A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of reading a book on grace, I happened to pick up a pint of ice cream as a surprise for my recent college grad son who is living with us this summer. I never imagined that one would become a visual lesson of the other.
First let me say that I loved Preston Sprinkle’s Charis: God’s scandalous grace for us. It’s a look at God’s grace from the perspective of the Old Testament–something that has been very influential in my own walk of faith. I read and mulled. Mulled and read. So much of it verifying my personal insights into scripture and yet also giving me new ideas to consider. In the meantime, life moved on in the usual way.
As I often do, I made a grocery store run that week. While there, I realized I had a coupon for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. My son had been uncomplaining about our healthier eating, but I knew he missed some of his usual treats, so with coupon in hand, I chose a flavor I thought he’d like and took it home. I mentioned it to him, but after a couple of days noticed that the ice cream remained in the freezer, untouched.
A couple of days later his boredom hit a new high (his work hours are very erratic, leaving lots of down time), and I found him in the garage, organizing it. It was hot work. He was tired. I was grateful, for it was a task that needed to be done but I hadn’t found the time to do. As he came back inside I said, “Well, I guess you deserve that ice cream now!”
The minute the words left my mouth, the entire spiritual application of the situation unfolded.
You see, though I reminded my son of his grace gift after he’d accomplished something good, to assume that he received it because of his performance would have been a mistake. It had been there for him whether he had cleaned the garage (or done anything else) or not. But since I reminded him of it after that task, it would have been easy to assume the gift was tied to his behavior. Why do I know this? Because those were the words that came out of my mouth! And I immediately realized how untrue they were. I hadn’t bought that ice cream for him for any reason other than that I loved him and wanted to give him something good, something he’d enjoy. It just happened that he didn’t remember to actually dig into the ice cream until after his task was complete.
Swirl that with the examples of God’s scandalous grace I was reading and thinking through. Immediately I wondered, how often do I see God’s gifts as tied to my behavior, when in reality they are gifts of grace that have been waiting for me to accept them as my own? Sometimes I don’t accept God’s grace because I feel I don’t deserve it yet. But that’s why it’s grace instead of reward. Sometimes, like my son, I’m simply so focused on other things that I overlook the grace God has set in place for me. It slips my mind. I forget to accept and enjoy it. And sometimes I imagine that by denying myself something good, even something that the Lord has set right in front of me, I am exhibiting holiness. As if I could be holier than God himself, who gave the gift!
And so in the middle of reading a book that ignited in me again a desire to recognize God’s extravagant grace, I lived a picture of what it looks like to reject or forget about or leave unopened that exact kind of gift. For me, grace might now be forever linked to a pint of ice cream.