On a recent frigid afternoon, I had completed my weekly grocery run and headed for the parking lot exit. It was a cold, snowy Saturday in November, and I felt chilly on the outside and pretty frosty on the inside too.
I was irritable because I was downright exhausted.
The preceding week had been one of those “perfect storms.” It was just a long week. Every night was a late night. There was no time to turn off my introverted brain before it was time to wake up from a restless night to start the whole thing over again.
By my Saturday morning grocery run, I was what doctors might call “brain dead.” It was solely by the grace of God that the mass between my ears could generate enough willpower to put one foot in front of the other.
And I had yet another commitment later that evening.
My filters were down, and it wouldn’t take much to set me off.
As I navigated my car toward the exit, I fell in behind a white SUV. When it came to the intersection, its windows came down so the passenger could hand some cash to a homeless person standing there with a sign. The sign promised divine blessing.
The homeless person trudged through the snow to collect the money from the vehicle, which sported a fish symbol and a sticker of two nails, intersecting to form a cross.
I was impatient to get home, but as a fellow Christ-follower, I felt I could cut the SUV’s occupants some slack because they were giving to “the least of these.”
We started moving again, but eventually came to a stop at a traffic light. Once again the SUV’s window went down and the passenger held out money for another individual holding another sign, again promising divine blessing.
And the light was green!
A green light is the perfect way to avoid both guilt and eye contact by looking left — you know, “to check for traffic.” Easy-peasy.
Whatever was left of my filters crumbled. The absolute audacity of these people to hold me up for a homeless person. Didn’t those do-gooders in the SUV realize that I had someplace to be?! Even though it was just to be home resting my exhausted brain?!
After making the right turn—carefully “checking for traffic” on my left—I fell in behind the SUV with a hearty scowl and a heart of venom, only then to spot the wide smile on the SUV passenger’s face.
The wind came out of my self-righteous sail.
She gave to “the least of these” in the name of Jesus—twice! She saw a need and responded the way Jesus would have. As a result, she experienced great blessing.
I, on the other hand, did not.
I was turned inward, withdrawn, and focused only on my own stresses. I thought only of my own needs and comforts.
I had a chance to do something for two individuals in need, and I did not. Instead, I complained inside about those who did. I felt horrible. I heard the condemnation of a thousand voices, taunting me in my failure—Satan’s default response when a Christ-follower blows it.
This did not help my day get any better.
Yet, through the cacophony of condemnation, one voice broke through. It was a soft, single voice—a whisper no less—uttering, “I love you.”
I love you.
I — who did nothing to help the least of these, and who clearly sinned by putting my own needs above others’ — had been reminded in that moment that I am loved.
Those in the SUV got a wonderful blessing, but I was the one who needed a reminder of grace.
At that specific moment, God knew I needed grace more than I needed blessing.
John 21 tells the story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Once Peter recognizes Jesus, he impulsively jumps from his boat and swims to shore.
Three times, Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, with growing frustration, “You know I love you.”
Then Jesus commands, “Go feed my sheep.”
Some days before this dialogue, on the night before Jesus was crucified, Peter had commited one of the most horrible acts of betrayal: three times, he had denied he even knew Jesus.
Peter basically commits the same atrocity as Judas, times three. Though the outcomes were different, Peter had to have felt the same sting of guilt as Judas.
Yet on that beach, Jesus faces Peter, suffering from the worst kind of guilt, and pours grace upon him, restoring him completely.
Jesus finds Peter and forgives him because at that moment, Peter needs grace more than he needs blessing.
Alone in my car that frigid Saturday afternoon, I experienced grace from a loving Savior who saw me in my self-centeredness and forgave me anyway.
Divine blessings are great, don’t get me wrong — but sometimes, being human, we just need a touch of grace.