Grace /ɡrās/ noun 1.) free and unmerited favor
It’s a word known and familiar. Regardless of one’s personal convictions, its highly likely that nearly every American and countless many abroad hear the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” whenever its familiar melody begins to play.
We are deeply touched, even unsettled, whenever we recognize its been given to us. At times, the role of “grace giver” can feel deeply satisfying. This lovely notion that has spurred on artworks and anthems, namesakes worldwide and notoriety to iconic figures through history: A tiny nun who spent her years giving orphans a home. A friendly cardigan-zipping neighbor elevating the dignity of a fellow human being above society’s dividing lines. A Babylonian king extending his scepter at the unbeckoned approach of an unlikely queen. A carpenter’s son who found greatest worth among the least of these. Hymns and homilies and hashtags have waxed poetic of grace in action while traditions and fairytales have shown glimpses of its worth.
We all need it.
We’d like to think we freely give it.
And I’ll bet my bottom dollar, in one form or another, we all crave it. Desperately.
At least, I know I do.
Sometimes I recognize it when given. Obvious signs of favor I neither deserve nor deny. Evidence of mercy’s bestowing opposite twin; where mercy withholds deserved consequences without leverage, grace bestows favor without merit. I see its evidence and feel its weight, warm as a cloak wrapped round the shivering shoulders of a helpless child. It floods my heart with gratitude and fills my sight with awe.
But sometimes, there are other times when its evidence hides in plain sight, when the cloak is not warm but absolute as a deathly hallow, hiding the enclosed contents completely from searching eyes. In times like these, my mind runs rampant. I’ll recall those hymns and homilies, declarations of grace amazing and sweet, their comfort felt sharp as a knife and bitter on my tongue.
If I’m honest (and can’t we all just be honest), I quickly arrive at conclusions on my worth and the grace-giver’s intentions and all the reasons why this gift, by nature undeservable, has deliberately been withheld. Shaming conclusions and damning rejections. I look for grace and find shadows instead. And I determine my perspective accurate, informed, right.
It’s unnervingly easy to come to such conclusions. At least, I find it so. I look for grace like a river while sorrows like sea billows roll.
But maybe, just maybe, circumstances aren’t always as they first seem.
What if the shadows are not vacancies but evidence of a stronger light?
What if the pain is not a punishment but a provision to expose and spark rescue from a subversive deadly woe?
What if felt silence is not absence but rather the quiet nearness of a gentle embrace?
What if when we wrestle through the night, as Jacob did in times of old, what if the resulting limp IS the blessing?
What if hope is not in fact hollow but firmly rooted in a foundation eyes cannot currently see?
It’s a lesson lifelong for this girl named for what she must relearn over and again. A gift often wrapped in peculiar packaging.
Sometimes grace is a shelter and sometimes grace is the rain.
Sometimes grace is a placeholder, holding off the good as it secures space for something greater on its way.
Sometimes grace is a cradle and sometimes grace is a crucifixion.
May my eyes behold this gift when wrapped within various forms, remembering at all times that it bestows favor: unmerited and free.