Staring at the Paper Towel Roll (and Other Ways to Stiff-Arm Uncommon Grace)

We should buy stock in paper towels. They’re what keep us from sloshing around up to our ankles or elbows in spills, drips, and yes, throw-up.

It seems I have a roll everywhere: in the kitchen, upstairs in the hallway, in the car, and we always bring one to the basement when we’re all down there for movie night. The other must-have is the cleaning wipe. They do the follow-up clean to the paper towel. Of course, we also use actual towels with water and soap, but when everything has spectacularly splattered to the nether regions of furniture, floor, and surrounding people, the paper towel has a certain immediacy and convenience to it.

But every now and then, a big spill happens and I will simply stare in the direction of the paper towel roll. Utterly irrational and completely ridiculous, I can only be thinking one of two things: 1) someone else will take care of this problem if I just sit here, or 2) this problem will take care of itself if I just sit here. It usually only takes a few seconds for sanity to prevail and for the stalling engine to start, but it’s a real thing that happens.

And this sums up what is likely the biggest spiritual problem I face–and maybe you, too. It’s not that grace isn’t there. It’s not that the paper towel roll of life is empty. It’s that sometimes I just stare at it rather than see it as a gift and help and true grace and mercy.

Jesus is more than a paper towel roll–the analogy has major limits, people, but stick with me. He’s more than the clean-up to a problem, but he’s certainly not less than that. And how often do we talk about him, look at him, eye him from a distance, but fail to avail ourselves of the grace found in him?

Sometimes I say things to one of my children and I know they’re hearing me on some level–they’re giving some slight outward acknowledgement, but thirty seconds later, they don’t know what it is I said. They heard, but they weren’t listening. That’s us with looking at Jesus. We look. We may even gaze. But it’s the gaze of a bored boyfriend sitting on a bench at the mall mindlessly staring while she tries on another pair of shoes. He’s not really seeing anything. How often do we look at Jesus, but we’re not getting anything, not grasping a concrete reality, not truly receiving or knowing anything with our own minds and hands and hearts.

One thing that has sometimes slowed me down in laying hold of the grace in Jesus is that it often doesn’t feel how I think it’s going to. It doesn’t look or feel super spiritual or ultra meaningful or cosmically life-changing. It just looks like singing a song of praise when I want to call a friend and complain. It looks like ordering my thumb to open my Bible app instead of facebook. It looks like receiving the gift of a text from a friend who offers prayers and support, rather than letting my thoughts spiral to self-pity. It looks like thankfulness for every small thing that is going “right” today–especially the teenager helping with lunch, rather than griping inside about all the stuff that isn’t worth griping about (which is all of it, by the way, even the really hard stuff).

God’s grace through Jesus is everywhere– a flood of kindness that keeps us watered and growing even during a drought, but we’ve got to tune our ears to really listen for the grace, we’ve got to look with our eyes to really see it. And that, in NO WAY, means that we’re earning it, or getting it by our own means. It’s a gift. But even gifts have to be received.

It’s uncommon grace found in that paper towel roll. When I first learned about common grace, I was really helped to have that category, but after awhile I started misapplying it to mean that all the normal good stuff of life that I experienced was a mere impersonal common grace. What I failed to see was that Jesus’ sacrifice makes me God’s child. When we’re God’s children, every way we interact with and relate to God is done in that paradigm. Nothing he gives us is a mere “common” grace–it is a grace that comes only because Jesus secured it for us, just as he secured our status as God’s children. Even paper towels. If ALL THINGS work for the good of God’s children, then if we are God’s children, we must receive everything in life as a particular grace through and by Jesus.

The paper towel roll is never empty with Jesus. There is always, always, always grace. Not just barely enough, but more and more and more than our brains have categories for. He cares more for us than we do. He’s committed to our good, our obedience, our growth more than we are. He never forgets to restock the shelves of grace. In Christ, they are infinitely available. Stop staring at them and start receiving them through Christ.

P.S. Here’s a link to my latest DG post, The Only Constant in Life.


5 thoughts on “Staring at the Paper Towel Roll (and Other Ways to Stiff-Arm Uncommon Grace)

  1. This encouraged me tonight. This sentence was particularly refreshing:
    “He’s committed to our good, our obedience, our growth more than we are.”

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