Messy Compassion, Inconvenient Grace

compassion  I’m in the throes of wrapping up another semester in my role as an adjunct instructor of composition at a nearby community college.  This semester has felt very long to me, as well as to my students.  On top of contending with the dark days of winter, it seems as if my students have been plagued by a host of illnesses, money troubles, job issues, deaths, and family problems, not to mention being overwhelmed with the demands of a college education.

As a result, I’ve been faced with extending compassion and grace far beyond what my syllabus says is necessary or perhaps even prudent.  Many times it has been inconvenient and downright messy for me to do so, but it also seemed very right.  In addition, I have very much needed grace and patience from my students, given the extraordinary number of them that I have this semester and my struggles to get graded essays back in a timely fashion.  And they have extended that grace to me.

I don’t know why this aspect of grace and compassion surprises me.  If the need for grace and compassion wasn’t surrounded by inconvenient and untimely circumstances, then it wouldn’t be grace – it would simply be a neat, transactional favor that could be repaid.  Grace cannot be repaid.  According to an old definition I’ve heard, it is “unmerited pardon.”  While I always focused on the “unmerited” part in the past, I think now I’m more intrigued by the aspect of pardon.

The idea of pardon acknowledges that every person is doing the best that they can, given their personal makeup and circumstances, and while their best may fall short of my definition (or yours), by extending this unmerited pardon, I am accepting them where they are.

This seems right to me, not because it makes my life easier, but because it seems as if that is what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have done for us. As a recipient of their grace and compassion, I know how good it feels to have my efforts, no matter how meager, acknowledged for being the best I could do at the time.

I’m counting down the classes to the end of the semester (and counting down the essays I have yet to grade), yet I reflect on the messiness and inconvenience that have been a part of this school season.  By extending grace to others, I have seen a glimpse of the messiness I have brought to the Triune God.  In return, I’ve been blessed with acceptance and love, and that’s what makes it possible for me to extend the same to  others.

~by Nan Kuhlman

4 comments so far

  1. Sweet William on

    Nan, one of my favorite scenes from The Shack relates to your wonderful blog. Sarayu and Mac are working in the garden (Mac’s broken soul) things are chaotic and a mess but Holy Spirit is there in the mess with Mac sorting it out and along the path with a sack lunch comes Papa. God is not put off by our messiness but instead extends to us Grace upon Grace. I love this blog. It will be featured in our church bulletin this week. Thanks

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Sweet William,

      I remember that scene from The Shack now that you mention it. You’re right – The Father, Son, and Spirit aren’t frightened off by our mess but sit in it with us. We need the courage to sit with each other as we sort through the mess, too, not in an effort to fix things, but to comfort and encourage one another in the journey. I wrote a blog on this topic two years ago called Carrying Another’s Burden, and it also testifies about the need to carry the burdens of others. Thanks for your comment!


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