Grace for Knuckleheads
I was fifteen years old, wishing I was sixteen, and wanting to drive so badly I could taste it. And I was looking for any excuse to get behind the wheel. “Nana, can I move your car into the backyard and wash it for you?” I asked my grandmother, who was watering the flowers in her front yard. She recognized the desperate act of a teenager who was willing to do actual WORK in order to drive. “Sure can, sweetheart,” she said. “The keys are in it.”
My grandmother drove a cherry-red 1969 Mercury Comet convertible, and it was sweet. I often sat behind the wheel, my left arm hanging out over the door, and imagined that I was tooling down the highway on my way to Myrtle Beach. I imagined my hair blowing in the breeze, the guys admiring and the girls staring as I cruised along looking oh so cool. But this was not a dream. I was actually going to drive that car! I eased it out of the garage and turned the wheels slightly left, heading into the pine-tree studded backyard of my grandparents’ house. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was driving. “It just doesn’t get any better than this,” I thought. And that’s when it happened. I pulled a 15 and hit the wrong pedal. There was a pine tree in my immediate future and instead of slowly squeezing the brake, I slammed the accelerator. The car responded immediately, all cylinders firing at once, and it felt like it left the ground and leaped into a fine upstanding specimen of the North Carolina state tree. It remained upstanding as the front end of that Mercury Comet convertible folded into it. Everything in the front and back seats of the car slid into the floorboards and I went into shock.
Until I heard laughter. I looked to my left, and there stood Nana, garden hose in hand, laughing her head off. She laughed so hard, she started to cry. The water from the hose was going everywhere as she jerked around and doubled over and finally, I tried to laugh as I asked her what was so funny. “The look on your FACE!” Nana guffawed. “And the sight of all that JUNK sliding off the seats!” Nana laughed and wiped the tear. Finally, when she was able to get her breath again, she said, “Thank you, Mark, for helping me clean out my car.”
I learned some valuable lessons that day, not the least of which was the difference between the brake and the gas pedal, and the difference a mistake of only six inches can make. But I also learned more than I had ever understood about grace. I begged Nana to let me pay for the damage to her car but she wouldn’t have any of it. “I asked you to clean it, Mark!” Nana said, “And you went above and beyond the call of duty.” Then she started laughing again. Nana wasn’t rich, at least not materially, but she was about the wealthiest woman I knew when it came to things that really matter.
Ray Ortlund said in a sermon recently that his father gave him a Bible in 1966, on Ray’s 16th birthday. “I was a knucklehead then, and my father knew it,” Ray said. “But he also knew that God’s grace is for knuckleheads.” That was certainly my story at 15 and for a number of years after that. God had a grade-A knucklehead on his hands, and though I had given my heart to Jesus that summer, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Ortlund said in the same sermon, “Christianity is for those who stink at Christianity.”
There will be pine trees in the life of your children and grandchildren as well. So, tell them about ways you have received grace and help them learn from your past mistakes. Teach them how to give grace to others and receive grace from others. Remind them that the grace we have in Jesus Christ is so amazing that even the angels in heaven long to look into it.
Still, you might want to let them wash your car in the driveway.