I have seen more and more the misuse of the concept of grace. We too often use it in a condescending way. “They” wronged me but I am showing grace to them. We treat it as if grace is about overlooking a superfluous (or even grievous) offense – taking the high road. It sounds as if we are rabid animals on the brink of exacting a vengeance we are justified in and entitled to. But, by an enormity of our own strength and character, we manage to put our executioner’s sword in the scabbard.
Of course, the result of this is that we feel even more self-righteous. Now, “they” owe us. And believe me, we are keeping score. We feel magnanimous. Like those caricatures of medieval kings who decide they will show mercy to an offending peasant. It is more about our whims than true justice.
Why does this matter? Because the whole thing deepens the wedge between two parties–Republicans and Democrats, exes after a divorce, kids on the playground. We assume we are right. We are, after all, royalty in our own worlds. And we leave these “grace” encounters with a superiority complex. And when we don’t receive the same treatment later on, we are appalled. Also, when we decide not to use this weapon of “grace”, we are in our own rights (again, we are the arbiters of truth, the king of our own stories).
Well, since others are doing the same thing, we end up in an ever-deepening swirl of competing narratives and perspectives. We are keeping score but playing by different rules. We assume the best in ourselves and the worst in others. It is maddening.
And we hide behind “grace”, our great example of our own magnanimity and goodness.
Situations and Relationships
When we use what we call “grace” in a situational sort of way, we turn it into a condescending apathy, a lie-based pretense that we are loving others well, or a method to control others and outcomes to meet our desired ends.
This isn’t really grace. Mercy might come closer. Mercy is, or can be, a situational occurrence. Grace is about showing favor to another. It is not holding back your own desire for vengeance. It is preferring someone else. That is not normally what we are doing. We are playing a situational game rather than engaging in meaningful relationships.
Grace requires relationship. It requires love. You cannot have grace for someone without caring for them, truly seeing and valuing them. So let’s stop acting like we deserve a reward for extending a stay of execution against our enemies and start to get to know one another. Get out of our echo chambers and our obsession with self-validation and confirmation bias.
We need to get to know one another. Grace, like love, is perhaps most impactful when it is least noticed. When it becomes so indicative of a relationship that you don’t have to make a decree every time you exert it.
Here is the real kicker. Like forgiveness, grace is really about you more than the other person (or entity). It is about showing your own character, your own heart. In truth, not in some self-deluded game we play because we know we are supposed to be kind and loving. You can fake grace about as effectively as you can fake love – maybe in the short term but not for long.
When we hold each other accountable, it often comes from a place of wanting to shift accountability from ourselves to others. If you are the defendant and I am the judge, I don’t have to be the defendant. I don’t have to be the peasant who is searching and trying, failing and learning. I get to cast myself as the magnanimous king. The right one.
And it is a poison to our own soul.
The only cure is engaging in community. Hearing one another. Truly listening. Humility. Truth. Togetherness (not in the sense of making everyone agree with you, but in compromise and sacrifice for a greater good that requires us all).