“Are you a student at all?”
I pause. I’m wearing a Calvin College sweatshirt, and I still have my student ID somewhere for occasions like this one, and I’m paying student loans, after all, but Movie Girl knows I’m lying when I finally say yes.
Guilt floods me, but it’s too late. Movie Girl has already rung my $2.00-discount price, and I’m handing over my debit card. With one swipe, it’s finished. Somewhere outside the gates that St. Peter guards, a gavel sounds.
I take the movie ticket and step away from the counter while my friend, another 2014 college graduate, steps up. Her name is also Cassie. When I met her in eighth grade, I didn’t have any friends and she was so nice to me that I thought she was an angel. I’ve since dropped by suspicions because someone once told me that angels are actually very tall and terrifying, and I’ve got about three inches on Cassie.
“Are you a student?” Movie Girl asks Cassie.
Cassie smiles. “No.”
I wonder if I should take my suspicions back up.
Movie Girl charges Cassie the full price. Cassie pays the full price. And as soon as she falls into step beside me, she smiles and says, “Liars go to hell.”
The idea of God as fire and brimstone always scared the hell right out of me, but I can’t deny what I’d done: I’m not a student; I’m a sinner.
During the previews, I battle the guilt. I wonder about the sins that God really cares about, and I convince myself that $2.00 probably doesn’t really matter to God, right? But probably it does, and if it doesn’t, God probably cares about my dishonesty, and he might care about my frivolous $7.95, and he might care that I spent Friday night watching a movie rather than doing something else like reading the Bible.
Really, it’s a tireless list.
A list I used to carry with me and beat myself up over.
But about two years ago, I summoned the courage to make an appointment with a counselor at Calvin. I walked up and down that Spoelhof hallway about five times before I was certain nobody would see me go in. After the third meeting, I said I didn’t want to come back, but I remember one of the conversations I had with the stranger sitting across from me.
“You know,” he said, “a lot of young adults who grow up in the church struggle with guilt. Would you call yourself a perfectionist?”
“No,” I said. But yes.
“Do you believe others deserve grace?”
“But you won’t allow yourself that same grace?”
I didn’t say anything because I was pretty sure there were several scarlet letters embroidered across my chest that told the universe I didn’t deserve grace. (And if there weren’t at the time, there’s definitely at least one giant “L” for “LIAR” now.)
And yet, in The Reason for God, Timothy Keller writes something I never accepted until months after my conversation with that counselor (and something that I still have a difficult time understanding now):
“God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and acknowledge their need for a Savior.”
Given the glorious mess of life, it’s strange the moments grace hits me. It sneaks up on me in moments when I’m not even aware I’m going to need it. Grace breaks right through the scent of popcorn in a movie theater. It finds me when my thoughts turn sour during a monotonous chore. It overwhelms me when I glance at my Bible on the floor and turn off the light instead. Grace covers that entire ridiculous list I constructed time and time again as a child and then a teenager and then a young adult.
Grace reminds me, as I’m sitting in a movie theater with a deceitfully-bought movie ticket stub in my pocket, to let it go. Because it’s only $2.00 this time, and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay.
And today, when I think something mean I wish I’d never thought, that’s okay too. Because I’m not perfect, and I’m not always my best self to people, and St. Peter and his gavel would never allow me through those gates on my own. Especially not with that ticket stub.
But I guess that’s the point of grace
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.