Before moving to San Francisco, I had in mind a particular stereotype. I imagined a demographic of people in their late 20s, maybe 30s. In my mind they are single, high income, childless, working in tech, doing yoga on the daily. None of these things are bad, they’re just somewhat different than my demographic.
Back then, I was trying to prepare to be around people who are in very different life situations than me, trying to imagine ways to connect, relate, encourage, challenge, unite. I imagined the stereotype in order to foster some kind of empathy-the kind I knew I’d probably need at certain moments. Like today.
Fast forward to now. That stereotype can sometimes prove itself to be true. Today, as my wife was sick and overwhelmed [she’s 38 weeks pregnant with our second child], Silas [19 months] and I ventured down to the gym in the lowest level of our building. He likes to explore and wave to people working out.
He was looking up at a woman doing her elliptical routine when it happened.
My toddler and I were shamed.
With headphones still in, she looked down at Silas [who was smiling and waving at her] then back at me. If looks could kill, Silas and I would both be mortally wounded or dead. She gave us both the look that said, “what the h*!! are you doing in here?”
The look was rendered complete with comprehensive hand motions.
True, I suppose I could have held his hand for every second of our time downstairs. But to me, there was no harm in letting Silas walk around and wave/smile at the other sweaty denizens of the underground workout room.
In those moments, I thought of lots of angry things to say to the angry elliptical lady. Part of me was sad, too, that she could respond so harshly toward an innocent toddler and young dad when all we were doing is occupying space and going about an average day.
I left early, a bit defeated, and decided to trade in my 5 minutes on the stair stepper machine for a 16 floor hike [with Silas] back to our apartment. And now, arriving back in my daily haunt, I’m struck with how God is inviting me to grow into a more spacious and grace-filled kind of life. It’s daunting to even consider publishing how humbling the whole gym experience was, but I’m convinced it’s in those moments that growth happens.
Only yesterday I listened to Fred Harrell preach at our church on Luke 7:36-50, the story of the woman who anoints Jesus’s feet with perfume and tears, then dries them with her hair. In the story, there is a stark contrast between the judgmental attitude of Simon, the Pharisee, and the deep gratefulness of the woman for the person of Jesus. Convinced Jesus means something to her and to the world, she gives up everything-dignity, financial security, and a good hair day-to honor him.
Amidst the interactions, Jesus tells a story, a parable about two people who were forgiven very different amounts of money. One was forgiven a debt of 50 coins, the other 500. Jesus then asks, “which person will love the banker more?” Simon, the Pharisee who was struggling with judgmental incredulity, responds: “I think it would be the one who owed him the most money.
Back to being shamed at the gym.
As I think about the experience, I’m reminded that God has been pretty good to me. I relate more to the one who was forgiven 500 coins than to the one who was forgiven just 50. He forgives me everyday when I have bad thoughts toward others, when I speak harshly, when I fail to recognize and treat others like image-bearers of God. And, on top of that, I have a great family, a solid marriage, family, friends, money in the bank, a place to live.
Who am I not to extend grace to the angry elliptical lady?
My faith calls me to put down my *rights* and extend grace. But it also equips me to do so. It is only in discovering the depth of God’s grace for me that I can authentically extend it to other people. I am not an endless pool of kindness and generosity. And, quite frankly, I’m still working on how to go about extending grace to the angry elliptical lady. I’m still trying to imagine what is difficult in her life, what is challenging to endure, what prompts her frustration. I’m convinced she has a story to tell that contains loss and difficulty. Throughout the meditations within me, one thing is for sure: I know the source of grace is Jesus.
God caught the world by surprise with his Son, Jesus. He caught Simon the Pharisee by surprise when he forgives the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. He caught the people of Jerusalem by surprise when he came back from the dead.
And now, God is catching me by surprise by forgiving my feelings of ill-will toward the angry elliptical lady.