First bad example:
A family member of mine was moving in together with his girlfriend and they needed some furniture. I had already told him that we had an extra bed and table and chairs set he could have when he got his own place. Instead of getting his own place, they got their own place. The Bible is pretty clear on saving sex for marriage, so I didn’t like the idea of him moving in with his girlfriend, but it was his choice. My choice was clouded, though, and I had to ask a lot of friends for help deciding if I should give him the furniture or not. They all said to give him the furniture. So I felt like a judgmental shrew.
Here’s another one:
My friend is one of those people who is constantly tapped out; always at the end of her budget before the next pay day. So she asks everyone for help, or she just looks at you with puppy dog eyes when everyone is going out or shopping and she can’t go or shop because she already spent all her money. In debt on credit cards up to her eyeballs and constantly borrowing from her parents and family, I never know what would be the best, most graceful thing to do for her. Figuring out her finances is out—she doesn’t want the “meddling” just the cash. Loaning her money really means just throwing it down a bottomless pit. So is it really loving to give her more money, or is that just continuing to enable her overspending?
We talked about the story of the prodigal son that Jesus related and tried to apply it to this friend. The father in that story (Luke 15:11-32) never expected his son to repay him. Probably it was disappointing when the son squandered all the inheritance money, but the father welcomed him back home and gave him more stuff.
This is the opposite of every episode of Intervention I’ve ever seen. People on this show give and give and give—even buying drugs for their addict relatives—with no end in sight because they love them. But is that love? Is that grace? Is it grace or love to hand a homeless person five bucks at the intersection? Is it grace or love to give in to a toddler’s tantrum?
Family I know struggling with a teenage kid who has decided to become a pothead. They tightened up the rules, drew lines in the sand about going to school, etc. Made the kid do random drug tests—which the kid cheated on or failed. Kid is making the entire family, including the other kids miserable with this rebellion. Parents are questioning if they are good parents. How many times should you let your kid tell you to f*#% off? What amount of grace is required?
I used to think about grace vs. justice a lot when I was teaching middle and high school. Teachers can’t really be like Jesus and let sins go unpunished or classrooms would turn into anarchic asylums of chaos. Most kids are just pushing boundaries to see if they are there, to feel secure and know someone cares about them. Other kids are unexplainable. Hopefully they grow out of it before they lay waste to their entire family. Maybe the grace there is to patiently wait it out like a soldier in a ditch who has gone temporarily deaf because of all the bombs exploding around him.
God help us to see you clearly and to be so full of the grace and mercy you give us that it leaks out over everyone in our lives in ways that show your love and do not enable more trouble.
Rebecca Barnes works in Kids Ministry at Flatirons and has three children of her own. Figuring out ways for all these kids to understand the love of Jesus consumes the bulk of her time. The rest is spent reading, writing, gardening and cooking.