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 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 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!