We talked about stress management in my Total Wellness class last week, exploring definitions (distress vs. eustress); considering stressors in the lives of NOBTS students (who double as parents, ministers, employees, friends, spouses, etc.); and processing several coping mechanisms. In addition to ‘learn to say no’ and ‘take time to sharpen your axe,’ I encouraged the students to ‘grant grace.’
To highlight this point, I showed a video from the study Margins that reminded us that the perspective from which we filter life has a huge influence on our ability to handle our emotional challenges (aka stressors!). The speaker references the bishop’s response in Les Miserables, how he chose to grant grace to Jean Valjean—and challenged him to do the same—rather than turning him over to the authorities who would’ve thrown him back in prison for another unreasonable term of demeaning servitude.
What does this look like in 21st century daily life? Check out this blog entry by Susan Basham (http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/she-yelled-and-called-me-names/) and consider how you might put feet to your faith this week:
Pulling my car into the drive-thru line at Starbucks, I wondered why it was a dozen people deep. It wasn’t raining, yet it seemed everyone was driving through today. I was transporting three dogs to the groomer, and there was no way I could leave two wild Shih-tzus and one crazy Bichon alone while I went inside for my daily dose.
Millie, the Bichon, sat on my lap licking the window. As I peeled her away from the glass, I saw the woman. She sat across the parking lot, leaving just enough room for a thoroughfare, as she too was waiting in the Starbucks line. I smiled, and gestured to her. It went something like this: “Are you next, or am I?” Really, I was fine either way.
She was not.
Thinking I was trying to snag her spot of next up, she gunned her Suburban, rolled down the window, and let out a string of expletives that made me blush. Millie barked back a retort. “Go ahead, please,” I said. “I wasn’t sure who was first.” I pulled Millie back onto my lap, so she could see I had been dog-distracted and truly didn’t know who was next.
She didn’t buy it. She continued with the name calling without taking a breath. I won’t write them down here, but the main mantra shared initials with the number one social networking site.
Then something really strange happened.
Instead of getting mad or yelling back at her, a sense of empathy invaded me. I looked at her again, and this time I saw someone different, someone who wrenched my heart. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was pulled back in a natty ponytail. She held her phone in her palm, glancing down at it every few seconds. And she was driving that big ole’ gas hog of a Suburban, my own car of choice when I had three kids at home and a carpool.
Dear God. I was looking at myself ten years ago. Same car, same ponytail. Same frustration.
We’ve all been there. Dog vomits on the sofa. Both kids have strep throat. The garbage disposal chooses today to break, when you are trying to disintegrate moldy fridge leftovers. Husband is mad because you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning and he’s going on a business trip. Sound familiar?
And by the way, was that him she had been talking to or texting?
She gunned forward, just to show me that she could.
I left her a wide berth, smiled at her splotchy face. She shot me a sideways scowl, mouthed the mantra again. Pulling up to the loudspeaker behind her, I said “I want to pay for whatever the woman in front of me has ordered. And please tell her I hope she has a better day.” I meant every word.
The woman idled in front of me for a good four minutes, talking to the barista who had leaned out the window. She shook her head and handed over a bill. She drove around the side of the building slowly, this time no gunning. Hmmm.
“No takers, huh?” I said to the barista as I pulled forward. “Nope. She said she couldn’t believe you wanted to pay for her drink after all the names she called you. She said she couldn’t allow it, and said to tell you she was sorry. She felt really bad.”
“Did you tell her I hoped she had a better day?”
“Yep. She said thanks— that she already was.” “Good to hear.” I smiled and handed her a dollar to put in the tip jar. As I drove away, I began to cry. Not because I had been called so many terrible names, but because God had answered my very recent prayer—which was that He would allow me to see people as He sees them, not as I see them.
That I might be able to see the hurting inside, instead of just the hurtful outside. And maybe a few tears were of gratitude and amazement that He always shows up with an answer when I sincerely ask.
So how will you ‘grant grace’ today?
A couple of weeks ago, I quoted James 2:13 and think it bears repeating: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” With midterms and research papers and bills coming due, tired students with stretched emotions will sit next to you in the cafeteria, drive behind you exiting campus, and play their music a little too loud next door. Consider what a difference a little grace makes in your life, and pay it forward!