During this Christmas season, instead of discussing landscaping, I am excited to have the opportunity to talk with you about The Giving Of Grace and how it relates to the person inside of us, our Soul, who makes us who we are. The Giving of Grace is so important, yet so neglected, in the hurried lives we live.
In our lives, we fulfill many roles: parent, spouse, manager, fellow employee, neighbor, etc. What defines us is the way we respond to these roles. We are constantly being observed and people get to know us via this medium. We touch lives every day and develop relationships that we value. It is so important that these relationships are positive in nature. However, as you are well aware, conflict is an unfortunate reality. But what causes conflict? Is there a way we can minimize it?
Part of the answer lies in the way we perceive the world around us. We all look at life through an internal lens. That lens has been shaped by our unique personalities, by the way we were raised, and by other significant life experiences. Perhaps you are naturally outgoing, or perhaps you are shy. Maybe your relationship with your parents was healthy, or maybe it was hurtful. You may have been blessed by many good things, or it may seem like your life is full of trials. These things all influence the way you see and interpret events. The same is true of your children, your spouse, your boss and your neighbor, who have each been influenced by personality, upbringing and major life events. This is why two people can hear the same conversation or share a situation and view it completely differently. What is viewed positively by one person may feel entirely negative to another. This is one of the things that causes conflicts, and it is one of reasons why we need to give one another grace.
But what is grace? It’s not a word we use very often, except in reference to prayer before a meal. Is this the grace I mean? No, the grace I am talking about is relational. It acts as a bridge, connecting and reconnecting people. If you are a student of the Scriptures, you know that grace is a word often used to describe God’s dealings with us – a love unmerited and unfortunately oftentimes not appreciated. God grants grace to connect us to Him. To show you what I mean, I am going to use some real-life experiences as examples.
My first story begins with a breakfast I recently shared with my daughter, who is in her mid-twenties. Over the meal, we talked about her work as a manager in a women’s retail store. She was especially concerned about a particular employee, who was responsible for keeping the store neat, dusted and clean. The problem was that the employee wasn’t doing the work as well as it could be done, let alone to the standards of other local outlets of the same store. My daughter already had talked about the problem with her boss and the employee. But the discussion with the employee did not result in improvement. Now my daughter needed to decide what to do about the situation. Should she fire this young woman? It would be reasonable to do so because she was not doing the work she had been hired to do. Nonetheless, I suggested an alternative. Believing that there may be a language barrier, I asked would it possible for this employee to shadow her counterpart at another store. That way she could learn the expectations and routine visually. So instead of getting what she deserved, this young woman was given an unmerited gift—a kind of second chance. Is this grace?
Now let’s look at another very different example. I think we all know people who give to get. In other words, their “kindness” has a hook or expectations attached to it. When what they expect in return is not received, an argument ensues or some form of “discipline” is metered out. Taken to the extreme, conflicts like these can develop into very unhealthy, even toxic relationships. The truth is, to one extent or another, we are all guilty of giving to get. Although we don’t think of it this way, in our secret hearts we often expect a return on our giving. We may even judge the appropriateness of the return, determining whether we are receiving our fair share. Think about the phrase, “I will meet you half way.” If we do not perceive that the other person has come far enough, there is a fall out. Whether the half-way “deal” was a spoken or unspoken expectation, consciously asked for or unconsciously assumed, this kind of giving creates conflict every day between husband wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, parent and child; in essence, in all our relationships. And why do we not “go all the way”? Why only half? Could this be an example of a need for grace?
Let’s examine this a bit more. Aside from the immediate conflict the give-to-get mentality poses,there are three other significant problems. The first is that the give-get equation seems to make sense. If I give to you, shouldn’t you want to give something back to me? After all, I’ve earned it. The second problem is that the giving is at times “announced” through words and/or deeds, but our expectation of receiving something in return oftentimes is hidden. For instance, if you make a special dinner for your husband on his birthday, you probably expect to be thanked for it. You might also expect some amount of praise for your effort. But when you serve him, you don’t say, “Here, my love, I have gone to a great deal of effort to make you this special dinner. Now your job is to show me how much you appreciate my effort by complimenting me on the dinner”. Now a compliment back makes sense, and more times than not your husband is thrilled. But what if very little is said? Maybe his favorite football team is playing, and he takes “your special dinner” to the T.V. room barely saying thank you as he rushes off? What will you do? Whatever action you take, know that it will be because you had an expectation that was not adequately met.
The third problem is that we often don’t realize that we expected something until we do not receive it. We often give believing that we have done so freely, without obligation to or from the receiver. Yet we are secretly disappointed, even upset, when our “free gift” doesn’t produce a return. I speak from personal experience; something that is now an embarrassment to me. In our earlier years of marriage (now married 34 yrs), I was this kind of man – a silent scorekeeper. I knew exactly what I had given, and when my unspoken expectations were not met, there was conflict. Sometimes I would say something, and sometimes the “conflict” was one of silence, where I would just disengage from the relationship (a pity party as I call it now). This response is all too common! Talk about needing grace! My daughter’s employee was facing a language barrier; I on the other hand had a heart barrier.
These two stories help us see the need for grace. Now let’s define it. Grace is an unmerited gift given to benefit another without expecting anything in return. My daughter, for instance, did not expect that the young lady who was not fired would “owe” her anything personally.
Now let me tell you what is amazing about grace, and this is very personal. Some of you will disagree, and that’s okay. We will always remain friends. Like you, I view life through an internal lens. And like you, that lens has been shaped by my personality, my upbringing and other significant life experiences. However, my greatest influence has been the study of the Scriptures (the Bible). It is said, if you want to be great, study great men. I can think of no other study greater than the revelations of God through His Scriptures. I am so grateful to the Lord for the way He is re-shaping me through this study. I now seek to live my life sharing the grace that I have been given. I do not have to keep score anymore. To know God’s grace for me is the greatest gift I can have, and being able to give it to others completes the circle and the purpose for my life. Grace relates to the person inside by completing us. We put a lot of “stuff” inside us to fulfill us, but ultimately, like new clothing becomes old and used, it wears off. If you would like to understand how to experience this grace and to truly know God, then go to my website and under publications read December Part II, Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured.
In ending, I want to thank you for spending this time with me; it is greatly appreciated. And may you find God’s grace this Christmas to be the “Best Gift” of all this season and throughout the year. I also want to thank everyone who responded to last year’s Christmas message. For those of you that did not receive the December 2010 magazine, I encourage you to go to my website. Just click on publications and scroll to December 2010.
If you have questions or would like to comment on this Christmas editorial, I can be reached via cell phone 916-765-9040 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be at the Cal Expo show in January in the Pavilion. I would love to meet you in person. Until next month, God Bless. *Part 2 (Heaven’s Hope, Grace Unmeasured) will be posted soon.