Over a month ago, I was in a car accident. It was my fault.
As soon as my car skidded to a stop in the parking lot adjacent to the intersection I had just illegally crossed I knew that with sickening clarity. There was nothing to do but to accept it with honesty and as much dignity as I could muster in the moment. I took my proof of guilt in the form of a ticket and apologized repeatedly to the other driver. I owned up to it with the polished poised professional on the other end of the phone call to the insurance company and again when I relayed the story sheepishly to my friends. “It really was a best case scenario as far as accidents go, and I’m so grateful that no one was hurt… but I just hate that it was MY fault,” is what I found myself saying over and over.
My claim was processed, I paid my deductible, and got my car repaired. And life moved on. Except for the unpaid ticket issued by the Kansas City municipal court. The officers at the scene of the accident had left me hopeful that I could get the ticket dismissed, if I showed up to my court date. Armed with that reassuring advice, I was hopeful that I would indeed get let off the hook, and I didn’t think about it too much until a couple of days before the court date. I started to get a little worried. All of a sudden, the thought of standing before a judge, trying to convince him that I shouldn’t have to pay a ticket for a wrong I did indeed commit, seemed absurd and humiliating. I was going to have to plead “not guilty”… But I was guilty. The advice and suggestions of others that I received in the days leading up to my appearance in court was mixed and unsettling to say the least. (Everywhere from “Be professional, say ‘Yes ma’am” and you should be fine, to “Just be emotional… that might help” to “You might have to pay court fees, but if you type up evidence of why you are innocent, that just might work…”) Nevertheless, I found myself on Monday morning, walking into a dimly lit, wood-paneled courtroom, on a bench alongside other fidgety individuals, waiting. I clutched my file folder, filled with my attempted defense and evidence of why I should not have to pay this ticket, practicing what I was going to say to the judge with my friend who had come for moral support. “Your honor, as you can see from the research, intersections with pole mounted lights, such as the one at the scene of the crime… oh, no, don’t say that! Clearly Your Honor, I am a very safe driver, and this momentary lapse of… “ oh geesh.
My nerves started to feel more and more frayed as other cases and individuals were called up to the bench one by one. Finally, the judged called out my name.
On shaky feet, I made my way to the bench, but before I went past the gate, he finished his sentence.
“Your case has been dismissed.”
Stunned, I froze mid-step. “What?”
“Unless you want to argue your case….” he said with an amused smirk on his face.
“No! I’m good. Thank you sir!” (oops, I should have said Your Honor…)
The heavy wooden doors to the courtroom barely closed before I looked at my friend with an incredulous look on my face. “What just happened? He means, I’m good to go? No ticket? My record has been cleared??”
“Yeah! I think so!” my friend replied, looking just as stunned as I did. Our relieved laugh echoed in the hallway, in contrast to the austere mood of the place. It took several more minutes of shaking my head in unbelief before it sunk in.
“Obviously, you didn’t want to question the judge in the moment, but I almost wish you would’ve,” she said as we walked back out into the sunlit streets. “I just wonder why he just dismissed the case, no questions asked!”
I probably won’t ever know the exact reasons, or if it was even out of the ordinary for the judge to just drop the ticket. It was a small circumstance in the grand scheme, but it definitely made me think. The matter of it is, I was guilty. I had attempted to defend my case and appear innocent, but I didn’t have a case. Not really. But I didn’t even have to try and defend myself. The judge took away the penalty I should have paid. Undeserving and unmerited, I was free. It felt like something much deeper than just getting a traffic ticket dismissed. It was a tangible picture of grace.
Which is something that has been a theme for me, particularly in the last few months. Now, thinking about grace– unmerited favor, is not new for me, but how to live in light of grace, that has been somewhat of a paradigm shift for me.
An old friend of mine, (a cop with a dry sense of humor, and a bit of a big brother instinct in him) said that “The cop in me wants to say you got lucky, and to drive safer…” His point is a fair one. I certainly have been more alert when driving these past few weeks, especially at intersections. I want to resolve to be the The Safest Driver Ever, but in the wise words of Eeyore, “They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.” The thing is, as much as I would have wanted to promise the judge to never mess up again, in gratitude for him pardoning my blunder, I can’t promise that I won’t ever make another mistake behind the wheel. In fact, I might run a red light again someday. I will probably get in another accident.
In moments that I have glimpsed God’s grace, my response is one of unbelief and gratitude, much like my interaction with the Municipal Court of Kansas City. I want to accept it fully, and I want to respond to it appropriately. I want to show my gratitude by cheerfully submitting to loving Him and serving Him and glorifying Him well. I want to live up to the gift of grace. I guess I want to become someone not in need of grace… perfect.
And I’ll bet you can guess how that’s going.
The truth of the matter is, I will not cease being in desperate need of his grace until I go Home. Awhile back, that realization crushed me. I felt so frustrated by the reality and depth of my sin. How quickly I am to forget his love and look for acceptance elsewhere. How deeply pride is ingrained in me. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I Love.
But His grace covers that too. His love is so unlike human love– he extends his reconciliation and grace to us, even knowing that we won’t be able to live in response to that grace perfectly on our own. He is aware of our humanity. Bill Johnson remarked that “he knows about my weakness, He’s figured that into the equation and He’s quite happy with the whole process. And I don’t need to beat myself up in the name of attempts to be humble because false humility will keep you from your destiny.”
Realizing just how deep the ocean of grace has been such a freeing thing. The impulse and desire to respond to grace with obedience is not bad or wrong, but when I had this unspoken pressure to perform or live up to it, it subtly shifted into legalism. Real grace is not that. Resting in the Truth that I am fully known and fully seen in all of the different aspects of me, yet fully loved and accepted just as I am, I am free to step into who I was created to be. It’s not a performance, it’s a becoming. A simple, gradual, and messy process, something that mostly occurs without my awareness even.