The other day on Facebook, in response to a news story that all students at some Idaho schools will be receiving free lunches, an elected Idaho official made this comment:
He made a few other comments on the thread about “taking responsibility and paying my own way” and about “entitlement thinking”.
And it all made me sad. Seeing someone live in that kind of scarcity–where parents would not be able to teach their kids something because the kids had been exposed to another idea. The scarcity of thinking that if you help someone once, you’ll be helping them forever.
When I was a kid my dad went blind. He had multiple detachments of both of his retinas. Over the course of a few years, he went from being a respiratory therapist at the hospital to being home with the kids. My mom went back to work, and they survived the reversals of their chosen roles. We went from being a stable middle class income family to not having much money at all.
My brother and I got reduced price lunches at school. And the money my family saved through that program made a real difference in our lives. I don’t know if any of my classmates knew I received reduced priced lunches. I don’t remember that ever coming up. I didn’t particularly like it. It felt a little embarrassing and shameful as a kid. But I was also grateful for it, and grateful for the teachers and administrators who didn’t judge me for it.
You know what those lunches did for me? They “entitled” me to have the energy to focus on my education, which “entitled” me to work hard and go to college. They “entitled” me to treat all people with dignity and respect, helping them get a leg up so they can have a chance to succeed as I did. Those free lunches “entitled” me to work for a better community, so all children, no matter the situations in which they find themselves, can have a chance to succeed.
As Christians, we believe there is, actually, such thing as a free lunch. It’s called GRACE. The free and unearned blessing of God. Every time we scream at others that there is no such thing as a free lunch, we deny grace. Every time we pretend we succeeded in life all by ourselves, without the help and kindness of others along the way, we deny grace. Every time we expect others to do what we have not been able to do ourselves, we deny grace.
Instead of denying grace, what if we participated in grace? In her exquisite novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes it this way:
“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.”
How different would the world be if we lived in the abundance of grace instead of the scarcity of self interest? I’m grateful for the grace I have received in my life, from all of those emissaries sent from the Lord to care for me and equip me for the journey. I’m grateful for free lunches and the entitlement to make the world a better place.
How different would the world be if kids grew up thinking that, sometimes, there is free lunch?