For the past three weeks I have not felt like writing; I have not been inspired. Part of that is in the warmer weather of the year I am much more physically active, reading less. I am stimulating myself more physically (e.g., biking, golf, working around the yard, swimming, walking), less intellectual stimulation. Is that a problem? Not necessarily, but I believe a little more balance would be better.

While not writing I have been thinking about grace – not looking for anything, just wondering, and wandering. The initial thoughts were about the grace we give ourselves. More on that later. What naturally followed was about the grace we give to others; then the grace we receive. What follows are my thoughts about grace.

Even though I thought about grace in sequence (the grace I give, or don’t give myself, the grace that I receive, and the grace I give others), I don’t believe the sequence is important. Each of us may experience and learn about grace differently, but the learning/experiencing is what is important.

I happened to start with the grace we give ourselves because I had had several conversations in a row where the other party admitted that they didn’t give themselves enough grace. One story was particularly poignant. A good friend of mine lost her husband in February after a long bout with dementia and finally pancreatic cancer. I was telling her that I was writing about ‘grace,’ particularly the grace we give or don’t give ourselves. She began to cry.

She shared a moment during his illness when she was on a conference call in the basement, and near the end of her call her husband began calling her name repeatedly from upstairs. When she got off the phone she went upstairs and asked him if there was a problem. “No, I just missed you.” Her response was to scold him for interrupting her call and not do that again. Almost immediately she felt guilty that she had been so harsh. I should have been kinder. His words were sweet, yet her response was not. I asked her if during his illness did her kindness and patience far outnumber the times she wasn’t. She said yes. She also shared that caring for a dementia patient, or even a terminally ill patient, you love them and want to be perfect because of what they are going through. I commented that she needed grace because of what she was going through as well.

I have noticed during my 16 years of coaching that certain personalities tend to be harder on themselves – higher expectations, always driving for excellence, less accepting of their mistakes. In a few cases my coaching work involved helping them to be less critical, creating a better balance between giving themselves credit and criticizing themselves. We talked about their ability to give themselves grace. That notion does not come easy. It can be a long road. Another observation in working with these personalities is that the ability to give grace to ourselves can also increase our ability to give grace to others. I would say that the corollary is true regardless of ‘personality’ type.

For a frame of reference, when I speak of grace, I am thinking in terms of something that we receive that we did not earn and did not deserve. This also applies when we are giving grace. In our culture we spend time ‘keeping score’ of what others do for us, and to us. We are surprised when someone does something good for us apparently ‘just because.’

There is a ripple effect of grace that we witness. Over the July 4th weekend, it is a common ritual for our good friends to ‘sponsor’ a giant slip and slide. The slip and slide runs close to thirty yards, twenty yards of which are on a steep downhill. Our friend’s middle son (in his thirty’s) and friend were attempting to go down the slide standing up. It all started to go wrong when our friend’s son got airborne and landed on his head. Fortunately, in the crowd, was a woman who was near graduation in physical therapy. She recognized as she watched him land that he had a spinal cord injury.

He was air lifted to a nearby hospital. Let me fast forward. The boy’s aunt had a friend who was an ER physician. When she related the story, her friend said to keep him lying flat and to get to a certain hospital where the boy lived and where the doctor was from. After taking an MRI of the injury he was in surgery shortly thereafter. When the doctor finished the surgery, he informed the family that their son, brother, husband, and father was within a millimeter of being a quadriplegic. A millimeter! Grace. God’s grace.

I couldn’t help but cry, with a sense of relief. What I observed is that grace received impacts those close to the person receiving the grace in profound ways. In our case, it was if it happened to one of our own family members. There is a profound sense of gratitude for the ‘what if’ that did not happen. From there, the story will be told thousands of times across multiple years. What will the impact be? Will the young man live differently, will those exposed to the story change in some way? Will there be a sense of gratitude that will change behavior and direction of life? Translate this story into your own close circle of friends. What might be your response?

I remember my grandmother said with some frequency, “Here but by the grace of God go I.” For many years I didn’t understand what she meant. Then, as a 19-year-old, something clicked and I said to myself, “That could have been me!” That insight helped build an understanding of my life about the ‘what if’s’ that didn’t happen, AND the what if’s that did. I learned another layer of gratitude that day.

In Part II we will explore further what happens when we don’t extend grace and look at how the fiving and receiving of grace can change us. We will also explore some things we can do in our daily lives to bring grace and gratitude into sharper focus.

“Here but by the grace of God go I.”

Toward a better you…