So, what small act of Grace are you going to commit today?
It’s an interesting question, one I ask of myself frequently. It occurred to me after watching the movie version of “Les Miserables,” which, while not quite as awesome as the stage version, is a very powerful story with many sublime moments.
The pivotal moment of the story, the one which changes the trajectory of one man’s life, comes early in the movie. Jean Valjean, a paroled criminal, is struggling to survive outside of prison, and one night is taken in by the bishop of a small abbey. Valjean, desperate, robs the abbey of some silverware and runs out into the night, where he is promptly caught by the gendarme and returned to the abbey. Amazingly, the bishop validates Valjean’s story that the silver was a present, and even offers him two silver candlesticks that he didn’t grab the first time.
The bishop then tells Valjean that he has “bought your soul for God” and he must “use this precious silver to become an honest man.” Valjean proceeds to become a factory owner, the mayor of a small town, a hero, and then a father, taking in a small child and raising her as his own.
It’s easy to imagine that the bishop thought Valjean would go on to become an honest man; that perhaps he would even become a good man; it is hard to imagine that the bishop figured Valjean would go to the lengths he went to to change not only his life, but the lives of many people around him. That one small act of Grace had enormous ripple effects.
I think we all have opportunities, on a daily basis, to extend a little Grace to the people around us. As a teacher and a father, I have that opportunity with surprising frequency. I know it’s hard to believe, but kids aren’t uniformly well-behaved.
There comes a moment when I have to gauge my reaction: does a disruptive kid need to be put in their place, or does a disruptive kid — whose dad just lost his job and sister has health issues — need a moment to breathe and compose themselves? Honestly, I’m sure I get it wrong more than I get it right, but I’ve had a few good moments. Those are good memories.
In today’s cynical, deadline-driven world, I think we tend to discount the value of little things that we do. But, sometimes, it’s the little act that we don’t think much of that causes pretty amazing ripples. Maybe it’s as simple as holding a door; maybe it’s as difficult as NOT reacting with anger to somebody who lashes out at us, considering that maybe they’re having a much worse day than we are.
And this week, in which Christians celebrate the ultimate act of Grace, wouldn’t it be … good … to try to extend a little Grace to the people who share our days with us? Who knows? You might change the world.
Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.