Before we were married, Alex would always pay for me when we went out. When I’d thank him, he’d say “No problem. I’ll just add it to your bill” and snicker when I frowned.
Of course, there was no ongoing tally of how much I owed him. He payed for me because he loved me.
When we were planning our wedding, our parents covered pretty much everything for the big day, a feat they had planned for and I felt guilty for. All my part time earnings could never make enough to pay them back.
But of course, they weren’t expecting to be paid back. They provided for us because they loved us.
It’s an American habit to not accept favors. We are citizens of the land of opportunity, where you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and don’t owe anything to anyone. When someone gives us a gift, especially money, we insist that they keep it even if it’s something we desperately need. If we do take it, we make a mental note to return the favor. We are unable to let a gift go unreciprocated.
But I don’t think that’s wholly an American trait – it’s a human one too. When we accept the grace of God, we as human beings feel guilty for it. We may spend our lives trying to pay God back, frustrated that we are forever behind on our good deeds and sacrifices.
The whole point of grace, however, is that it’s impossible to pay back. That’s the very definition of grace. That’s what makes God so good: “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Sometimes, however, it’s easy enough to accept God’s grace, but it’s absolutely frustrating to accept the grace God shows us through the grace of others. When someone does something unnecessarily nice, when a friend buys lunch or a parent covers living costs, these are the most difficult times to accept grace because they are physical gifts that can’t be paid back, and that can be even more frustrating than spiritual gifts that are undeserved.
I’ve wrestled with that bittersweet frustration, with the guilt that I am not doing or being enough because someone else is standing in the gap for me, providing for me, putting up with me. In those moments I am learning to stop, smile, and rest in the grace of another person, to praise God for showing grace to me through them, and to look for ways that I can show grace to someone else.
Do you feel that frustrating sense that you could never pay someone back? It’s called grace. Don’t be frustrated by it. Rejoice in it.