I’ve had grace on my mind a lot lately. It’s a thread that runs through all the other work we do here in the Redefining Love Community.
Over the past few months, we’ve talked about forgiveness, talking to our wounded selves, adult friendship, perfectionism, and so many other things. And woven through all of that is the phrase, “give yourself grace,” or “give others grace,” grace, grace, grace, grace, grace…
But what does grace really mean?
The word has always confused me a little. Growing up, the only place I ever heard it was in church, and the only answer I ever received when I asked about it was “God loves us no matter what.”
And I was like, “Okay… but why?”
And the grown-ups would say, “Because of His Grace.” And I’d suddenly feel like I was front and center in an Abbott and Costello sketch.
I went out into the world just as confused as ever.
Then, about 10 years ago grace became a secular buzz word. And I was like, “Wait a minute… I thought grace had something to do with God…?”
Suddenly it was everywhere – grace on coffee mugs, grace on t-shirts, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace…
So I decided it was time to get down to the bottom of this whole grace thing, once and for all. In typical Sara fashion, I went straight to the dictionary. None of the dictionary definitions of the word explained why an atheist bougie millennial was wearing a black t-shirt adorned with the word GRACE in white block letters across the front, tucked smartly into her high-rise jeans.
So, also in typical Sara fashion, I set out to create my own definition of grace. It took several years, but eventually, it clicked.
Grace is minding your own business. Grace is letting people be who they are. Grace is forgiving yourself and others for being human.
Did that bougie millennial have any idea what the word on her shirt meant? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter, because I have enough grace to understand that her shirt is not my problem. Grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace…
What grace is
Grace is the ability to look at someone’s shortcomings with compassion and empathy.
Grace is the willingness to accept that we all grow at our own pace.
Grace is the love we hold for everyone, despite our differences.
Grace is the peace we find when we allow others their own path.
Grace is the self-respect we feel in spite of our own flaws.
What grace is not
Just because you love yourself doesn’t mean you are exempt from the consequences of your own actions.
And just because you love others doesn’t mean they get to treat you like a punching bag or yesterday’s day-old bagels.
Grace isn’t a once-and-done kind of situation.
It’s an ongoing journey. It’s a daily practice in patience, a willingness to ask big questions, and accept hard answers. It’s sitting in discomfort until you figure out how to play nice with others.
The need for grace changes as new relationships are formed, and old relationships evolve. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize – ha, ha! – you actually don’t.
Grace towards others:
Marriage is hard. If you’ve never had a season of your marriage where you wondered whether you should throw in the towel, you are one of the lucky ones. This isn’t an observation about culture or a lack of family values. This is a dose of realism.
You think your grandparents and great grandparents didn’t go through days, weeks, months, years even where they wished they’d never laid eyes on their spouse? Just because we no longer live in a culture that mandates we spend our lives in misery doesn’t mean our predecessors lived in a perpetual state of marital bliss.
It’s been a tough season for my marriage. There is therapy involved, both together and separately. If ever there was a time I needed to pile grace on top of grace on top of more grace, it is now. There’s no hidden story here, no deep secrets being revealed. No monumental betrayal. It’s simply a difference in worldview, in a culture that makes you believe differences in worldview cannot be overcome. And yet, at least thus far, we have prevailed.
Grace towards myself:
When my dad died in March, I barely cried. Instead, in typical Sara fashion, I got about the business of wrapping up his affairs. I planned and performed a memorial service. And some people thought maybe I should be a little more sad. And when they wondered that, I wondered if maybe they were right.
Then I took a deep breath, and settled into a place of grace for myself. I don’t have to grieve in the way others believe I should grieve. I get to grieve however I want. And getting things done and checking boxes makes me feel centered and secure. So that’s what I did. To hell with everyone else’s opinions on the subject. I gave myself grace for my own journey. As Frankie says, “I did it my way.”
Grace is the foundation for our boundaries.
Grace allows each of us to be exactly where we are at, and to respect others where they are at, even if we don’t like it very much.
Grace allows us to allow others their own journey, and to honor our own, without judgement or condemnation.
Grace is the guidepost against which we harness the gate we can choose to hold open, or respectfully close depending on how others fit into our voyage through life.