I remember first coming to Christ and not believing that grace was real. It sounded wonderful coming from the mouth of my pastor. The concept was stuff of great stories, but in real life, I wasn’t so comfortable receiving it. To one who had convinced herself that approval must be earned, it was awkward. I had a handle on performing like a good girl until I got the love I wanted. I was all butterfingers with unmerited favor.
It took me years to relish the receiving. During that time there were deconstruction projects aimed at my prideful earning and all that came along with it. Thank the Lord that people still associated with me through it. Some of them even helped in the process. Bless them!
Once convinced that I didn’t have enough good girl in me to make following Christ work, my “bad” self cried out for grace – and began to taste it. I went through one season when the Lord continually spoke clearly to me about it. After various episodes of failing to do the right thing and subsequently wallowing in guilt, I would hear the Lord whispering to me, “I don’t love you any less now than before.” Really?….. Really! It was a season of taking long, slow drinks of freely given Father-love, and getting hooked on it.
It makes me wonder why grace is so hard for me to give away sometimes.
There are times it is easy for sure. I love to pour out soothing, healing words of life to others. I love to watch the weight of condemnation lifted from their shoulders. I love to see the enemy run, taking his nasty pointing finger with him.
But there are others who are tricky to love, actually, tricky doesn’t express the half of it.
It happens when my giving isn’t appreciated or even recognized. It is when I am called to give until it hurts over and over again. Boundaries are good, but sometimes we are appointed to pour out. Like a drink offering of grace. That’s when I come up so short.
It is happening again in my life. So when I was studying the story of the prodigal son recently, it burned with a new conviction.
When the bad-for-all-to-see son of a wealthy father realizes that he has done wrong, he makes the long trip home. The result is told in Luke 15:20-24.
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
It was a party – and for good reason – he was back! He was dirty and stinking and exhausted from sin, but he was home. And he came home with his head hung low. Now, according to custom, there should have been a ceremony. That was expected, but it didn’t involve a fattened calf. It involved shards of broken pottery.
I recently learned about the Kezazah. It was a village-sponsored gathering for him who had married an unclean woman or given his inheritance to Gentiles. (Our man qualified for both.) Upon his return to the village, the citizens would grab a ceramic vessel and meet the offender en-route. There they would throw their earthenware on the ground at his feet. The crashing sound and the flying fragments of pottery were meant to indicate how they felt about him. It was a first century multi-media demonstration of what he had done to his father. He had broken his heart. He had broken their hearts. He was broken himself.
Can you imagine? The looks…the words…. the lack of words. Can you think of what it would feel like to gather your strength and take the walk of shame to your home – expecting the same treatment? Some of us can. Some of us have.
When the Father ran to meet his son, part of what he was doing was preventing the villagers from performing the Kezazah. This man’s daddy couldn’t help it. It was not time for a bashing; it was time for a bash. A party that is grace in the purest form.
I am so good with that part of the story. So good! Imagine having a father like that. I identify with this younger son when I know the Father runs to embrace me. When I know he will clean me up and make me right. When I know I will celebrate in his presence once again.
What I’m not good with is the next part. Not because I see it as so bad, because I see it as so me too.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in.”
When I read this I keep thinking that this son didn’t get to see his brother return with a hanging head or smell the filth of pigs on him. He didn’t hear his humble confession. All he knew was that he had stayed home and worked hard in the field while his brother had danced all the way to the far country and back. He was still dancing only now with everyone else. That’s a lot of work and a lot of dancing. It doesn’t add up to fair.
No way. He can’t just get away with it.
Grace has a price. It always does. When part of the price of grace falls on me, I tend to buck it hard. I feel used. I feel unappreciated. No way, they can’t just get away with this.
Recently, after having studied this passage afresh, I was driving on a back country road with plenty of time to think. I had already confessed my elder-brother attitude, but I wasn’t clean. I was still standing outside of the party of grace being conducted for someone in my life who was in the process of healing and returning to the Lord. It had been at great price to me, but it was a God-welcomed process. I was being honest about my attitude, but I was refusing to go in.
Going into that party meant that I would have to join in the celebration. I would have to forget about the huge amount of time, effort and resources I had given to the younger brother in my life. I would have to set aside the unfairness of it all. As I swerved around the corners of the snaking road, the real reason I would not consent to go into the figurative party and dance to a tune of grace came out. I was afraid. “It’s not safe to go in there”, I kept saying. I just knew that once I entered, it would be my turn again to do the hard stuff and hurt silently while the squanderer got fat and happy.
That’s when the God of grace broke in to my anxious world once again.
“I am still Lord of the Party”, He said.
He wasn’t sending me into that party to do it on my own. He was inviting me to participate with him in giving the feast. I would join in his authority to welcome back and make whole.
The exorbitant check for the grace-gala would come to Him to pay, not to me. In fact, it had already been paid for by Christ on the cross. I would simply be distributing his party favors without holding back. It was work for sure, and sometimes hard, but not the true price of the party.
The dance would be for the younger brother in my life, but also for me. As a fellow recipient of unmerited favor, I could get in step with the joy of the return. All of us are attendees to that shindig for the very same reason.
My part would be only to respond to the Father. He would do the rest. That makes it safe to walk in to the beat.
It is a privilege to see the work of restoration take place. It is an extravagant affair that the Father lets his children participate with him in giving. The load is nothing compared to the privilege. Someone shared that load to throw me the party, others shared in it for you. I guess it is our turn to join the revelry, no matter the personal cost.
I am learning a new dance for the party. The steps are awkward for me right now, but the result will be glorious – for all the younger brothers, the elder brothers and especially for the Lord of the Party Himself.