There is something interesting that goes on inside of me whenever I think about these various words. The strange thing is that all of the words after the first one seem to have very little to do with grace. Now I realize that this idea seems absurd when exposed out in the open like this, but that is just the point. Why is it that inside of me, in the feeling, intuitive, experience-based part of my being, that these last three words would seem to have so little connection with the word grace when they are so obviously based on that word?
It doesn't take much brilliance to realize that much of the problem lies in the fact that the word grace has been hijacked and distorted by religion in my experience whereas the other words have not had so much confusion associated with them. Now, if someone reading this has not experienced the level of confusion from religion like I have they may be puzzling over everything that I have said so far. But I suspect many people may understand where I am coming from.
What got me thinking about this is the fact that the lesson for this next week that I have started studying for church is about grace. And since grace has been one of the most obscure, confusing and mysterious words or concepts talked about, artificially defined, synthesized, analyzed to death and even sometimes feared for most of my life, I am challenged to once again tackle this problem head-on and try to absorb much deeper the real truths about grace as seen from heaven's perspective.
This is very necessary if I am ever to experience and to display more grace and its related words in my own life toward others. Because of the relative vacuum of grace in the environment I am more familiar with, it is difficult for me to describe it very accurately. That is not to say there is no grace around me. There is likely far more grace than I can possibly be aware of. But trying to lay a guilt trip on myself for not perceiving or appreciating that grace is not going to suddenly make me more receptive to it. On the contrary, it has been the atmosphere of guilt, condemnation and shame that has kept me from reveling in the glory of grace most of my life thus far.
So, here I find myself exploring intellectually and hopefully emotionally this mysterious but powerful thing called grace in another attempt to encounter it more intentionally. As I do so I become somewhat aware of my awkwardness around grace and the defying obstacles of selfishness, pride and other emotional blocks that prevent me from believing very deeply in grace. I now realize that I learned very little during my formative years about living in and receiving grace and as a consequence I have found it difficult to freely dispense it as much as I wish I could. Oh, I have certainly improved my appreciation and understanding for grace over the last few years, but that has only served to intensify my awareness of how little I really experience or express and how much greater is my need of it.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I find it interesting but at the same time puzzling that my mind and heart seem to have such a disconnect between the concept of graciousness and its root word of grace. When I try to analyze logically what I feel when I hear the word gracious or its related forms, I feel much more positive sensations internally than when I hear the word grace. Again, that is very likely due to the fact that the simple word grace became something of a hot potato in the climate I grew up in and so it quickly became something to be suspicious of more than something to embrace.
As I think back, even the related words to grace like gracious and graciously were most likely to be encountered as descriptors in stories about other people, likely set in the last century in a more idealistic environment rather than words to be applied to anyone that I knew personally. I know, I know – that seems very sad as I think about it now. But to be completely truthful, I cannot recall to mind anyone in my life that I can identify as being the embodiment of the idea of graciousness. And again, that is not to say there might not have been some around. But from my perspective I cannot think of anyone that fit that description outside of storybooks or maybe movies that we occasionally watched. This was a word that always applied to the ideal world that was seldom if ever encountered by us real folks living in the practical realm.
So after reviewing all of this history about my relationship to the gracious ones in life, it becomes even more evident to me why I am still struggling to wrap my mind around what grace really means and how it can change my own life. And as a consequence I am starting to feel uneasy about even writing this now. Because I am becoming increasingly aware that given my inadequacy of experience and personal knowledge about these words I am not going to be able to finish this up in a tidy way as is expected of writers. I am very likely going to have to leave this hanging with unanswered questions waiting for God to continue His own work of grace in my heart.
So here I am, waiting for grace to find me, waiting to encounter gracious people who will accept and embrace me just the way I am, to look past by sharp edges and abrasive ways and defensiveness and offer me kindness and love that I certainly don't deserve and cannot earn from them. But lo – out comes these concepts that sound strangely like the definitions of grace that I have heard before. Yet this time these thoughts came from the inside of my heart, from the deep recesses of longing that seldom gets to find expression in words. Now my awareness and longing to experience grace from gracious others is only intensifying. And I become aware that until I experience and embrace grace myself that it will be very difficult to reflect a similar grace toward others.
Of course that makes perfect sense when I think about what I have been learning about each of us being designed primarily like mirrors. We seldom generate anything of ourselves even when we think we are doing so. All too often most, if not all, of what comes out of us toward others is along the lines of reflection and reaction more than response. I have become more aware in recent years of the significant difference between reacting and responding.
Reacting is a knee-jerk kind of feeling that is usually associated with deep triggers from our past that cause us to reflect how other people are treating us at the moment. If you get angry at me I immediately feel like reacting in anger toward you. If you cheat me I feel a desire to cheat you. If you try to control me I feel like trying to control you even more so.
Responding is based much more on a mature approach to life and a disconnect from the triggers that used to control us in the past. A person who responds chooses how they are going to treat others instead of just automatically reacting based on how they are treated. This is of course much easier to say than to do, especially if we still have triggers still unresolved in our heart-memories.
And so I find myself back to the place where I need more grace. I remember reading a book years ago that was recommended to me called Families Where Grace Is In Place. I don't remember anything I read in that book but I do remember that it had a powerful impact on me. I also remember intensely wishing that I had grown up in such a family and that I had been able to do the same for my own family. But that didn't happen and so I have to start from where I am now.
God, please make me more open to your grace. Show me much more clearly what your grace really is and how it can make a person truly gracious. Father, I really do want to be a gracious person, but from here that seems like an almost absurd request. But I know you don't think its absurd. In fact, I suspect the idea was implanted in my heart by you to start with. So keep teaching me about real grace,mentor me with graciousness, surround me with more grace and more importantly, make me more acutely aware of grace and able to embrace it effectively into my whole being. Help me to more clearly perceive your grace so that my life will reflect it more graciously to others who are in need of grace as well.