Grace: The willingness to embrace someone—or something—despite imperfection.
In times increasingly-dominated by incivility and rushes to judgment, even-handed engagement is falling out of favor. Emotional decision-making and identity politics are en vogue, pushing aside reasoned discourse the same way mobile phones ushered out collect calls.
That degeneration in conduct is pervasive in the social media universe, where a slip of the tongue can end a career—or worse.
(As if you needed any more reasons to manage your social media use.)
So where does “grace” fit in to this? Why am I bringing it up and what can it do for you?
When you’re known for allowing others to be themselves—without fear of censure of reactionary retaliation—many good things come your way.
Peace of mind from managed expectations; unexpected gifts of kindness dropped in your lap; uncommon leeway from others when you’re not at the top of your game; all products of grace.
When people see that you’re willing to forgive and extend grace, even when attack or retribution is justified, your reputation will be burnished that much more. You’re perceptive enough to spot mistakes yet posses the foresight to allow others to grow and not feel small: Who wouldn’t you want you in their organization or social circle?
There are plenty of biblical scriptures illustrating how we are to handle interpersonal grievances. This parable is one of the more memorable ones:
The Unmerciful Servant: Matthew 18: 21-35:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
(Note: If you’re searching for the “eye-for-an-eye” verses to counter this point, understand that Old Testament law was instituted as an early code of conduct for man to establish and maintain a stable society. Jesus’ arrival—chronicled in the New Testament—did away with that laundry list of rules, providing a more forgiving standard and a few general principles to follow for those who desire the most out of life.
Although many of the answers to life’s most enduring questions are spelled out in the bible, you can deduce God’s viewpoint on even the most obscure riddles with a solid understanding of the Christian ethos.)
In the environment where it should be most abundant—the church—grace can be hard to come by. Not nearly enough church-goers put it in practice. Folks talk a big game about “trusting God”, “putting it all into His hands”, and God “knowing their heart”, but when presented with real opportunities to act like Christ, they retreat to spaces most comfortable and self-serving for them—no difference from the uninitiated.
Sure I’ll carry the cross….until my show returns from commercial break.
You want to lead others to Christ, but remain unwilling to buy in at a level that differentiates your conduct from the world at large: That’s a tough sell. That same lack of commitment is the reason most activist groups struggle to gain traction.
We’re all for freedom of expression—as long as it aligns with our values. Utter an opinion that doesn’t fit neatly inside our paradigm and watch out. Heaven help you if offend in any way; you’ll be resented forever. If you’re dealing with a lukewarm Christian, and aren’t met with outright hostility, be prepared for passive-aggressive responses like, “I’ll pray for you.”
This kind of self-righteous behavior drives people away from churches, cementing the belief that religious folk are hypocrites and, ironically, kneecapping the church’s ability to evangelize and spread the gospel.
“Grace? That’s a lesson for new Christians. And it only applies when someone else is slighted, not me. Don’t judge me; you don’t know the full story.”
The scripture that’s supposed to be guiding our lives lays flat on the page. We pick and choose the verses that best serve us in the moment and brush the rest onto the cutting room floor.
“The bible says it is better to give than to receive. Hand over Boardwalk.”
This is where a willingness to have uncomfortable conversations comes in handy: If you truly want to walk with Christ, remembering to extend grace and treat others like you want to be treated is a good start. You don’t need to turn water into wine to be the life of the party—or someone people want to be around.
“Kene, I’d rather not hear any more about religion. So much evil has been committed in the name of religion.”
I won’t fight anyone on that point. Religion has been co-opted to advance agendas not of God.
To be clear, I am not pushing consequence-free environments. Calling out bad actors and maintaining standards are critical for healthy self-esteem. Uphold your standards of integrity and transparency; Never confuse grace with an absence of accountability; that’s what strong boundaries are for.
Just be careful how quickly you write people off. You can extend grace without being a martyr: Use wisdom on that front.