Wednesday, August 7, 2013

(Modified Re-Post) Contemplating Grace in the Dentist’s Chair

Unlike many, I'm fine going to the dentist. I find it relaxing, especially when any numbing is involved. From cleanings to root canals, it's all good. Well, until I get the bill!

Going to the dentist can be a great time for quiet thought and mulling.

For example, have you ever been caught off guard with the realization that you are actually hard pressed to define a word that is totally familiar to you? You kind of know the concept evoked by the word, but nailing down the specifics of its meanings is suddenly elusive?

While you may think you’re having what many call a brain fart, you’re actually on the cusp of insight and epiphany! 

Mulling grace

While having a chipped tooth repaired, the word that caught me up short was grace.

Given that this was my mother’s name and that I grew up going to church where grace was a common topic of song and sermon, you’d think I’d know precisely what it means.

I thought I did. But then an angel tapped me on the brain and I started thinking more deeply about what grace is. The Holy Spirit does move in mysterious, and sometimes annoying ways.

Grace is something nearly everyone wants, whether we understand fully what it is or not. The gist of the most common meaning is grasped easily by anyone who has been on the receiving end of grace.

Grace is an elegant concept tied to pardon, mercy, forgiveness. It is unmerited favor; receiving something we don’t deserve instead of what we do deserve. If marriages were more grace-filled there would be far less divorce, which is a very ungracious and selfish choice. 

Encountering grace

When grace comes to us from God, it is entirely unmotivated by anything we do or say or are. All we can do is actively accept it or actively reject it. This is the side of grace that ties in most closely to forgiveness.

But grace also apparently empowers, comforts, and relieves distress. And this is what tripped me up recently as I was lost in thought while being drilled at the dentist.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-12, the Apostle Paul writes about a Satanic-sourced affliction that has gripped him in a terrible, tangible, and nagging way. It is something chronic and persistent and painful; he calls it his “thorn in the flesh.”

There is no way of knowing exactly what this “thorn” was. If Paul meant “flesh” as in his actual physical body, it could have been a chronic illness. Some believe it was a recurring and painful eye affliction. We don’t know. In fact, if Paul meant “flesh” in a spiritual sense, this opens the possibilities even wider. It could have been a particular temptation that he struggled with on a regular basis. The thorn was sent to him, as Paul states, to keep him humble; so maybe his struggle was with pride. We don’t know.

We do know that the thorn was not removed despite Paul’s pleadings. God’s answer to his prayer was a simple statement: “My grace is sufficient.”

Well, actually the full response as recorded by Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Grasping grace

As I lay reclined in the dentist’s chair with my mouth numb and the drill softly singing, all I could think over and over was, “What the heck does ‘my grace is sufficient’ really mean?”

“I should know this!” I thought. But I drew a blank.

Then, later, as I was reading in Mark and came to where Jesus says that we need to become like children (10:14-15), the insight came. A child is utterly dependent upon their parent’s grace, in every sense of the word.

That helps clear things up some. But not completely.

I’m still pondering and trying to get an even clearer understanding, as well as a better experience, of God’s amazing grace. Are you?

How do you view, understand, think of, or experience grace? Please share in the comments.