A Space for Grace

I knew something was different when I calmly said, “I guess I’ll have to go to the gas station after all.” I had taken on the task of vacuuming my car because for weeks my husband had ignored my hints and eventual nagging to do “his” job.  One Saturday it became obvious that if the job were to be done, I would have to do it.

 I began looking for quarters to take to the gas station and then remembered that we had recently acquired an old hand vac from my mother.  I grabbed it, went outside, and got to work.  I was happily vacuuming the back seat when the bag flew off the vacuum.  The dirt and dust I had just vacuumed blew all over me and the newly cleaned car!  I looked at the ruined vacuum cleaner and the filthy car and said, “I guess I’ll have to go to the gas station after all.

On the way home from the gas station, it occurred to me that several usual behaviors had not happened that morning.  I had not nagged my husband nor complained about doing “his” job.  When the vac fell apart, no “blue” language flew from my mouth (having taught in a county jail for years, I had absorbed by osmosis many unusual words to voice anger and disgust; quite often they burst out unbidden from my lips).  I had not thrown the vac across the yard. I had not moaned and complained to my husband about the tragedy of the exploding hand vac. I had not said, “I’m NOT cleaning this again!”  I had merely found a solution and finished the job.

How had this happened? Then it dawned on me. After two years of training to be an apprentice of Jesus, behaving like Jesus was becoming a way of life.  As my false narratives are eliminated, my behavior is changing.  The more I see myself as one in whom Christ dwells and delights, the more I am choosing to act like Christ.


Sometimes I don’t even realize that I am different until I look back – as with the hand vac incident.  Other times I need to make a deliberate choice to act differently than I have in the past.  In his book The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith calls this choice-making” a “space of grace.”  He relates the story of an architect who was asked, “Can we build a [church] building that will help us compete with the church down the road?”  The architect paused and said, “Give me a second” and took a deep breath before he said, “I needed to think for a minute whether I was going to answer that question from inside or outside of the kingdom of God.”

 As apprentices of Jesus, we learn to stop and consider if the word we are about to speak or the action we are about to take comes from inside or outside of the Kingdom.  The idea of taking a pause before we speak or act actually mimics a fact of life in the natural world of physics.  Long ago I learned from Stephen R.Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that in our universe there is a space between each stimulus and a responsechoosing. In human relations the space between a stimulus (being insulted) and a response (returning the insult) is our “greatest power – the freedom to choose.”  That space allows us to choose a response based on our emotions or a response based on our on our values.

We can act from our false narratives and/or our cultural conditioning or we can act from our training to live by the example and words of Jesus.  Covey says, “As human beings we are responsible for our own lives.  Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.  We can subordinate feelings to values” . . . . [Our behavior can be] “a product of our own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of our conditions, based on feeling.”

Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31: NIV) and “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:15) and “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13; NIV).  We are in training to become more like Jesus.  If we give ourselves the space of grace, we can and must learn to act and speak from a Christ-centered place!

Choice image by http://www.heatherrivlin.com  

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2 Responses to A Space for Grace

  1. Tim, It’s good to hear from someone who appreciates Stephen Covey! I remember that quote and agree that becoming like Jesus transforms us into people who love and like Jesus who make choices based on love, not self-interest or false narratives.

  2. Tim Henley says:

    Karen, your words are like apples of gold in settings of silver. As I ponder these reflections the quip from Stephen Covey that says, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions” makes me ask myself, what drives my decisions? At the root, I think, behavior can be a function of my love for others…if I let it. Thank you Karen for sharing this timely reflection.

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