The Staying Power of Grace
I was at the doctor’s this past week, waiting for my name to be called. There was nothing to read except for some brochures on cholesterol placed there by a pharmaceutical company. I never read those brochures because I’m very open to suggestion. If I read about heart attacks, for instance, the next thing I know I’ve had a heart attack. I’ve always been like this. When I was a kid, I heard my mother talk about uterine cysts and was convinced I had one.
So I avoid medical brochures. Sitting in the doctor’s office, I went on Facebook instead, and was scrolling through all the posts, when my big fat thumb inadvertently hit the “like” button. I wondered what I had just liked, so backed up and discovered that I had liked a man’s announcement that he was sick. I had just liked an illness. It was a big, long, complicated illness. I’d never heard of it before, it was a long string of Latin words, but I had liked it. I felt terrible. There’s no way to take back a like. I thought I would leave him a message and tell him I had hit like by mistake, but just then the nurse came out and it was my turn to see the doctor, so I didn’t do anything. Then I forgot all about it.
That night, my phone dinged. This man had sent me a message saying he had read all my books and was my biggest fan and couldn’t believe I had liked his illness. He said he was hurt, deeply hurt.
I immediately wrote him back saying it had been an accident, that I wasn’t really liking his illness, I just had big, fat thumbs, and I hope he got better soon. But I haven’t heard back. I don’t know the man, we’ve never met, but it now appears we’re on the outs. Isn’t that just my luck, to no longer be friends with someone I’ve never met?
Emotions are high this time of year, which is ironic, celebrating the advent of grace by being on edge. I was eating lunch in town this week and overheard a woman telling her dining companion that if her husband didn’t get her a nice present for Christmas, she was leaving him. I know her husband, he’s pretty clueless, so his marriage is in trouble. He’ll buy her a broom and be out on his ear. Buying your wife a broom for Christmas is even worse than liking an illness on Facebook.
All of this has made me think of grace, and that evocative verse in John’s gospel: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Full of grace. Full of grace.
So I’ve been thinking of grace this week. First, grace in a theological context—the unmerited love of God, the love and affection God has for us even when we’re clueless, perhaps especially when we’re clueless. So grace as the affection of God. God is affectionate, which is a lovely thought.
And I’ve been thinking of grace as elegance and poise, as in “Those dancers move with such grace.” That is being graceful with one l. Now with my big fat thumbs, I will never be graceful with one l. It’s not going to happen. When Don Adams fell off his ladder this week, I thought, “That’s me twenty years from now.” I’m not going to be Martha Graham dancing the Cortege of Eagles at 76 years old. I’m going to be falling off ladders and landing on my head.
And I am perfectly fine with that, because there is another kind of grace more important to me. It is the kind of grace John spoke about when he said Jesus was full of grace. Did he mean Martha Graham grace? No. What he meant was that Jesus was full of the love and affection of God. We’ll call this grace-full, with two l’s. Grace-full, full of grace. And isn’t that how we want to move through the world? Isn’t that how we want to negotiate the world? Grace-fully. Fully loving. Fully gracious.
Some neighbors of ours, who are also old friends, were down at our farmhouse several weeks ago. They had gone down there for a weekend to see the autumn leaves, and when they got back, I went for a walk with the man. His name is Joe. I walk with him just about every evening. So we were walking through the neighborhood and Joe said,
“I’ve got something to tell you, but I’m afraid you’ll think I’m crazy.”
I said, “Too late for that. What did you want to tell me?”
He said, “After supper on Saturday night, we were sitting in the living room and I saw a ghost.”
I said, “Oh, you’re not crazy. That’s just Joan’s mother. She’s harmless.”
He said, “You know, it kind of looked like Ruby, kind of short and plump.”
I said, “Yeah, that was her.”
He asked if I had ever seen her.
Every now and then, I told him.
He asked if I was afraid of her.
Neither in life, nor death, I told him.
To be honest, back when I was younger and knew it all, I didn’t believe in ghosts, but now, well, things have changed.
Now I think Ruby, who was one of the kindest persons I ever knew, is proof positive that grace and goodness endure, leave their mark. Joan had a nasty old aunt who died and we’ve not seen hide nor hair of her since we buried her. But grace, it has staying power. I promise you, if you want to be remembered, if you want to be recalled and recollected, be gracious. It’s why people still talk about Jesus and hardly anyone ever mentions Herod. Grace has staying power.
We all of us get to choose our legacy, we get to choose whether and how we’ll be remembered. That is the one enduring power we all possess, whether and how we are remembered.
Grace. Grace is the perfume that lingers long after the rose has died.