Lately, I’ve been confronted with the idea of grace. From my favorite health and fitness website championing grace over guilt, to Shauna Niequist facing change with grace in Bittersweet (my current read), to my daily journal reminding me to live to a standard of grace not perfection, to being reminded of the wonder of God’s grace every day, it began to seem like the idea is unavoidable. I started to wonder though, what does it mean to actually live with or practice grace?
Merriam Webster defines grace in a few ways, including:
- disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
- a charming or attractive trait or characteristic
- ease and suppleness of movement or bearing
Regarding point 3 above – the day I move with any sort of grace will be a day worthy of celebration. I trip in flats, drop just about anything you put in my hand, and somehow seem to run into every wall, door, step, stair, or rock in front of me. To save what little dignity I have left, we’ll skip over that point for now. Despite numerous attempts, that’s obviously not changing anytime soon. (Insert eye covering monkey emoji here, please!)
I think the point to concentrate on, the one that’s motivating bloggers and authors and self-help gurus the internet over is the idea of giving ourselves kindness, courtesy, or clemency. Day after day, minute after minute, we’re bombarded with the task of doing everything in our lives better or faster or with more skill. Why settle? Why not go for broke? With the best technological advances coming from twenty-somethings barely scraping by in Silicon Valley, to women running Fortune 500 companies with a husband, children, and a mortgage, to amazing fitness transformations overnight, the struggle for perfection is real. Even with millennials leading the charge for a more forgiving work-life balance and the push for natural beauty, that idea of having it all and doing it all is always there.
So where does all this better, faster, more skillful work get us? To exhaustion, to jealousy, to the breakdown of relationships, to depression, to feelings of inadequacy. I know because I’ve felt and experienced each since starting and finishing college, getting a job, building and losing friendships, starting a blog, and just living. And that’s where grace comes in and where it’s needed. Grace is what builds us up, reminds us of the good in us, in others, and in God. Grace is the voice that says “You did your best today, and that’s perfect.” It’s not the voice that pushes you to do better or that reminds you of what you didn’t do. It doesn’t keep a count of all the times you failed; instead, it lets you start with a clean slate tomorrow.
I really, really love that Merriam Webster used clemency to define grace. It’s the crux of the whole idea, really. Clemency itself is defined as kind or merciful treatment of someone who could be given harsh punishment. How many times do we punish ourselves in a day for not being that genius inventor, that hard working mother, that out of shape, lazy person? More than we should, I’m guessing. Yet clemency, and grace by extension, moves us to be kind, merciful, and courteous to ourselves. Grace is the time of day when you stop working because your to-do list is done. Grace is the bubble bath on Sunday afternoon because you just needed to stop and relax, even for just a short time. Grace is the 15 minute mood boosting workout you got in during the only free time you had. Grace is accepting that tonight you’re having pasta and salad for the third night in a row because you’re not feeling creative enough for anything fancier.
It’s not easy to choose grace over being better or over perfection. I fight every day when I purposely ignore the nagging feeling I get when I choose to stop, when I choose to be kind to myself and be satisfied with the life I’ve lived that day. When I do stop, when I do win the daily battle, I find that it not only affects me, but others around me as well.
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart tells Donna Reed that if she swallows the moon he wants to lasso for her, the moonbeams will shoot out of her fingers and toes. It’s a beautiful and romantic image, but also what I picture when I think of the effect of grace on our minds and hearts. When we’re kind and courteous to ourselves, it’s inevitable that those feelings will also affect us outwardly, too. The beams of grace and kindness will radiate out of us, affecting our relationships, interactions, and friendships in a positive, healthy and upbuilding way.
So, after thinking and writing about it, practicing grace daily doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. It will take motivation and determination to beat back the negative and trying feelings this world wants us to feel each day, but we’ll be one step closer with each attempt. Although … I may need a lot of it to feel better about the slice of amazing dulce de leche cheesecake I had for dessert last night. Whoops.
You made it this far, let’s stay in touch!