This article was first published in the November/December issue of Branches magazine (volume 26, number 5, page 7) on the theme of Grace. Branches magazine is a print only magazine available in the Indianapolis area.
Once upon a time, grace was only an abstract theological concept for me. It was the “unmerited favor from God” that was my only hope for escaping eternal punishment. For many years, it stayed neatly stored away in that theological box, along with other theological terms like atonement and mercy and sacrifice.
But some time recently when I wasn’t watching, it escaped the box and has begun to appear in the most unlikely places. I’ve discovered that it’s both sweeter and messier than I ever imagined, and it’s so much bigger than religion. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. It shows up where and when it will, and all I can do is watch for it.
Sometimes it shows up like a small sip of cold water on a hot day in a moment of unexpected, unearned kindness or beauty. I glimpse it in the bright yellow faces of the first daffodils of spring, in the sweetness that radiates from a baby’s smile, or in the breathtaking beauty of a sunrise. I hear it in the cheerful greeting from a stranger that startles me out of my grumpy mood, in the sweet sound of summer evenings by the pond, or in the unexpected offer of a helping hand. I experience it in the kindness of a gift from a friend for no other reason than to make me smile or in a comforting hug at the end of a hard day.
Other times grace comes crashing down like a flood to baptize me anew, like the times I find that I’ve been forgiven (yet again) when thoughtlessness or self-centeredness has made me unkind. It’s there in a friend’s listening presence when grief has me in its sway—and also in those moments when a long-held dream comes to life before my eyes. It floods my being when I hear that my creative work has touched someone’s life, and I am surrounded in it in those moments when I find myself loved beyond all reason.
Everywhere I look I find grace and more grace. It amazes me that it’s taken me so long to notice it. Surely it’s been there all along, but I was too often focused on what I lacked or on how I was missing out on what I thought I deserved to even think to look for it.
Looking back, I think it was the practice of gratitude that was responsible for cracking open the box that allowed grace to escape the intellectual confines in which I had imprisoned it. The more I focused on the things for which I was grateful, the more I began to really be aware those things—not just in the time spent in my gratitude practice itself, but also moment by moment throughout the day as I stored up memories of blessings for the time when I’d sit down to record them later in the day.
As I continually practiced noticing these blessings, they began softening my heart, allowing the goodness to soak in deeper and deeper. Before I knew what was happening, the hard shield I had built around my heart began to break open and grace flooded in the cracks, opening my heart still wider to the beauty and goodness surrounding me.
The more I focus on all I do have, the less time I have to notice what I don’t. The more I focus on my blessings, the more grace floods into my awareness until I have begun seeing it everywhere I look. I cry so much more easily now with my heart so exposed, but it’s so much more likely to be happy tears that are an overflow of joy.
Grace isn’t through with me yet, though. Now that it’s flooded my world and drawn my attention to it, it’s slowly teaching me how to offer the same grace to others that has been shown to me. I’m a slow learner sometimes, but grace is demonstrating the ability to change me from the inside out as it softens my heart and changes my focus.
The great escape of grace from its theological box just may be the best the thing that’s ever happened to me. May it do the same the world over!