A scholarly looking gentleman with a voice like Sean Connery stood in front of an auditorium full of college students and told them that Jesus loved them even when they spilled their milk. I can’t remember exactly what he looked like as 15 years have blurred my memory, but the message is just as clear in my mind on this humid, summer day as it was then.
In our house, there is no lack of spilled milk. From sippy cups that slowly drip a puddle under the couch, in spite of their leak proof promises, to the full blown torrents of milk that gush from the carton and land on the kitchen counter completely missing the cereal bowl. There have been days when my response has been to roll my eyes and hand the 7 year old a stack of paper towels with a grunted order to clean up her mess. Other days I have compassionately hugged the awkward child who is still learning to do big kid things for herself, and remind her that everyone makes messes and it’s ok, as long as we clean them up.
Admittedly, on my worst days, I yell with scathing words, “I told you to watch what you were doing!” or “If you weren’t bouncing around in your seat you wouldn’t haven’t spilled!”
The thing about spills is that they are usually accidents. Sometimes caused by carelessness. Most times caused by immaturity. Occasionally though, they are caused by a bad decision to do something that one knows they shouldn’t, like climbing on top of the kitchen table to grab their sister’s cookie out of her hand - crash goes the cup of milk. Whatever the cause, when milk spills, what is needed more than the Brawny man, is grace.
I have spilled a lot of milk in my day, from careless words that have injured others, to immature choices that led to unfortunate consequences, and definitely bad decisions to do things that I knew I shouldn’t. Most of my spilled milk is caused by thoughtlessness. I become angry with myself for not thinking/doing better. As a teenager, I had a constant tally of demerits in school for forgetting homework and signed parental forms.
I have a daughter who is a lot like me. Her head is always elsewhere, lost in thought, focused on the pictures in her imagination, unaware of what’s right in front of her. She spills a lot of milk too. She requires a lot of grace, as does her mother. Fitting that her middle name is Grace, isn’t it?
Sometimes, receiving God’s love and grace is too hard. We know our own depravity too well. We know how far we are from being who we should be. We know how much milk we’ve spilled, even though we’ve been told to be more careful. It feels better to be punished than to be forgiven. It feels right to receive what we deserve. Go ahead and give us detention, we should have remembered the rules.
Yet, we forget the work of Christ on the cross, and the justice that it provides. We are quick to forget that punishment for our sin has already been dealt. The wrath of God that we rightly deserve has already been spent. The mess we made (and have yet to make) has already been cleaned up. We forget. We think the choices are to pay for our crimes, or take advantage of God’s grace and get off scot free. Our self-righteousness pushes us towards bracing ourselves for the punishment. Our immaturity pushes us to abuse the grace of God.
Neither of those things is true of God’s grace. When we accept God’s grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are accepting that the crime has been paid for, yet we don’t walk away as though nothing happened. When someone takes a bullet for you, it changes the way you live life moving forward.
Grace abounds when there has been a lot of sin (Romans 5:20), and that grace flows through us to others. We live differently. We see others through the lens of forgiveness and compassion. We worship with more humility because God’s grace brings loving correction that moves us towards change, not final judgment.
The days when I yell at my kids the most for making mistakes are usually days when I am struggling to accept God’s grace for myself. Those are the days that my own depravity looms in front of me, taunting me with the disgusting nature of my own soul. I struggle to accept grace and therefore struggle to give it to others.
But those days when my eyes are fixed on Jesus, and the loveliness of his work fills my view, I am quick to offer grace to the offensiveness of others. When my kids spill their milk literally, I am reminded of the milk I have spilled metaphorically, and I am delighted to show my kids what God’s grace looks like as I clean up there mess and hold them tight, whispering “It’s ok, Mommy will help you”. And as I help them clean up I can gently teach them again what they need to do differently in order to spill less in the future. I disciple them as Jesus disciples me.
I have lost count of how many times the Father has cleaned up my mess, held me tight, and whispered, “Don’t worry, Sweet One. My Son has already cleaned it up for you.”
I have watched as the hands still bearing the scars of my sin have graciously mopped up the spills in my life with his own blood. Me… His enemy! How can I not extend this same grace to my own children, my husband, my brothers and sisters in Christ and especially the lost who need a representation of God’s forgiveness? They are not perfect. They make a lot of mistakes. And so do I. We do not need to cringe in fear of the punishment we know we deserve. Rather, we look to our Heavenly Father, who loves us, even when we spill our milk.
My prayer for both of us today, is that we will accept God’s grace. We want to argue that we don’t deserve it and we’d be right. I pray that the pain of humility that comes with receiving a gift we do not deserve will not keep us from embracing it with both arms. I pray that our pride will not convince us to try to bear our own punishment, but rather rely on Jesus’ payment for our sin. I pray that we will know, that in spite of all the milk we’ve spilled, Jesus loves us deeply. He is not waiting to scold us harshly for our mistakes. See how patiently he cleans it up? I pray we will have the grace to do the same for our sweet babies, so that they too may see God’s love and grace for them, through the kindness of their own mommies who are trusting in the saving grace of Jesus.
He [Jesus] said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven…your faith has saved you; go in peace.”