Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teaching Children the Concept of Grace

I have a confession to make. When I was in third grade, I committed a terrible crime. This is one of those secret sins, that if I was ever nominated for a high ranking government position, the Special Counsel to the President, the Senate Ethics Committee and the drive-by media would all uncover my atrocity. CNBC might even make a reality show portraying my wayward youth.

My crime?

I tore a math book.

I knew it was bad. And my fears were confirmed when Maria, the little girl next to me gasped and said, “Oooohhhh, are you in trouble now!”

She was right. I knew she was right. Hadn’t Mrs. Jackson stood in front of the blackboard at the beginning of the school year, lecturing us on the care of our textbooks promising gloom and doom and destruction if we dared to treat these hallowed tomes carelessly? I would have to pay for it. How many weekly allowances of thirty cents would it take to pay for this monstrosity of a book? What if my parents found out? Then I’d be in trouble both at home and at school.

My third grade mind feared the worst. If I hid my secret sin, it would be found out, for my book had a number on the inside front cover and Mrs. Jackson surely would check the numbers against our names in her role book at the end of the year. Besides, having an overactive conscience even in third grade, I couldn’t live with my misdeed. Especially since Maria knew.

So with tears streaming down my face, I took the torn book to Mrs. Jackson’s desk and lay the damning evidence before her. And she took out . . . .

. . . . her scotch tape.

With one deft movement, she whipped off a piece, attached it to the two torn pieces, smoothed it down, closed the book, gave it back to me and hugged me. “There. It’s all right now,” she said with a reassuring smile.

I think Maria was actually disappointed. I could read her thoughts behind the scowl on her face. It’s not fair.

No. It wasn’t fair. It was grace.

For you see, grace is not getting what we deserve. I deserved punishment. I deserved to pay for my carelessness. But I didn’t get it. I got grace instead.

That moment in third grade was my first illustration of the concept of grace. Later on, I would hear grace described in youth group as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, and unmerited favor. But the best definition for me was a piece of scotch tape and a reassuring smile. “It’s all right now.”

Our children will best learn the concept behind God’s grace when we model it for them, when we dare to give them what they don’t deserve and to withhold what they do deserve. Yes, children still need to learn discipline, responsibility, and consequences of their actions. But once in awhile, when we know they know they deserve the fulfillment of the consequences of the rules we’ve established, it’s good to extend grace to them. Then we can explain, “That’s what God did for you when He allowed Jesus to die on the cross.’ Jesus paid for the torn pieces of our lives, for the rips and tears we’ve inflected on others. He used his own blood to seal the pieces of our lives together, so we might stand whole again before a holy, righteous God.

How can you show grace to a child this week? It doesn’t take much. It can be as simple as a piece of scotch tape.


Teresa Dickhoner said...

Karen, what a wonderful example that children can understand . . . and adults.

The last few days I have been living in fear instead of trusting God as I wait for the results of a biopsy taken from the inside of my uterous last Thursday.

Last night I finally took my fears to the Lord knowing in my mind that He is full of grace and will forgive, yet still feeling ashamed that I didn't turn to Him sooner.

God used your blog this evening to remind me.

Thank you!

Karen Wingate said...

I'm glad it ministered to you, Teresa.

Meghan said...

Great story. I am definitely reading your story to the kids in our Bible Study as part of our discussion of grace.
I am even going to give each kid a clear mailing label that has "God's Grace" printed on it as a take away reminder.

Karen Wingate said...

Thanks, Meghan. And what a wonderful application you have. The kids won't soon forget the story with the reminder of the clear mailing label.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful application of grace. I am going to re-tell the story to my kindergarten bible class. For effect, I will tear a paper and then tape it together while telling the story. Thank you for taking the time to write this. God Bless,

Cynthia Heroux

Luuvely said...

Thank you soo much for your post. I've been trying to explain grace to my 8 year old on a child level, so I typed in "explaining god's grace to a child" and your wonderful blog came up! This is a very good example of grace, and one he will understand!

Thanks again for helping me minister to my son and my prayer is that he will minister to someone else.

Thank you :)

Karen Wingate said...

You are so kind! Thank you all for your wonderful comments. This story will be told in a devotion I wrote for The Upper Room magazine on March 21, 2012. I believe you can access the Upper Room devotional online as well.

Tammy A. Phillips said...

That was an excellent example of grace. Thanks so much for sharing.

Karen Wingate said...

For more about grace, visit my new website and blog at You'll find more stories of how we can display God's grace to those need it.

Bob Harris said...

Thank you for your great illustration of grace for children. I found your blog entry through an internet search and I plan to share this with my 2nd and 3rd graders at church tomorrow. Thank you so much!

Karen Wingate said...

Thanks Bob. I'd love to hear how your class responds. I'm glad this will work for you.