I was eating in a noodle restaurant this fall with a friend who recounted the following story. He’d been sitting at the very table we were, enjoying noodles when a student and some of the students’ friends entered, greeted him and went up the stairs to the second floor. After eating they stopped at his table on their way out to tell him something. He thought they were telling him to pay on the second floor.
No, no. Heads shook and they had a second go, gesturing at him and then the stairs and saying something about paying. He took another stab at it guessing that he needed to pay his student.
No, no. More head shaking. More pointing, more smiles, more repeating of phrases.
My friend: Am I to pay him? (pointing at one of the other young men)
His student: No. (funny how that is clearly communicated in any language!)
My friend: Do I pay the girl working here?
His student: No.
And finally after many rounds he understood: his meal was paid for. It had been paid in full on the second floor when they paid their bill. He was free and clear to go when he was done.
What a picture of grace!
The disconnect between our head and hearts, what we know and experience, can be as if someone were speaking in a foreign language. Yes, yes, we say, I get it. But where do I pay. You do not need to pay, it’s been paid for. Smiling, nodding, we clarify, Do I owe him money? Pointing –him? No. It’s been paid for.
Yes, yes. I see. Do I pay upstairs? Clearly not really seeing at all.
Part of what adds to the confusion is, just like the meal, it was paid for out of our sight, many years ago on a cross. So when we hear about grace, it doesn’t jive with many other things we are told. There are no free meals. There is always a catch. Read the fine print. Like my friend who knew that his student was trying to tell him something helpful, we come at grace from this angle and then that. We ask “But what if I do something really, really bad?” Well, yes my child, that would make me sad, but that doesn’t add a dime to your bill. “What if I act nice on the outside but am cursing on the inside where no one knows?” Again, that grieves me, my child, because I care about the inside and the ways it is reflected in your actions, but there are no penalty charges with grace. “Do I get a free pass now and can do whatever I want?” Your understanding is a bit immature, but we will keep talking about this as there will be many opportunities for you to grow as life is messy.
Grace is wonderful. It is true and it is freeing and ultimately life changing. But it’s also confusing. The metaphorical meal has been paid for. How hard it is to just stand up and walk out of the restaurant without at least washing a few dishes. But this is what grace means – enjoy the meal, don’t feel guilty about it – slurp your noodles as you eat to the very bottom of the bowl! And just as my friend couldn’t help sharing this story with me, when you have tasted this meal, you tell others partly because it is so confusing.