The first piece I posted about grace got a lot of interesting feedback so I wanted to follow up on a few of the comments.
One thing I didn’t emphasize enough was that the reason we need to show grace is because God has shown us the ultimate grace. We don’t ‘deserve’ His forgiveness or eternal life, but he offers it to us anyway, because He loves us. In that same way, then, we need to extend grace to one another. It is not always easy. It is always necessary. As He has forgiven us, we must forgive each other.
A second theme was a number of the best people I know acknowledging that they are not perfect. The humility of this declaration is so important. None of us is perfect – we all fall short – so it is the grace we show one another that brings us closer to God, that makes us more like Jesus.
I also heard from several people who were struggling mightily with grace. It normally had to do with relationship strife, often within their own families. The thing that struck me about these stories was that these struggles were otherwise invisible to the world. Massive hurts, equivalent retribution, ensuing bitterness and factions and silence are the pattern, and in that context, grace has a hard time prying its way in.
Since we know that grace can be the start of healing, why, then, is it so hard to achieve? We do a few things reflexively:
We justify how we are responding with how much we are hurt
We predict how the other people involved will respond (negatively).
We talk to everyone about the issue except the ones who hurt us.
We assure ourselves that their intent was to harm, humiliate, discredit or take from us and that this evil intent, however incomprehensible, cannot be assuaged.
All of this is defense against or response to the hurt. All of them make extending grace more difficult.
We know that between ‘stimulus’ and ‘response’ lives choice. One can, theoretically, choose how they will respond to a situation. What many of us do, though, is put this choice on autopilot, allowing ingrained patterns of behavior to make our choices for us. When we are hurt, many of us fall back on things like:
Defend – ‘I didn’t deserve that. That wasn’t fair.’
Demonize – ‘He was always nasty. Nothing good about that guy. Just another example.’
Shun – ‘I will not allow her to hurt me again. She’s dead to me.’
If we are able to think – to choose our response instead of being on autopilot – we might be able to change our reflexes toward an attitude of grace. I know this is hard. In the previous post, the example was O.J. Simpson. Many have a preconceived notion about him. Most of those are not positive. Our attitude toward O.J. Simpson doesn’t actually matter, unless you are his friend or family member.
Instead, think about someone in your own family or a close friend. Someone with whom you have a long, detailed history. You know them very, very well. (Or you think you do.) They know you very well. (Or they think they do.) Think about what they did to hurt you, and ask some of these questions:
Did I do something to elicit this kind of treatment? Resist the urge to blow past this one. Search your heart, think about things you’ve said or done that may have hurt them. Don’t beat yourself up, but be honest. This may lend some insight.
Am I comparing how we’ve hurt each other? ‘I did this, but you did THAT’ is a barrier to grace.
Am I misunderstanding what’s going on? They may have hurt you, but they’re actually mad at someone else. Scapegoating is big business in families. Why? Because family is for life, so you can always make up with them later. (Until you can’t.)
Is there a way that I can build a bridge? Maybe directly, maybe by means of a third party, but can we get together and reasonably work things out? This is where predicting the future can scuttle your efforts toward extending grace.
You see the risks, to be hurt again, to be seen as weak, to be perceived as having been in the wrong. These are more important, in your mind, than the potential rewards of peace, reconciliation, joy, mutual support.
We worry that any effort we make to resolve the situation will fail. It’s very possible that the situation will not be happily resolved. If the effort is extended and rejected, at least you tried. You are never wrong when you make the effort to extend grace and forge a loving solution. Don’t fear the risks. Instead:
Strategize – pray and think, how might I help to improve the situation, incrementally or all at once?
Bring in reinforcements – pray and mobilize others to build bridges, lend guidance and break ice.
Be humble – although you benefit from the resolution, your comfort is a by-product of your loving efforts and extension of grace to others. Pray for humility.
Don’t quit – expect setbacks. Nothing worthwhile comes without effort and trial. Pray for perseverance and guidance.
Above all, regardless of what else you do, keep praying. God blesses your efforts and is 100% on your side, when you extend grace and love to others. In His time, He will resolve the issues, either through you, or through some other means.
Don’t be discouraged (boy that was easy to say!), but instead, trust God, for He, above all, is worthy of your complete trust. He won't let you down.
God bless you!