Grace notes

Gratitude… goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. —Henri J. M. Nouwen

She was angry. Not peeved, not disappointed, not in a snit. She was livid, and very loud. I wondered briefly if she might be packing heat in her handbag, but a gun would have been redundant—her words were as deadly as any lead slug, tearing into his psyche again and again without mercy.

The store manager was doing his level best to be understanding and apologetic. Something she had purchased had not lived up to her expectations, and the man behind the counter had accepted responsibility and offered to make things right. But she hadn’t come for justice—she wanted blood. Forgiveness and mercy were not on the agenda.

She called him names and swore (perhaps to his relief) never to shop in his store again. She questioned his intelligence. Then, she threw something onto the counter, pivoted and marched away, slamming the door with both fists as she left.

I said something sympathetic. He turned away for a moment, shaking, his face red with barely-contained anger. Then he took my order without a word, without his usual smile, and I could plainly see that dominos were tumbling and someone else would soon be fouled with the stinking anger the woman had puked all over him.

Grace is as rare as a snowflake in July. Some say the Golden Rule has fallen out of favor and civility is on the wane. Perhaps so, but I’m inclined to think that we don’t treat each other much better, or worse, now than we ever have.

When was grace ever easy? Living graciously has always demanded much more than we seem capable of. It is a much more ambitious moral code than mere tolerance or fairness or justice. Grace is generosity beyond reason, love without limit, kindness without any calculation of merit.

Graciousness is the fruit of gratitude. Grace and gratitude are almost symbiotic, each one taking root through the nurture of the other. And they are ultimately unnatural—they are in fact super-natural. Grace is one of the defining qualities of the Judeo-Christian God and the very heart of the Christian faith. Living in gratitude and grace is a sign of the redemptive work of God.

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” —Matthew 5:38-48, The Message (Jesus speaking)

Is he serious?!

The moon is a cold, dark orb—and yet, it glows. Why? It glows because it reflects the sun, and that pure, reflected light is so beautiful, it has the power to make us stop in our tracks and stare in awe.

We are not able, on our own, to bring the light of grace to the world. Grace does not originate from within us. The “discipline of gratitude,” to use Henri Nouwen’s phrase, means living in a continual state of thankfulness to God for all that he is and has done. As we learn gratitude, we reflect the pure light of God’s grace into the dark corners of life.

Jesus Christ was the embodiment of grace. To see grace in action, study Christ. To experience grace for yourself, embrace the cross. To walk daily in grace and gratitude, ask God to fill you with the power of the resurrection.

Yeah, Jesus was serious. So serious, in fact, that though he was without blame, he allowed himself to be beaten and crucified for you and me. That’s grace.

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