Grace and Gratitude in a Grasping Culture

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It really was, as the cliché goes, a dark and stormy night. I’d just snapped my seatbelt buckle shut when my car hit a drift of snow that had blown across the road. Out of control, it hurtled toward the headlights of the oncoming traffic.

In the dark all I could see were those bright lights and the swirling snow. Before the inevitable crash, I had just enough time to think, “I could know what it’s like to be dead in 10 seconds.”

Our vehicles collided head-on. I was thrown back into traffic and struck a second time.

When the crashing finally came to an end, my car was totaled. But I did not die. Remarkably, I came through the accident unscathed, though it certainly shook me to the core. That moment made me realize, in a visceral way, the disconcerting fact that I wasn’t in charge of a single thing. Not my life. Not my children’s lives. Not even my next breath.

What was I left with then? I wondered. For months I turned the question over in my mind. Till one summer night, for whatever reason, a bell went off in my head, activating some dormant brain cells that had stored Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, memorized in my teen years: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” That was stating the obvious, perhaps, but it was my answer.

I am not my own. I’m not in charge of a single thing. Not my own life. Not even my next breath. Everything I have, everything I am, is mine by grace.

That sort of thinking comes as an affront to a culture that makes its living by telling us to always keep grasping for more. You deserve more. You need more. You want more. More stuff. More status. More experiences. A multi-billion-dollar advertising industry thrives on such assumptions of entitlement. So we can often be found running through our days grasping for the next big thing, barely present to our own lives long enough to notice all we already have by grace.

What does grace look like? Bono, of the rock band U2, says that grace is a concept that defies logic. He observes that at the heart of all religions is the more reasonable notion of Karma, the idea that the good and bad you do in this life will be paid back to you in kind. But, says Bono, “Along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘As you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. . . . The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death” (Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, Riverhead Hardcover, 2005).

That snowy night is years ago now. But whenever it surfaces in my memory, it brings back into focus the truth of God’s grace. Instead of death, I reap life. And then, with my blurry vision adjusted at least for a moment, instead of grasping for this or that, I pay attention and feel myself breathing. I’m tuned in with gratitude to this incredible life I’ve been given and to all of the blessings that are already mine by grace.

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