A few years ago, a colleague of mine sent me an email. He wanted to organize a research project on grace. I thought it was a great idea. Even though I think grace is really important, there isn’t much research out there on what exactly grace is, or how it works.
What is Grace?
I think of grace as unmerited acceptance and kindness. In other words, grace is an acceptance that isn’t based on anything we do. Grace doesn’t require us to clean up our act, or have a history of good behavior before the acceptance is given. Grace is acceptance given to us “as is.”
I am a person of faith, so I connect with the Christian teaching that God offers us grace. The idea is that God grants us unmerited favor and acceptance, not because of anything we have done or are doing, but just because.
Grace and Change
I am also a psychologist, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how people make positive changes in their lives. I think grace plays a big part in helping people change. I think people need to accept themselves as is before they can free up energy to make positive changes in their lives. When I’m helping someone, I long to offer them grace and acceptance right where they are at. I think grace sets the foundation that allows people to implement positive changes in their lives.
Mixing Up Grace and Truth
Sometimes I think we get this mixed up. If we are struggling, we might beat ourselves up until we feel terrible about ourselves. If we are trying to help someone else change, we give them “truth” about why they need to change and how to change. If we feel distant from God, we try to fix our behavior to the level where God might be pleased with us.
I used to do life this way, and it was pretty much always a struggle. I would give myself a hard time for every little thing I did that was less than perfect. I was a “flaw finder,” noticing and pointing out all the qualities of my family and friends that were less than ideal. I judged my relationship with God by how long I read the Bible each day, or how good I was at avoiding various sins. Perhaps you have felt similarly. Maybe you feel exhausted even now. If that’s you, I would encourage you to consider taking a fresh look at grace.
Gift of Grace
I would like you to try something. Just for a minute, close your eyes. (Well, maybe read through the rest of the exercise, but then close your eyes.) As you sit in your chair, with your feet on the floor and your hands resting in your lap, I would like you to give yourself a gift of grace. Just be kind and accept yourself, if only for a moment. Tell yourself… that you’re okay right where you are at. Sure, there are things to work on and improve. There always will be. But for now, could you be kind and accept yourself, just in this moment?
As you go through your day, I want you to think of the next person you will meet. Maybe it is a friend or a family member. Perhaps it is a co-worker. Just for one brief interaction, I want you to experiment with giving the person a gift of grace. They may not deserve it. That’s okay. Just try, as an experiment, to be kind and accept them, in this next interaction, without requiring anything from them back.
Jesus and Grace
And finally, if you are a spiritual person, I would like you to close your eyes again and think of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). This woman was literally caught in the act. And at the time, the rule said she was to be put to death. But Jesus doesn’t follow the rule. Instead, he offers her grace and acceptance. He takes her by the hand and says, “I don’t condemn you.” As you close your eyes, picture yourself as you are, with all your broken parts and flaws. All your stories of pain and frustration. If you want, perhaps even get in a physical posture of how that feels. Then, picture Jesus taking you by the hand, and helping you to your feet. “I don’t condemn you.” Right where you are at, “I don’t condemn you.” Even in your messiness, “I don’t condemn you.” Even in your brokenness, “I don’t condemn you.” Even if you never get better, “I don’t condemn you.”
Grace is a beautiful thing. My hope is that grace becomes something real that you can give to yourself and others.
What is one area of your life that you struggle to give yourself grace?