June 28, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

God’s grace lets us enjoy life and keeps us from getting burned

Sean GallagherIt’s amazing how long it takes to get four young boys and their two parents ready for a day at the beach.

That was a takeaway message I’ll remember from my family’s recent vacation to South Haven, Mich.

At the start of our days, we put drinks in a cooler and snacks in a picnic basket. Then the boys, Cindy and I got our beachwear on. The boys’ beach toys, our beach blanket and some towels were already in our van, along with the books that Cindy and I wanted to read while on vacation.

Finally, we would set to putting on sunscreen. That’s the most important and, as I discovered, most time-consuming step.

Cindy and I made sure that our boys had the protective cream on all parts of their bodies that would be exposed to the sun. And with temperatures in the 80s and the boys wanting to play in the water—despite Lake Michigan still being quite chilly—that meant most of their body.

We were meticulous and determined in this task, tedious though it was, because of our experience as children. Both of us plenty of times tore out of our homes in the morning to play all day in the sun, only to experience the pain of a sunburn that evening. We didn’t want our boys to go through that, let alone expose them to the danger of skin cancer later in life.

At first, the boys chafed at us putting on the sunscreen. They would squirm as they told us that it was too cold. But we put it on, nonetheless. And, I’m happy to say, our boys came back from the vacation virtually sunburn free.

I reflected on this takeaway message as I sat on the beach and walked along the piers at South Haven, and saw that it had a spiritual meaning in addition to health benefits.

The sunscreen was kind of like God’s grace. Just as that protective cream shielded our boys and us from the harmful effects of the sun, so grace can keep the temptation to sin from injuring our souls.

But sunscreen isn’t merely protective. It’s also, in a sense, liberating. If our boys hadn’t had sunscreen on their bodies on the first day of our vacation, the pain of their sunburn would have kept them from having fun during the rest of our time on the shores of Lake Michigan.

In a similar way, God’s grace frees us to experience the joy and blessed happiness of the life that he intended us to live. When Cindy and I were young, sunscreen was as available to us as it is to our boys. We just didn’t use it as often as we should have.

And so we experienced the pain of sunburn, just as clinging to our own desires instead of doing God’s will with the help of his grace leads inevitably to sadness, disappointment and frustration.

No matter how well we know that sunscreen is important to use and no matter how determined we are to use it, putting it on will always take some time and be, at least, somewhat tedious. And at times, we may be tempted to conclude that the effort is not worth it. Just go outside and have some fun.

In a similar way, cooperating with God’s grace in this life will always be challenging. We may very well have experienced great blessings from doing his will instead of our own. But Hell’s theme song, “I Did It My Way,” will always echo in our ears. Part of us will always be convinced that we’ll be much happier living as if God didn’t exist, as if we ourselves defined what was good and bad.

This ever-present temptation makes it all the more important to lean on the help of God’s grace in our daily lives as we seek to do good and avoid evil. For God only knows, the burn we’ll experience in Hell will be a lot worse than a sunburn. †

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