How to Recognize Grace

For Christians, the word “grace” has special meaning. Some Christians define grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Others would say grace is “God’s kindness, patience, and love which is shared with us so we may live our lives more fully.” Or grace is “the help God gives us to become God’s children.” Sometimes I think of grace as those gentle urgings or strong nudgings to do something good, right, or loving.

The poet Marilyn Chandler McEntyre has written a beautiful poem on grace entitled “How to Recognize Grace.” (I got her permission to use it in my book, In Steadfast Love: Letters on the Spiritual Life, pp. 73-4). I’d like to share the poem with you now and then say a few words about it.

How to Recognize Grace

It takes you by surprise

It comes in odd packages

It sometimes looks like lossgrace-candle

Or mistakes

It acts like rain

Or like a seed

It’s both reliable and unpredictable

It’s not what you were aiming at

Or what you thought you deserved

It supplies what you need

Not necessarily what you want

It grows you up

And lets you be a child

It reminds you you’re not in control

And that not being in control is a form of freedom.


Take a few moments to reflect on the poem before you read my thoughts on it…

grace-flowerIt takes you by surprise. Yes, our God is the God of surprises. When God breaks into our lives, we may find ourselves saying things like, “Wow! I didn’t expect this.” Or perhaps, “Oh no! Not this!”

Grace comes in odd packages. That person who is so different from me…that headline that disturbs me…the scent of a newly-mown lawn…that challenging child…that scripture passage I never noticed before…that person at work who annoys me…Yes, grace comes in odd packages—and sometimes I am that odd package for others!

Sometimes grace looks like loss. The loss of peace in a city engulfed in war…the loss of a loved one whose absence darkens everything…the loss of a job…a cherished home…our energy…our health…our memory. Do we trust God enough to believe that even these painful losses can be channels of grace for us?

Sometimes grace looks like mistakes. The greatest mistake is sin. Can we acknowledge that we are all sinners? Do we believe that sin calls for patience, compassion, and reconciliation? Do we believe sin can lead to amazing transformation?

And grace reminds us we are not in control, and not being in control is a form of freedom. Our contemporary world has it all wrong, doesn’t it? It says freedom is doing what I want to do, when I want to do it, and with whom I want to do it. But, all along, true freedom is about letting go and allowing God to use us. It is, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, allowing God to make us a channel of God’s peace, love, pardoning, consoling, understanding, and hope.


Do you find any words or phrases from this poem especially meaningful?

How have you experienced God’s grace in your life?

PS: Last week I wrote about giraffes. One reader referred me to a short video about giraffes. The title (in French) means “What Giraffes Are Doing When You’re Not Looking.” If you google the filmmaker (Nicolas Deveaux 5m80) the video comes up. It’s very clever!

From August 1-7 I will be at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, PA leading a retreat for 30 participants. Once again I ask for your prayers… I enjoyed my time at Chiara Center in Springfield, IL with about 30 Sisters, 3 lay women, and l semi-retired Lutheran minister! Thank you for your prayers!

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  1. Kathleen Magiera on July 28, 2014 at 5:29 am

    Sr. Melannie,

    Grace reminds us that we are not in control . . . resonated with me. I am helping to coordinate a one week Bible Camp for five local parishes and am totally relying on God’s grace and lots of preparation. The campers are teaching me that a lack of control is when the fun begins. Please pray for the staff and children.

    Will keep you in prayer with your retreats too.


  2. marian on July 28, 2014 at 11:45 am

    “it takes you by surprise and comes in odd packages…”

    Just yesterday I was visiting Lansdale Pa…planning my daughter’s wedding for next summer. We went to mass at the parish where they will be married and toured the area where my future son-in-law grew up…and works now…where the kids will live after they are married.

    As we headed into a shop for a bit of lunch…I spotted a small 1 inch square of a dollar bill in the road…I picked it up & on the corner was written “I AM HUNGRY”

    I feel the need to take this seriously…who do I need to help…how do I help…I will ponder this for a bit…and hopefully respond to this in a way that will please God.

  3. Joanne on July 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    “It grows you up And lets you be a child”…

    For me, these two lines speak of the dual relationship between the innocence of wisdom, and the wisdom of innocence.

    Like usual, you give us much good material to pray over and reflect upon. God bless your travels. Joanne

  4. Cathy Baier on August 2, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Grace…it takes you by surprise……On the way to work on a rushed morning…tune into K-Love on the radio and hear the song Imagine by MercyMe. Grace reminding me I can only imagine what it will be like when we get to heaven…

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