Utter the word grace and all kinds of associations and images come to mind.
Grace Kelly, Grace Jones,
God’s grace, in someone’s good graces
saving grace, fall from grace,
grace the stage, grace period
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…
Grace is my one word for 2015. Long before it was a trending thing to do, I have made a practice of choosing a word, or three, to be my anchor for growth and development in the new year. I examine my journal entries to look for the paths upon which God and life have been trying to lead me. I search for themes in my epiphanies, angsts and questions. I spend much time in prayer, meditation, and reflection to find the quality on which I need to focus. This process led me to grace.
My aim is to become a guide to grace- recognizing it, extending it and receiving it.
Something hit me not too long ago. When I look at my face, I see only my mother. There is no distinct part of me that is not mirrored in her. I see facial expressions, skin tone, contours of her features in mine. I believe this is an act of grace from God. You see, I have never known my father. He chose to leave my life when I was an infant. I've never seen a picture of him or ever met any of his family members. Though I have made peace with his absence in my life and truly harbor no ill will or thought, I think it would have sickened my curious, need-to-see-the-connections kind of heart to look into the mirror everyday and see unfamiliar, untraceable features in myself.
Grace abounds, but I don't always recognize it. Most often, it is not until later that I see God’s or someone else’s act of grace in my life. But the fact is when I’m looking for evidence of something, I always find it. You’ll see whatever it is you’re looking for and the more I recognize grace in my own life, the more I am able to extend it to others.
I am a teacher. I used to teach really little kids and now I teach bigger kids; kids who are a little more set in their ways. Kids who have much more of the personality and mindset they will as adults. With really little kids, it is so much easier to extend grace. They are new here. Though I held high expectations, I knew they were learning daily how to be the human beings they were put here to be. I found much joy and purpose in extending grace to little people. And they would respond quickly, happily and thrive because of it. Sometimes this is not the case with bigger kids. Oh yes, they need grace, but they do not always see the need or appreciate the extension.
Nonetheless, they still thrive in it when it is given freely and frequently. My motto is gentle pressure applied relentlessly to help kids move beyond the sometimes jaded perspective they can have toward all the things we grown-ups try to instill in them.
Sometimes, big kids can have bad attitudes, put in less than their best effort. Let’s face it, some have bought into the cultural lie that school is a place to dread despite the fact that this doesn’t match their daily experience. I didn’t know this about big kids. Little kids are not that way. They have great attitudes for the most part. They believe they can change the world and learn anything because we applaud everything they do because they are new here. Not so with bigger kids. Some become jaded because they have been told that something they’ve done isn’t right or good enough. They get told to try harder rather than being shown how to. Let’s face it, they are still new here, too. They need us to extend love, kindness, mercy, compassion and find favor in them. They need grace.
The truth is we all do. I always, always, always say that grown-ups are just like kids, only taller. Deep down, we all have the same core needs and we express those needs in so many of the same ways we did as children. We fight, flee or freeze. Big, small and all in between need grace like they need love because grace is simply an action of love. This is how we can change our weaknesses to strength. Maybe the more grace we extend the better we will get at recognizing our need for and increase our capacity to receive grace.
How many of us are gifted at giving but terrible at receiving? I will be the first to admit it. I know I need grace from people, but sometimes I hate that I need it. For instance, my husband is probably the most gracious man I will ever know. Daily, without fail, he exemplifies the disposition to benefit or serve others with me and our children. For the past few weeks, I have been abnormally fatigued. I fall asleep the way one would accidentally fall down- without warning and hard. Though he has always been an equal participant in the management of our household, he has had to manage just about everything lately: meals, cleaning, laundry (washing, folding and putting away), the bills, the kids’ stuff and whatever else I have left undone.
In 22 years, he has never complained once about taking care of me. He fills in every gap I leave open. He rescues me all of the time. I start something. He finishes it. I dream up something. He makes it happen. He is reliable. He forgives easily. He overlooks my faults. He gives without reservation.
Sometimes, I push back on this. I used to call it independence. Really though, it is an inability to receive grace, also known as pride (not the good kind). I have gotten a lot better through the years. He has told me so. But as with most of life, I am still in progress. I love to serve and give to people. I believe this is a major part of why I am here. Consequently, in order to do this well I have to continuously grow in the three aspects of gracious living I am exploring. Part of growing in grace for me has to be welcoming grace inwardly and with humility. In doing this, I bet I will grow in recognizing and extending it to others.
The more I explore, the more I am convinced that grace isn’t always all roses and rainbows. A proverb states: As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another. This too is grace. Sometimes sparks may fly as we do things that benefit and serve others. Sometimes grace is speaking the truth in love to help people change a behavior or character issue as they travel on the road to being the best version of themselves. Sometimes grace is letting someone make mistakes so they can learn and develop convictions of their own as you admonish and encourage. Sometimes grace is saying or doing nothing at all and letting people find their own strength.Every time, however, grace is giving others and ourselves what is needed, when it is needed. Grace must be thoughtful, genuine and intentional. It calls for our hearts and eyes to be wide open- to know and see what to give and when. The more we recognize acts of and the need for grace, the more we should be able to extend it. And extending grace changes us, moving us into a better state to receive it.
I do not understand the mystery of grace- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.- Anne Lamott