by AJ Hofstetter
Growing up in Christianity, I often heard “grace” defined as “unmerited favor.” It’s when we get things from God that we don’t deserve; things like forgiveness and eternal life. A different perspective on this came to me from a preacher I’ve followed. He said that “unmerited or undeserved favor” is not really a good definition for grace. If it was, then it would stand to reason that Christ himself never received grace from the Father. He went on to say that grace has nothing to do with what people deserve and has more to do with the presence of God.
I once heard another preacher ask a brilliant question: “What if grace is simply defined as God loving us because He wants to and not because He has to?” In other words, what if “grace” is simply defined as “chosen.”
Grace as a Way of Life
Obviously, there are many implications to this conversation; many perspectives on grace. But my entire adult life, at least the portion of it that has walked closely with Christ, is defined by my understanding of grace and my willingness to receive it. The more I understand grace, the more I am defined by it; the more I am drawn to it. The more I know grace, the more peace, direction, and hope I have. The degree to which I’ve received it in my life is the degree to which I am willing to extend it to others, to live at peace in my home, my workplace, my church, and my community. In other words, grace defines me, gives me direction and clarity, and brings me into union with the world around me.
Grace is how I manage success. It’s how I move forward through devastating failures. It’s how I live.
What Does It Mean to Show Grace to our Students?
If grace is what I need most as an adult, why do I treat my children as though they need something else more than they need grace—or at least just as much as it? It’s easy to treat my kids like they need discipline, structure, or bedtimes more than they need grace. Or that they need experiences and adventure or gifts or fun. It’s easy to think they need to behave more than they need grace, or that they need to be respectful or honest.
It’s easy to forget that in training them for adulthood, I’m called to teach them—and to show them—how to receive, to interact with, and to extend grace.
I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t train our children. I’m not saying that structure and discipline are ungodly, or that there shouldn’t be consequences to behavior. There should be. Unequivocally. But grace is not opposed to these things. It isn’t protecting us from consequences. It’s guiding us through them.
Grace and Perfectionism
Last week, we wrote about perfectionism. We talked about the pressure to be perfect, and how it is ultimately rooted in an intrinsic need for acceptance. Perfectionism sucks the mystery out of life, and ultimately any wanderlust or joy that accompanies it. Perfectionism deceives people into believing that their value is tied to their performance; that what they do is more important than who they are. Our students need us to show them a better way.
Our kids need grace.
No matter how they treat us on even their worst day, they’re ultimately still terrified of disappointing us, of not being enough, of not measuring up. No matter how many times they’ve been reminded to pick up their shoes or to change their tone, their need to understand, receive, and extend grace is still most important.
As our kids navigate the school year in front of them, from academic requirements and athletic schedules to friendships and hormones, they need us to give them the very thing that we need more than anything else. If we can show them grace, we’ll remind them of what is most true about them. We can show them that their value isn’t found in being perfect, but in being chosen. We can teach them how to manage themselves when they have a great victory. We can show them how to get back up after a devastating blow. We can show them the path forward, the way to navigate every day for the rest of their lives.