As soon as I came around the bend, I saw the trooper see me and jump into her cruiser.

I hadn’t been paying attention to the speedometer as I hurried home, with my wife and children, from my parents’ house. Instead, I’d been engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: criticizing my wife for failing to show me grace. How could you fail to be kind and generous?, I had been asking unkindly and ungenerously.

With the trooper lit up behind me, I safely traversed four lanes of traffic, using my blinker, and pulled as far as I could off the road and onto the shoulder. I placed both hands on the wheel. See, I was silently telling the trooper, I am a law-abiding citizen. The trooper politely took my license and made her way back to her cruiser.

She’d told me I’d been doing 77 in a 55, and I’d had no reason to dispute her. But I still had hope. I’m in a car with my kids. I’d been compliant. I’m just a family man, trying to make my way home. Surely she’ll let me off with a warning.

But she didn’t. She returned to my window, ticket in hand, and explained how I could pay my fine. As she walked away, I said—sarcastically, but not sarcastically enough to get arrested—“Merry Christmas.”

I am utterly dependent on grace. At home. At work. On the road. With family. With friends. With customer service agents. I constantly find myself in situations where I need someone else to make an exception for me. To forgive my mistake. To overlook my inadequacy.

And yet, all too often, I find that, when grace is required of me, I can be unyielding, claiming that I have no choice, that I’m just doing my job.

That’s probably because I’ve forgotten what a gift grace is. Grace is never deserved and never justified. It is an out-of-nowhere, pride-swallowing, I-really-shouldn’t-be-doing-this act of defiance. And it should never be taken for granted how difficult it is for someone else to show. And I should never forget how transformational it can be when I show it.

So, Sgt. Stallings, if you happen to read this, a sincere Merry Christmas to you. Thanks for reminding me that no one needs a savior more—or deserves it less—than I do.