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Grace and Mercy

"Miss! What bothers you most about our generation—Gen Z?" one of my sophomore students asked me during class today. The boy who asked me this expected me to say I was annoyed by the slang, the way kids dress, the TikTok dances, or that they have their noses in their phones 24/7. I thought about it for a second, and the answer was difficult to put into words that a 15-year-old could understand. What bothers me most about this generation is the expectation of mercy

As a teacher for 20 years, I have been told numerous times by administrators to show grace to students. It's a pervasive theme with all educators in the past few years. With Covid restrictions, ADHD and learning disabilities on the rise, parental neglect, poverty, mental health issues, an influx of apathy and kids simply not doing their work, teachers are told over and over to extend grace to kids in the classroom. We are told that we need to think about their circumstances and why they may not be completing the work. Entire professional developments teach us the importance of social-emotional learning. A student's mental health should be our priority now, not necessarily their education. We are told to cut back on homework, and in some cases, give none at all. Some school districts prohibit teachers from giving a student a 0, even when that student has done zero work that term. 

However, it isn't actually grace that teachers are giving students. We are giving the students mercy and calling it grace. What most don't realize is how much excessive mercy is hurting these kids.

The Greek word for grace is charis, meaning "favor." So grace, therefore, is unmerited favor. To give grace means that you get things that you don't deserve. As a parent, this means giving your kid an extra scoop of ice cream for no reason, or letting your child still go over to her friend's house even though her room isn't tidy yet. It means I give my daughter $20 to go to the football game on Friday night to spend at the concession stand just because she got along with her sister for once. To put it in classroom terms, grace means extra credit, an opportunity to re-do assignments, or allowing students to turn in late work.

The Greek word for mercy is eleos, meaning "pity/compassion." This means you don't get the punishment you deserve—I take away the punishment that someone should receive and allow them to not experience the consequences of their actions. As a parent, this means you may not take away your child's phone after she has been disrespectful, or it means you allow your child to still drive after he's received a speeding ticket. It means I still allow my daughter to go to her best friend's quinceanera that's been planned for six months, even though she's supposed to be grounded. In classroom terms, this would be changing a zero to a 50, not turning in a student for a dress code violation or making sure that a student who has done little work for the term to still get a passing grade. 

We can see that in life, as well as the classroom, grace and mercy are much different, but both are completely undeserved. In the kingdom of Heaven, we receive both grace and mercy from our Heavenly Father. Our deserved punishment for our sins is death, but through mercy (compassion) Jesus took that punishment from us on the cross. We are forever indebted to Him for dying on the cross for our sins and taking away our deserved punishment. Through grace (unmerited favor) we are saved—we get something we do not deserve. 

For both grace and mercy, we should be eternally grateful. At the fundamental base level of both grace and mercy, we have to understand that we do not deserve either one. It is a gift from God. However, this generation of children are learning that grace and mercy are the expectation. We do it as parents at home, and teachers and administrators do it at school. Through our public school system, kinds wonder, "Why am I being punished for not doing the work?" At the end of every term, kids inevitably ask "What extra credit can I do?" or "How can I get my grade up?" Then it turns into, "Why did you give me a failing grade on that assignment?" As if a teacher arbitrarily assigns grades to classwork instead of making sure the student completed and understood the content of the class. 

Over the past few years, any teacher will tell you that students have been getting increasingly upset when they have to actually do work to pass a class. When there are few extra credit opportunities or when they fail a class and have to face the consequences, kids (and many times, their parents, too) are indignant that they should have more or extra opportunities to pass—or even worse—pass with little to no effort. They cannot understand that their behavior and choices are a determining factor in their grade in the class. It somehow becomes the teacher's fault, because in reality, the teacher could extend grace and mercy. Kids (and their parents) want to know why a teacher who supposedly cares about kids would withhold grace and mercy. What is the most loving thing sometimes, is to allow us to feel the pain of our own decisions. When grace and mercy are the expectation, we start to correlate grace and mercy with love, conflating all three instead of understanding that sometimes love means withholding grace and mercy. We have to understand that just because someone doesn't give us grace and/or mercy, it doesn't mean they don't love us and care about us. We have to stop teaching kids to expect grace and mercy. 

Grace and mercy are the exception. Some of these public school policies are setting up kids to fail in life because there are real consequences to our actions. But beyond that, we are giving our young people false hope in God's mercy and grace. When grace and mercy become the expectation, then it is no longer a gift, and it is no longer appreciated or something to be eternally grateful for. We feel upset and dismayed when we don't experience grace and mercy. We begin to not take responsibility for our actions, because it would be so easy to erase the consequences our decisions if someone else would just give us grace or mercy. We begin to behave in ways that we shouldn't, and then we become reliant on others for their grace and mercy instead of taking accountability for ourselves.  

Not only do we make irresponsible choices when we feel there are no consequences, but it becomes a reflection of what we believe about God. We expect God to hold us to the same level of low accountability that our parents and teachers have. Expecting grace and mercy from God will only lead us to think that God is somehow withholding things from us. We know scripturally this is not true because God has plans to prosper us and to give us a hope and a future. God loves us, and He wants what's best for us. This brings us back to the idea that loving someone does not always mean we show them grace and mercy, because that may not be the most loving thing at the time. 

How we experience the world around us shapes how we see God. If our parents and teachers give us too much grace and mercy, then when God doesn't give us the grace and mercy, we will become angry with God for withholding from us. We will question Him and His sovereignty, and put demands and conditions on Him and His love. These feelings will inevitably bring resentment, hopelessness and desolation. As parents and teachers, we have to be less merciful and allow students to fail. Allowing a child to fail a class or sitting out a couple weeks of sports while under a parent's tutelage is insignificant when compared to the struggles that child will have as an adult as a result of years of thinking there are no consequences to their actions. Ultimately, we want to produce productive citizens who take accountability for their actions while at the same time, they are children of God who can be grateful when God shows them grace and mercy. 


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