Since the subject is GRACE, let’s begin by defining it. It is the exercise of love, kindness, and mercy to benefit or serve another. Other terms we could use include goodwill, compassion, benevolence, charity, and brotherly love. Here is how the British theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703 ~ 1758) defines it: “Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected.”
We are social beings, dependent on one another. Our birth, education, and personality would not have been possible without the cooperation of others. Drawing upon our spiritual heritage, whatever it may be, allows us to use grace as a social lubricant. It eliminates friction and allows us to work together harmoniously. So, its role is critical. We either live with grace or allow civilization to fall apart and live in disgrace.
Historian and social reformer Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889 ~ 1975) outlines in his 12-volume “A Study of History” (1934 ~ 1961) the rise and fall of 26 civilizations. He points out how humanity’s spiritual quest and belief in a Supreme Being propelled it forward. Grace could be called the lifeblood of civilization. But when we drift away from its practice, societal cohesion weakens, and civilization comes tumbling down. However, Toynbee urges us not to get discouraged:
“Do not let yourselves be discouraged or embittered by the smallness of the success you are likely to achieve in trying to make life better. You certainly would not be able, in a single generation, to create an earthly paradise. Who could expect that? But, if you make life ever so little better, you will have done splendidly, and your lives will have been worthwhile.”
Some describe grace as the kindness we offer those who are undeserving of it. But there are none who are undeserving. Are there any among the birds of the air or fish of the sea that are undeserving of life? Neither are there any among the men, women, and children who populate the earth. Everyone needs kindness. Don’t the rich as well as the poor grow hungry? Don’t the strong as well as the weak grow thirsty? Who is there that does not struggle and has no need for kindness? As for those who are unkind, they need it the most. Hasn’t the grace that we are imbued with been given to us to nurse the wounds of others?
Grace is a virtue, and virtues are God-like actions. This is not to say that grace is the way to God. Rather, God is the way to grace. In the grand scheme of things, actions that do not bring us nearer to Him are inconsequential. Kindness shortens the distance between us and our fellow travelers and the distance between our Creator and us. Why wouldn’t we want to be kind? For we are responsible for some of the pain of others. And, as Aesop (620 ~ 560 BC) taught, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
In living a life of grace, our goal is first to do good. Second to do good often. And third to do nothing but good. It is in aiming for the third goal that we will strike the second. The advantage of doing good is it awakens us to the countless good deeds of others and the beauty of life. Whereas, if we stray from the path of goodness, our vision grows dim, until all we see is cruelty and we become cynical.
The Path of Grace is neither to the right nor to the left. It is neither liberal nor conservative. It favors neither the warmongers or the appeasers. Rather, it is a middle path. It is the Path of Healing, for grace is the balm that heals the wounded heart. The Path of Grace is the Path of Bringing-together. The Path of Win-Win. The Path of Mutual Respect. The Path of Understanding, Tolerance, and Love. It is the Way of Peace, and it is, therefore, a path we should embrace.
Don’t let illness and other forms of misfortune distract you from leading a life of grace, which includes bearing your suffering with a smile. After all, if you cannot accept your own pain, how will you be able to help others accept theirs? And don’t be discouraged by your imperfections because we learn how to be good by conquering our own faults. Besides, what merit is there in doing good, if it doesn’t require any effort on our part? So, stretch yourself. Most of us do not realize how enormous our potential is. If we are unaware of the wrongdoing we are capable of, how can we be aware of the good we are capable of? Be patient with your progress. For, as the British preacher Thomas Adams taught in the mid seventeenth century, “Grace comes into the soul as the morning sun into the world; first a dawning; then a light; and at last the sun in his full and excellent brightness.”
Any inspirational stories, motivating quotations, or heartwarming anecdotes that we may relate will soon be forgotten, but our acts of kindness will linger indefinitely in the minds and hearts of those we help. So, don’t bother saving money for flowers and a monument for your grave; instead, leave behind an endless trail of good deeds. We must never underestimate our importance, for people do not learn about grace from books and institutions, but from other people, from role models. Our actions will either draw others closer to or further from goodness. Let’s not take our responsibility lightly.
The wonderful thing about kindness is it is a universal language. The native tongue of those we help doesn’t matter. Kindness is a language understood by all, even if those we help cannot hear us or see us. Grace will not only open the eyes of the blind, but will open our eyes as well. For as the hymn
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found.
Was blind, but now I see.
How do we become full of grace? By dispensing it. We fill our cup by emptying it. All we have to do is become the kind of person we would like to be with. As we carry out our acts of grace, let’s remember that the kindness planned for tomorrow doesn’t count for today. Also, take no thought of the thought of others. For it is better to do good and be considered nasty than to be nasty and considered good. Whatever our spiritual tradition may be, let’s be careful to avoid spending more time on practicing nonessential religious rituals than on practicing the core teachings. For as Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855 ~ 1919) wrote, “So many gods, so many creeds, So many paths that wind and wind, While just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs.”
Finally, I’ll call upon Mother Teresa (1910 ~ 1997) to make the concluding
remarks: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”