A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

The Other End Of Grace

April 15th, 2009

The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed because who you are in grade school isn’t necessarily indicative of how you’ll turn out as an adult.

For a short time as a first grader in Edith Johnson’s class, I sat next to Billy. Rather, Billy sat next to me. He’d been relocated from another part of the room after causing trouble and being a disruption to the students around him. Ours was the second school he had attended. By the age of 7, Billy had allegedly developed irreconcilable differences with the Sisters at St. Thomas Parochial school and it was decided his education would be best obtained elsewhere.

Billy was a scrapper and a fighter. He learned these skills from older brothers, whose reputation as brawlers from the next town over had filtered down to the jungle gym recess discussions of elementary kids. A slightly built but wiry strong Billy was the pre-pubescent personification of his older siblings. He struck distress into most kids like me, except for Sharla who could whip any boy in the class.

If Billy was in your immediate perimeter, it was best to have him in front of you or right next to you so you could keep an eye on him. My problem was that one eye was all I had to keep on anything and Billy was on my blind side. Not being able to see Billy fueled my paranoia of a sneak attack. For the first two days my head would suddenly snap to the right for no apparent reason. Billy probably wondered why the teacher made him sit by the kid with the twitchy neck.

One afternoon in the middle of our reading lesson, Billy decided he’d heard enough about the adventures of Sally, Dick and Jane. He expressed this to everyone by throwing his book into his desk, slamming the lid, and heading for the door. Mrs. Johnson was no spring chicken but she had good foot speed. She intercepted Billy at the door and with surprising patience kindly asked him to return to his desk and resume reading.

I prayed for Billy. I prayed that he would please just this once do the right thing. It was a selfish prayer. I was too close to ground zero and the potential fallout frightened me. Billy did sit down, but he didn’t shut up. He slammed his desk several more times and with amazing fluidity loudly uttered a blue streak that is still floating somewhere over north central Iowa. It was the first time I’d ever heard the queen mother of cuss words. I was absolutely stunned. I had never heard it before and I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

The look on Mrs. Johnson’s face removed all doubt. Billy saw her coming and made another break for the door. Reversing field around two desks and cutting hard on her left foot, Edith made one of the best open field tackles I’ve ever seen by a woman in a green polyester dress. In less than 15 seconds she had Billy at the sink, kicking and flailing, with a brand new bar of Palmolive soap sticking out of his mouth.

Note to self: Never, never, EVER say that word.

God gives us, just as Edith gave to Billy, opportunities to correct our mistakes and do the right thing. God’s patience with us is like a very long string. The long string is there for our benefit. Because God knows we are creatures who need lots of chances. Or as Psalm 69:5 reads in the Living Bible, “God, you know so well how stupid I am, and you know all my sins.” God knows we need His very long string of patience.

Yet we need to remember that the end of God’s very long string of patience is always tied to His perfect justice. It is justice at the end of patience that give grace and mercy their meaning. Grace, undeserved favor, is nothing without justice. Mercy, being spared the punishment we deserve, is empty apart from God’s justice. It’s what’s tied to the end of the string that makes the string valuable.

Billy was graciously given the opportunity to correct his mistake and do the right thing. But he chose poorly and suffered the consequences. I can relate. So can you, I imagine. We all have a tendency to test the limits. But next time God graciously gives us an opportunity to stop doing the wrong thing and start doing the right thing, instead of seeing how long the string is, what say we just sit down and shut up and do our assignment?

If memory serves, Sally, Dick and Jane usually set a pretty good example of what to do. And what not to do.

I don’t think Billy ever read far enough to figure that out.

“God is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; He is slow to get angry and is full of kindness and love.” – Psalm 103:8 (The Living Bible)

Todd A. Thompson – www.ASliceOfLifeToGo.com