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The Gift We Can’t Earn} ?> There is a word that is perhaps the most offensive one I know; it strikes at my sense of justice, at the idea that wrongdoers should get what they deserve instead of receiving forgiveness. But when I try hard enough to embrace this beautiful concept and remember how much it’s turned my life around, I’m able to remember the awesome power that it has. That word is “grace.”
In Clannad After Story, the second season of the Clannad anime series, Tomoya graduates high school, goes straight from there into the workforce, and marries the series heroine, Nagisa. Their romance is a moving one—Tomoya helps Nagisa develop meaningful friendships for the first time in her life and she helps him overcome the emotional scars he’s incurred from years of abuse and neglect at the hands of his father. But their fairy tale romance ends tragically when Nagisa passes away giving birth to the pair’s daughter, Ushio.
Depressed and heartbroken, Tomoya pours himself into his work and lets Nagisa’s parents raise Ushio. He becomes bitter about life and rarely sees his daughter, finally visiting only because he’s tricked into it. Tomoya begrudgingly then takes his daughter on a short trip, but it’s tough going as he continues to struggle with the bitterness he feels toward Ushio and with his own inadequacies as a parent.
It’s that second struggle that becomes significant when Tomoya realizes that the place he’s taken his daughter to is near his own grandmother’s home. There, Tomoya learns more about his dad, who he’d grown to hate, especially after his father broke his arm during an abusive episode (and thereby destroying his dreams of becoming a professional athlete). But now, Tomoya hears a different perspective, one of a man who was also dealing with the grief of losing his wife but, unlike Tomoya, put all that he had into loving his child. And although his father ultimately failed him, Tomoya breaks down as he remembers that even in this damaged relationship, there was love. Here, Tomoya decides to offer his father forgiveness, and healing begins for him, his dad, and their relationship.
But as it often does, grace doesn’t end where it starts—it spreads, overflowing like a cup filled to the brim with water. Tomoya returns to Ushio, realizing that, like his dad, he was failing his child. And there with his daughter, grace begins to flow. A frantic Ushio weeps as she explains that she’s lost a cheap toy Tomoya had bought her earlier. Tomoya wonders why it matters so much—after all, he can just buy her another one. But as Ushio explain, it means everything, because that toy was the first thing her father ever gave her.
That’s the childlike grace that changes hearts—Ushio loves Tomoya as her dad, even though he’s neglected her and been more a stranger than parent to her all this time. Later, an overwhelmed Tomoya apologizes to Ushio over and over, embracing his girl as a treasure he doesn’t deserve.
I’m reminded of how I‘ve stood in judgement over family and friends in the past, expecting them to abide by my code of justice, to understand what they’ve done wrong and how they need to correct it before I can grant them my love. I’m reminded of how doing so just hurts others and puffs me up with pride. If I had extended grace instead, the relationships might have been strengthened instead of questioned.
Grace washes over both giver and receiver. The one receiving is confronted with her wrongs and compelled to do right by that love, while the one giving is able to be free from pride and bitterness, handing out something beautiful instead of something painful.
For too long, like Tomoya, I drowned myself in the disappointment and hurt caused by those closest to me and, by distributing judgment, I caused even more pain to those that depend on and love me. It was enough to turn me bitter, angry, depressed, and cowardly.
I’ve traveled to selfish and dark places like Tomoya, and also like him, I’ve been dragged out and saved through the awesome power of grace. And that’s precisely what grace—and only grace—can do; as we experience forgiveness we’ve never earned and as we offer that same love to those who don’t deserve it, we find that hearts and minds can be changed for good, and that even in despair, there is hope.