We all are. We forge our own psychological chains. Each time we let down those who love us, each act of Foolish Pride, another link gets forged. The longer we live, the longer the chain becomes. Our nature is perfectly imperfect: Out of the crooked timber that is man, no straight thing straight was ever made.
When I was a younger man, this wasn't tangible. I took Scrooge's attitude: nothing for serious reflection - probably indigestion. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!
As Mom could tell you, I was a slow child.
Even children know that these chains are only broken by grace. You can't earn it, it's given freely, a gift.
When I was in the third grade, my teacher planned activities for our class to celebrate spring: For weeks I looked forward to making treats and dying eggs. I remember telling my mom how much fun it was going to be and I imagined what colors and designs I would choose. Before the big day, my teacher told us to come to class on Friday with a hollowed out egg. We were also told to bring our spelling test signed by a parent, and if we didn't, we would have to sit out from the activities.That teacher turned a link of chain into a lesson on grace, one that's been carried down through decades.
At nine-years old, I was the perfect student. I was studious, I was obedient and I was responsible. So when I forgot to bring my spelling test that Friday, I was devastated. I knew what the consequence would be. When my class jumped from their chairs to collect art supplies, I sat still in my desk examining my perfect, hollowed out egg, overcome with disappointment as I fought the inevitable tears.
It wasn't long before my teacher pulled me aside. She knelt down, descending below my sad self and said I should join the rest of the class. With tears in her eyes she told me I could bring my spelling test on Monday. And then she gave me a hug. I couldn't believe it. My disappointment disappeared with this unexpected gift.
Twenty years later, I remember this moment.
You can never break your own chains. You need grace. We're surrounded by it, but there's a trick that many people seem not to learn. Frederick Buechner describes the maddening simplicity of the situation:
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.This Easter Sunday, I hope you see the grace that surrounds us. Unexpected, unlooked for, that takes your breath away, that shatters chains.
There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.
Take it. Give it:
If you were going to die soon
and had only one phone call you could make,
who would you call and what would you say?
And why are you waiting?
UPDATE 12 April 2009 17:53: Welcome visitors from Captain of a Crew of One, and thanks Curt! Take a look around while you're here.