Last week I shared my desire to write small stories about the grace we experience in our ordinary moments. I’m working on a story about that now and I hope to link it to a connecting group of similar stories.
As this past week progressed, I found myself thinking about grace and how often it appears unexpectedly. For many years I struggled to understand its meaning. Guess what? I’m still struggling! It is a staggering concept.
Christians define grace as the unmerited favor of God. Beyond its theological implications, I believe that grace can be practiced by all of us when we extend freely the gift of love and good will toward men. To extend it freely means we do it without regard to whether it is deserved or not.
As I think about my life experiences, I’m surprised and humbled by the manifestation of God’s grace in my life just when I have most needed it and did nothing to deserve it. Without going into matters too personal to share publicly, I recall at least four occasions when I felt God’s helping hand reach out and rescue me from situations beyond my control. Do I believe in the intervention of God in our lives? You bet. I’ve been the recipient too many times to scoff at divine assistance. What’s more, at the moment intervention occurred I felt a peace and sureness of rescue. Saint Paul called that assurance the peace that transcends all understanding. I agree; words cannot describe it. Those moments and the memories of them are precious because they are rare.
It is a struggle for us to believe in grace in a world torn by injustice, anger, brokenness and violence. Sometimes I wonder if the concept of grace might be a fairy tale, something too good to be true. I think of the holocaust, the Jewish people rounded up by the Nazis and placed in gas chambers. Those not gassed subjected to horrors recounted in the tragic, horrific remembrances of those who survived. The photographs and films of that time live in our memories and make us question.
Where was God’s grace?
We look at the horrors of today’s world – earthquakes, famine, greed, despotism, want, fear, disease… more tragedy than I can bear to consider. Where is God’s grace?
I don’t know.
And yet… I’m convinced it exists. I have experienced it. And more importantly: I believe grace existed even in the concentration camps. I’m not sure how or in what form. I’m not sure why God let people go through that horror… my mind is too small to comprehend it. But I believe in grace.
I believe in the grace of people reaching out toward one another. I believe in the grace of one friend forgiving another who treated her badly. I believe in grace when someone hands money to a beggar on a street corner, even while questioning whether the beggar deserves it.
You see, that’s the thing: none of us deserves grace. It’s a gift.
We seem to be living in an age where grace between people is in short supply. The last election has brought out vehement anger and hatred between friends and strangers. I can’t recall ever having seen the degree of discord that we are witnessing today. I wonder how much social media plays into this. It is so easy to fire off a quick verbal retort on Facebook or post an angry tweet toward those who disagree with our point of view. Strangers attack one another behind the anonymity of social media. Former friends no longer speak to one another because of ideological differences. Family members argue over manufactured political hype and part company. Who profits from this? Not us. Surely, not us.
This past Thursday, I had my monthly blood draw for a medication I take. I had a new lab tech take my blood. She was unfriendly and almost rude as she took my standing order (script), and answered my questions. I’m not a particularly patient or kind person. My first thought was to be just as rude as she, making it more difficult for her to take down my information.
That’s when I remembered that I was trying to write stories about grace.
I took a mental pause, reminding myself what grace is – that unmerited kindness of God toward us. I looked at this woman and wondered if I could do less. The answer was no, not if I really believed that we must practice grace in our everyday lives.
I made the decision to speak pleasantly to this lady. I asked her how her day was. I smiled and attempted to make small talk. I tried understanding what her day might have been like before seeing me.
I’d like to tell you she became very nice in return, but that wouldn’t be true. She stayed the same – abrupt, impatient, not very kind. And honesty compels me to admit that I hope I don’t see her again next month.
On my drive back to the office, I thought about her lack of response. I was feeling more than a little self-righteous. My thoughts ran along of the lines of, “Gee, I was so nice to her and she was so rotten. Geez, am I glad I’m not like her!”
The truth is we are all like her at times. At least I am. I brush off the kindness of strangers, family members and loved ones. I fail to see and appreciate the way God has blessed me. My focus is too often on me. What’s that saying? “It’s all about me.” We say it flippantly; too often it is true.
How wonderful that God’s focus is on US. Those of us who believe in God and who fail to examine our lives need to seriously think about this. All of us have experienced this undeserved kindness and mercy in our ordinary moments.
When I awakened this morning, I heard my husband making coffee and talking and playing with our dogs. It was a good peaceful moment, and I felt secure and safe. In those fleeting seconds, I experienced God’s grace and was thankful for it. Such moments seem eternal, but they are not. We lose our loved ones. We lose friends. Sometimes we lose our way.
God is always ready to shine a light and put our feet back on the right path. That’s grace.
And that is what I hope to convey in the stories I’m writing.