every day. But it will be with a different purpose. She might say to an inquiring clerk, “I live with my nephew, and he is burdened by a difficult project. I am here to get him the paper he needs and the mint brownie he loves.”
That is grace. That is Jesus. The better we know Him, the more profound our gratitude is. The more we become like Him, the more we show grace to those around us.
Let us follow Him.
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