|© 2010 Caleb Dorfman Photography, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio|
I was thinking about this because I realize that I do the same thing with my daughter. Recently we were watching "The Pirate Fairy" which is part of the Disney line of Tinkerbell movies. There are five of them, I think, and they feature Tinkerbell and her friends solving various problems through cleverness and teamwork and caring. In one of the pivotal moments in "The Pirate Fairy" Tinkerbell and her friends give up a treasure they had worked very hard to retrieve from the pirates in order to save the pirate fairy, a renegade fairy who helped the pirates steal from and imprison the fairies. The pirate fairy asks Tinkerbell why they saved her, and Tinkerbell replies with a smile "We're showing you quarter." Earlier in the film the pirate fairy had refused to show quarter to Tinkerbell and her friends, but Tinkerbell pays back harm with kindness. The pirate fairy becomes an ally and of course the fairies defeat the pirates and recover their treasure.
Nor surprisingly, that particular scene generated a host of questions from my four year old.
"What's quarter?" she wanted me to explain. I told her that quarter meant mercy, or even grace.
"What's grace?" she wanted to know. Grace is when someone gives you something you don't deserve or earn, I told her. It's like G-D giving us his love and forgiving us, and it's like Mommy not making you take all of a time-out sometimes. It's something you receive as a gift.
I don't know how well my four year old understands all this. Hopefully repetition and ongoing illustration will help her take these ideas in. They're tough concepts even for grownups. This weekend during the pastor's sermon in church the pastor talked about how grace is hard for us to accept. He was speaking about G-D's grace being sufficient for us in all of the hardship and troubles we might face, and emphasized that grace is something unearned and undeserved by definition. Most of us don't do well with this idea, with accepting something we don't feel we deserve. It feels uncomfortable and insecure and dependent, which is anathema to Western 21st century adults. I believe grace is true though, and I find I can grasp and accept it best using metaphors.
Movies provide great metaphors; Tinkerbell saved the pirate fairy even though she didn't deserve it, because of who Tinkerbell is and because of Tinkerbell's character. My favorite metaphor though, the one I understand best, is that of parents and children. Fundamentally, I love and take care of my child not because of who she is but because of who I am and the relationship I have with her. I loved her when she was a tiny infant, when all she could do was cry and make a mess, just because she was my baby. I love her now when she is still making messes and also gets into trouble and frustrates me, because she is my child. Which is not to say that she isn't lovable or that she doesn't have wonderful qualities; she is and does. But that's not the basis for my love. It's not the reason I provide care for her. My love and care aren't contingent on her behavior or her characteristics, they exist because of who I am. She can't earn my love and care and she can't lose it. The word mother defines how I relate to my child, and my character tells me that a mother cares for and loves her child.
In the same way, G-D is our parent. His love and care are given to us based on his character and his relationship to us. We can't earn G-D's love and we can't lose it. His love is given to us as a gift. That's grace.