Pure Grace & Playgrounds

I’m a new pastor, and at that point I was only three months into the parish, so I was always somewhere between “This is awesome” and “Dear Lord what have I gotten myself into.” I sometimes see myself as God’s cheerleader to my congregation trying to encourage and remind them that God is good, creation is good, and we can help build the Kingdom. Some weeks I feel more successful than others—that week was not one of those weeks.

My husband and I live in a parsonage in the neighborhood behind my church and sometimes on walks or runs we’ll head toward the church and walk or run round the gravel path behind the church. We did it one evening, which is lovely except for I find the church playground in the middle of the loop to be slightly creepy. It has those bouncy animals kids can ride on, but they’re all askew as if one day they went too far in one direction and could never right themselves.

While I watched them slowly creak back and forth in the diming light of evening I confided in my husband that I had been praying about the playground. I realized it probably shouldn’t even make it on my top ten list of prayers in my first three months, but it just looked sad and the mulch is almost gone, and I really felt like getting some more mulch or maybe some paint would really encourage folks and welcome kids, so I prayed about it. I told my husband that I knew it was silly and that it wasn’t like we would get a grant for a playground at a small church or that we ‘needed’ one, and he encouraged me to at least look into it, and then we changed the topic as we walked on.

The next week I’m sitting in a meeting when a member excitedly tells me that the city park is replacing their playground, and we are first in line if we want it. I nearly cried. We drove to look at it, and it’s a fancy playground, a legit playground with slides and turrets and the non-slip flooring with the holes. Even lying disassembled and in need of some cleaning it was the most beautiful playground I’ve ever seen.

And this is what hit me – this is what pure grace looks like. Grace when we don’t deserve it. Grace when we haven’t done anything to earn it. Grace when I didn’t even have the faith to pray for it. I prayed for mulch… and God gave us a playground—a bigger, more beautiful, more legit playground than I would have asked for had I even dared to pray for one.

And it brings me to tears to think that the God of abundance doesn’t wait for me, for us, to think big enough, to pray big enough to overwhelm us with grace. It made me think of how C. S. Lewis remarked, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about… when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I am too often a child of scarcity, overwhelmed by the grace and majesty of a God of abundance. And I pray that as we build this playground and watch kids play on it, and every time we look at it that we would be reminded. Reminded that we serve a God of infinite grace, who surprises us with abundance, not because we deserve it, but because it is God’s nature. I have a feeling God, this playground, and us have a lot of good work ahead of us – better, more life giving, abundant work than we could ever imagine or pray for. Thanks be to God!

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