What Do Donuts Have To Do With Grace?

“Nicholas, if you don’t settle down back there, we’re not going to stop for donuts.”

Danielle eyed her son in the rear view mirror. His face mirrored back only defiance.

They were on the way home after a long day. There had been battles, spills and a refusal to get in the car. Nicholas knew the rules quite well, and this normally well-behaved boy was, for reasons unbeknownst to Danielle, deciding that today was the day that he’d pour out all the anger, angst and annoyance that it seemed he’d been storing up.

Nicholas started kicking the back of the driver’s seat, his face grim.

“I’m going to give to you the count of three to stop doing that, love,” said Danielle, as patiently as possible under the circumstances.



Kick, kick, kick.


Kick. Kick-kick-kick.


A pause. Danielle almost held her breath.

Kick, kick.

“Okay, buddy. You chose it. No donuts today.”

In the back, Nicholas was silent except for the rhythmic pounding of his little feet on the vinyl.

Danielle sighed.

• • •

Later, after they had stopped by the grocery store for a few items, Danielle found herself with Nicholas’s small hand tucked into hers, at the threshold of “their” donut shop. What the heck, she thought. He’s been pretty good since then. And why not?

She settled Nicholas at a table and went to pick out a few flavors. One for her, one for him. She could tell by his worried expression that he thought she was going to each a donut in front of her, so when she returned to the table with two donuts, she was surprised by his response.

“No,” he said, as she slid a plate bearing a full donut in front of him.

“No, no.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” said Danielle. “You can have it. Really.”

“No,” said Nicholas, his eyes brimming. “No, I was bad. I can’t have the donut.”

“But I said it was okay, buddy. You’re allowed to have it. It’s a freebie, alright?”

Nicholas’s bottom lip jutted out.

“No. I was bad. I can’t have it.”

Danielle decided that eating her donut might entice him to break and pick up his own, but Nicholas stayed stubborn.

“I was bad. I can’t have it,” he repeated to himself whenever he seemed to waver.

“Oh, buddy,” Danielle cajoled. “I want you to have it. It would make me happy if you took it. It’s really okay.”

“No, no, no.” It was like the little kicks on the back of her seat.

“No, I was bad.”

And then Danielle saw it, saw herself, in her small son. So aware of the rules. So careful to abide by them, so sure that those rules, whatever they were, were more important than grace.

• • •

Danielle told me this story in spiritual direction. I share it with her permission (and with names and details changed to protect confidentiality) because it’s such a good example of how we reject grace. It make be a little simplistic to think of grace as a free donut, but it really is. Unmerited favor. Love we don’t have to earn. Blessing we don’t have to perform for—indeed, don’t have to even be “good” to receive. 

While we may have an understanding that we don’t have to perform to earn God’s love, mercy and grace, we often forget that means that we receive grace even when we’re not “performing”, when we not “behaving.” We may have let go of needing to be “good” but we haven’t let go of needing to be “not bad.” It’s okay, we think, if God loves me when I’m not doing anything special. Underneath that lurks the belief that it’s still not okay for God to love me when I’m doing something “bad.”

Nicholas never ate the donut. Despite his mother’s permission, despite her wanting him to take it, he refused the gift. The rules were more important than grace.

• • •

Take a moment to think about your own journey with God over the past days and weeks. Where have you refused the gift because you had “broken the rules”? Where might God have been offering you grace that you simply didn’t want to receive? Where did you decide you weren’t going to eat the donut?



One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28