By the grace of God. A phrase I tend to use quite a bit. Or, at least, I use to. Many times I say it flippantly, even if used about serious things: “By the grace of God, we made it home safely…I have three healthy children, by the grace of God…By the grace of God I didn’t get sick…” All of these things are worthy of thanking God. And, yes, all of them can be attributed to God’s grace.
But I’m more careful about how I use that phrase these days.
Recently, I was praying for a family. I had just heard some sad news and was concerned it might involve a family that I knew. Unable to contact the family, I began praying for them. As I prayed, I prayed for God’s grace to be upon them. Until I heard from them, I kept hoping that, by the grace of God, the news I had heard was not about their family. I knew it could only be by the grace of God that it was not their family. Because all signs pointed to them.
Finally, I was able to talk to my friend. Sadly, she confirmed that the news I had heard did invlove them.
I was then left with the question, “Did God not show them grace?” Equally disconcerting to me was the question, “Has God shown me more grace by not allowing this to happen to my family?”
Suddenly, I was grappling with grace in a new way. This was a dear friend. In many ways, our lives were very similar. I was no more worthy of being spared ~ of experiencing grace ~ than she.
So why would God show me grace and not her? Or, do I have a wrong understanding of grace? Is grace simply escaping or being spared “bad things”? By the way I would use the phrase “by the grace of God,” that’s what I was subconsciously assuming.
My understanding of grace began to deepen. As I listened to my friend share her story of what had happened, I saw God’s grace lived out through her. She was exuding so much grace in the way she was handling her situation. I was awed. I was humbled. I was seeing God’s grace in first-person. The handprint of God’s grace was all over her: her words, her life, her actions, her faith.
As I process the recent tragedy from within our community this week (the tragic death of a beautiful fourteen year old from an ATV accident), I find myself wrestling with this idea of grace once again. From the moment I heard of the accident (Sunday night) and knew that Maya was in critical condition in the hospital, I began praying. Along with thousands of others. Each day, news of her condition was updated, via facebook and email. With each new piece of information, I was praying more specifically and fervently. As her condition seemed to worsen, I found myself praying that her life would be spared, by the grace of God.
I know God hears our prayers. I know He wants our prayers. And I know that He can spare lives and work miracles. And from my human perspective, I can’t understand why He wouldn’t show mercy on this family and save the life of Maya. And yet, on Wednesday night, Maya’s life here on earth ended.I’m slowly learning about the grace of God. I say this as an onlooker. As someone who personally has not walked through some of the heartbreaking tragedies that others have faced.
What I’m slowly learning is that God’s grace is all around us. His grace is not found in the absense of tragedy, but is found in the midst of it. Not that being spared tragedy isn’t a form of grace, because it is, but that it’s not the definition of grace.
As I’ve seen an entire community come to together, wrapping love and support around this family, I see grace. As I see a grieving mother write these words,
How can a mom begin to let herself believe that her precious baby girl is never coming home? I have no idea how I am even able to breath the pain is so bad. Those who knew Maya know that she had a zest for life like no other, and the world will never be as bright and sparkly without her in it. Please pray for her family and friends, and especially her siblings, Alex, Leanna, and Ethan. Maya’s compassion and loving spirit helped guide us to the decision to donate her organs to help other families avoid this heartbreak. Until they take her to surgery, I am able to spend some last precious moments holding her hand and even snuggling next to her in her hospital bed. You cannot begin to know how much everyone’s love and prayers have meant to us.
I see grace. When her mom posted these words, shortly after Maya’s final breath, “She’s home with Jesus,” I see grace. God’s love and comfort ~ through Himself and others ~ in the midst of pain, suffering, and loss is grace. His hope, is grace. A peace that passes underestanding, is grace.
Not the grace I had hoped for, nor the grace I had prayed for. As my heart aches for this family, I now pray for a new grace. And I start to see that all of life is grace. It’s not just found in the “pain-free” moments. It’s not just found in the circumstances in which tragedy was avoided. Grace is found in the midst of it all. It is found in the painful moments. It is found in the throes of tragedy. It is found in God.
And for those who find themselves in the midst of tragedy, experience a grace I have yet to experience (and must admit, am afraid to experience). Grace, alongside loss and deep pain and questioning. For those of us who stand onlong the fringes of a tragedy, we may find ourselves humbled and awed by the grace we observe. And, if we have the eyes to see it (by the grace of God), we learn more about God’s grace and the true meaning of grace. That kind of grace is stunning, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring.
In Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?, he addresses the timeless question of the problem of pain. Where is God when it hurts? Where is grace, when bad things keep happening? In his final chapter, he beautifully summarizes the “answers” (we’ll never fully have answers) to that question. As I read his words, I see grace:
Where is God when it hurts?
He has been there from the beginning, designing a pain system that, even in the midst of a fallen world, still bears the stamp of his genius and equips us for the life on this planet.
He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward him.
With great restraint, he watches this rebellious planet live on, in mercy, allowing the human project to continue in its self-guided way.
He lets us cry out, like Job, in loud fits of anger against him, blaming him for a world we spoiled.
He allies himself with the poor and suffering, founding a kingdom tilted in their favor. He stoops to conquer.
He promises supernatural help to nourish the spirit, even if our physical suffering goes unrelieved.
He has joined us. He has hurt and bled and cried and suffered. He has dignified for all time those who suffer, by sharing their pain.
He is with us now, ministering to us through his Spirit and through members of his body who are commissioned to bear us up and relieve our suffering for the sake of the head.
He is waiting, gathering the armies of good. One day he will unleash them, and the world will see one last terrifying moment of suffering before the full victory is ushered in. Then, God will create for us a new, incredible world. And pain shall be no more.
That is Grace.
“The grace of God is glue.” ~ Eugene O’Neill