|The chair I broke|
After the meeting, I went back to the chair to investigate, because chairs never break when I sit on them. I checked the overall structure and the hinges and found nothing amiss. I pushed on the seat a bit; it was definitely leaning to the left. Then I got down on my hands and knees and looked underneath the chair. That's when I saw what had caused the problem. Due to either the unevenness of the floor or of the row of chairs, two of the chair's legs were not touching the floor. Let me explain. The chairs in the space we rent for our Sunday meetings are antiques, really. They are wooden folding chairs which come in sets of five, all joined together. This means that they function like one big chair with multiple legs and seats. I had been sitting on an end chair that morning, and since the legs at the end were not touching the floor, it was pretty much like sitting on a plank hanging over the edge of a roof. Or sitting on the end of a diving board. Except it was not a sturdy plank or a springy diving board; it was a thin piece of aged wood which needed support on every corner.
Now I could derive some profound spiritual lesson from this incident, perhaps one which emphasizes how we need to make sure we are on a solid foundation or maybe something about the dangers of going out on a limb. But I won't. The moment wasn't particularly fraught with danger or warning, so I hesitate to infuse that sense into it. It was a bit funny, a bit startling, and totally unexpected. When Dean told the custodian about the incident, he made sure to include the fact that the chair broke while Matte was sitting on it, the implication being that since I am a smallish person, the break was obviously not due to any misuse of the chair. Several others mentioned this to me as well; if a chair broke when Matte sat on it, it had to be an accident, the chair had to be faulty.
This is quite a special position to be in: something goes wrong while you are involved with it and no one questions your actions or motives, no one assumes your negligence, no one points out your lack of prudence, no one suggests you might have been clumsy or unaware. In fact, everyone assumes that you are blameless. It is total grace. I don't often sit in that seat of grace, where the minute something bad happens under my watch, I am exonerated. Quite the opposite. I am an expert at heaping guilt on myself for any small indiscretion or misspoken word. And I have others who point out my faults and my short-comings and where I could have done better (mostly with love, but nevertheless...). I am also much too quick to judge the unfortunate circumstances or failings of others as a result of some imperfection in their character or a lack of wisdom.
But Jesus does none of this. When the disciples ask him, "Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?", Jesus takes the blame game out of the discussion. He replies, "You're asking the wrong questions. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do" (The Message). The Amplified Bible puts it this way: "He was born blind in order that the workings of God should be manifested (displayed, and illustrated) in him."
I don't know about you, but that sounds really good: to have the workings of God be displayed and illustrated in ones life. I want to give myself that kind of grace, to be able to see setbacks in my life as opportunities for God's wondrous goodness to be illustrated. I would love to extend that kind of grace to others, to view their shortcomings and messes not as the natural outcome of some failing on their part, but the setting for some marvelous work of God to be displayed. No blame. No looking for where the fault lies. No searching for roots of sin which might explain the brokenness. Just grace. Grace that allows me to trust that God's merciful love and transformative healing power can overturn any setback. Grace that fuels hope and expectation that God's work is always on display, illustrating his love and beauty, if I will only see it.
Since God has extended such lavish grace toward me in all my shortcomings, let me freely give it to others (and myself). Let me sit in the seat of grace, trusting that it will hold me.