I understand that in some circles, Mumford and Sons has become too mainstream to be cool anymore, but I still enjoy their music.  On their album, Sigh No More, they released a song called, Roll Away Your Stone.  The song has overt Prodigal Son overtones, and that doesn’t surprise me since Marcus Mumford’s parents were leaders in the Vineyard Church in Great Britain. Although their music is decidedly not Christian, it has clearly been informed with an exposure to Christian teachings.  The third verse of Roll Away Your Stone is probably one of my favorite expressions of grace in all secular art.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say ‘That’s exactly how this grace thing works’
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Can I be honest?  The first time I ever heard this song, when these words were sang I almost had to pull over from driving because I was having a Pentecostal fit. Why? What’s the big deal about this lyric? For me, no other artist has captured the essence of what it is that actually transforms us in the Christian life.  If you read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), you’ll find that the journey home isn’t what transformed the wayward son.  The journey home was probably filled with the son rehearsing his speech for his dad, fretting about giving up his status as a son, and regret for how he had wasted his inheritance on meaningless living.  Essentially, the journey home was filled with lamenting and uncertainty.

It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart

We get so caught up in hoping that people will learn a lesson from their hardships.  We talk about people hitting rock bottom as if that is the transforming agent.  Hitting rock bottom isn’t what transforms a person.  Or maybe some might think that a little shame will teach the needed lesson. We all know people (or have been the person) who has had to take their own version of the walk of shame. It’s that proverbial walk where suddenly all your faults, flaws, and shortcomings are visible for all to see.  Shame doesn’t transform either.

But the welcome I receive with every start

No, the transforming agent is found in the embrace. The prodigal son couldn’t even finish his rehearsed speech before his father embraced him and welcomed him back home. The prodigal imagined that he would live as a servant in his father’s home. But his father’s embrace, the welcome that he received upon his return, is what changed his life.  Grace is what his father offered, and it was grace that transformed his life, not the hard journey home.

We are often so focused on ensuring that people learn a lesson, that we forget the transforming power of grace.  And not just any grace, but God’s grace through us.  God’s grace overflowing from us is the power for others’ transformations.  Right now, I am facing a few situations where I want to teach a lesson very badly, but I know that grace is really the only answer.  I need to offer an embrace, rather than a teaching moment.

I don’t say this to deny that tough love isn’t a method of offering God’s grace to others.  I absolutely believe that God chastises those he loves, and he does that through us.  The very idea of tough love is founded in the process of church discipline.  Discipline, chastisement, tough love, whatever you want to call it, is also a means of God’s grace.  But my fear is that in the name of tough love, we have purged our friend lists not because of God’s grace, but because it makes our lives easier.  There’s no hope for someone to experience transformation from convenience disguised as tough love.  The grace of tough love transforms the one dishing it out, and the one receiving it.

So today, I don’t know what your situations are, but before you rush to tough love, before you unilaterally decide that you need to deliver a lesson, offer a teaching moment, or whatever, perhaps all God wants you to do is embrace and let the transforming power of grace flow from there.  Don’t let your flesh get in the way of someone else’s transformation.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often ywill my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? zAs many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)