With Easter upon us, it has gotten me doing a great deal of reflection on God’s mercy versus God’s grace. God’s mercy is the fact that while we deserve punishment for our sins, they are wiped clean. Because of His mercy, we do not have to face eternal damnation. So what about His grace? Grace is that God gives us kindness we do not deserve. We did not deserve His son to die on the cross for our sins, but he gave his son for us anyway.
We, too, have the ability to give both grace and mercy to our fellow man. I have seen that in the last couple of weeks at my school. I have been unnerved lately at some of the adult behavior that I have witnessed. I seem to have encountered more and more parents yelling, screaming and cursing in the presence of children or belittling staff who are just doing their jobs. I think it has to do with the social climate of our country and intense stress so many people are under. Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children. For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their
Unfortunately, I have had to confront several parents about their behavior and reiterate expectations of how we must treat each other to maintain a collaborative relationship and do what is best for children. For a couple of these situations, it involved several follow-up conversations where those parents were able to explain some things going on in their lives. These were not examples of “mercy” because the bad behavior was not tolerated. However, grace was extended through the absence of personal judgment and the willingness to continue to try to maintain the relationship. Those same adults took full responsibility and gave sincere unprompted apologies to those they had wronged. I believe they did this because they were given grace.
I see this with students, too. I have a couple of students who ended up at the alternative school for some persistent bad behavior. They had to be held accountable at this level because other measures were not working and their behavior was becoming disruptive to others’ learning. I went to visit them one day and both gave me gigantic hugs and stated they were surprised to see me. I explained to them that while they were gone, they were still my students and I needed to check on them. They had to be accountable for their behavior, but it didn’t change my love for them or my concern for their well-being.
I have found that if students make a mistake and are given “mercy”, they are usually right back in the same place after a short period of time. However, if they are held accountable for their actions while also shown kindness, behavior had the potential to change. All humans need to know that someone believes in their ability to be better. Underserved kindness, or grace, says to that person, “I believe in you, no matter what your past has been.”
To extend “mercy”, you must first be in some sort of a position of power to enact punishment. However, sometimes “mercy” backfires by allowing bad behavior to continue because it is seen as acceptance of the behavior. Sometimes, we aren’t even in a place to show mercy because we don’t hold the power to give the consequence. “Grace” doesn’t require power, but more the willingness to show kindness where none is deserved. It requires the person giving grace to put someone else’s humanity before their own desire to “make someone pay” for their wrongdoing. Grace has the power to change behavior for the better because there is hope for something more. Sometimes “grace” and the hope it can inspire is much more important.