Oh, How We Need Grace.
My whole life I’ve had this complicated relationship with the word.
It’s my name, so it’s a word I hear over and over again to the point that sometimes it loses all meaning. Then, of course, there’s the fact that it’s a word with many meanings. I would often hear growing up: “Oh, you’re Grace — that must mean you’re graceful like Grace Kelly.” I’d then have to explain that no, I’m no ballerina. I wasn’t named for that attribute akin to poise and elegance, but a different sort of grace altogether.
“It’s like mercy,” I’d try to explain. “Mercy is when someone spares a punishment or consequence you deserve. Grace is when someone bestows a gift upon you when you don’t deserve it at all.”
That’s been the best explanation I could come up with. Other people have tried as well:
“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” — John Stott
“Grace is unconditional love to a person who does not deserve it.” — Paul Zahl
In church I learned the old acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
And as Rumi wrote:
“You are so weak. Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.”
Yes. Yes. We need more help than we know.
Grace as I have known it, as I have been taught my whole life, is a Christian concept — I imagine that’s arguable — but I think it’s one that everybody needs right now whether you’re religious or not. I look around at the world today, I read the news, I log on to my social media feeds, and it’s all so toxic. Everybody’s taking sides. There’s this feeling of schadenfreude toward Those Idiots. A feeling of mockery towards the ones who could be so dumb as to not see things the way that we do, the way that clearly makes sense. We cling to karma — what goes around comes around. We have enemies, real enemies, people we actively despise and wish harm. Some among us face persecution. We’re angry and frustrated and scared.
But though karma feels like balance, feels like justice, feels like what we really crave so much right now, I don’t think karma will help. I don’t think waiting for people to get what’s coming to them is the way out of this mess.
I think we really, really, really need grace. To get it, and more importantly, to give it.
Grace is so stupid. It’s idiotic. It’s ridiculous and foolish. It makes NO SENSE. It doesn’t feel good to have to quash down all this rage and to show love and kindness to a bunch of people who absolutely don’t deserve it.
But justice won’t save us. Karma won’t save us. The truth may set us free, but even that isn’t enough.
Grace might just turn this whole stupid awful toxic mess around if we try, if we let it. Grace might just be the best chance we’ve got.
What does offering grace mean?
It means acknowledging the person behind the rhetoric.
It means seeing with new eyes.
It doesn’t mean being a doormat when people say or do things that are wrong, but it does mean treating them with respect and kindness even if they don’t deserve it, and even if they don’t extend the same to you.
For those of you who aren’t Christian this may not mean anything, but for those of you who are:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It doesn’t matter if they’re idiots. It doesn’t matter if they’re wrong. It doesn’t matter if they anger you or hurt you. It doesn’t matter if they make foolish mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you 1000% oppose their cause. It doesn’t matter if you wish they’d come to ruin.
Grace says love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them anyway.
I write this to the liberal, to the conservative, and to everyone else in between or way past the edges.
I write this not with hope, not with any sort of real wisdom, but with the conviction that my namesake, this stupid and insane and wonderful grace, might not be a complete waste of time.
I write this knowing I’m as guilty as anyone, maybe more so.
I write this knowing I live in a world that no longer seems to listen.
I write this knowing that many of us try and hope and care and love anyway.