This past year has been challenging for all of us, but in many ways, my own life remained unchanged. I continued to work at home. I continued my lunches with grandson Enzo and playdates with grandson Austin.
Many times, I told my husband, Kurt, that I wanted to use the peace, security, and good health that I’d been given and pay it forward, to find ways to bless those around me. I thought a lot about words of loving kindness, how I could walk the WOLK, how I could walk the words of loving kindness.
I did that, but I also had some icky missteps, two big ones in particular. I could blame it on the pandemic, the national discourse, the uncertainties of any given day, the stress and strain surrounding me, but the reality is that I made some assumptions in two very important relationships that were unfair and hurtful.
Missteps are always hard to talk about. It’s so much more fun to share special moments with my grandsons, to tell about unexpected pleasures placed in my day.
But the reality is that some days don’t go well. Some conversations may sound loving and kind, but aren’t. At times I’ve said nothing when I should have said something; at other times I’ve done something when I should have done nothing or done something different.
I want to be careful, because today’s message is not meant to solicit sympathy or to make light of misunderstandings. Today’s message is meant to share the power of grace. Grace alone.
A year ago, as we lurched into our personal and collective response to COVID-19, my pastor found himself coming home from a mission trip to the Philippines. Alarmed at the possible impact of his international travels, I called together our church leadership team to talk about next steps.
Eight of us had a thoughtful discussion and decided to ask our pastor to self-quarantine for two weeks after arriving home. Knowing he would want to work, we actually made his church office available to him after sealing off his space from the rest of the building.
Sounds safe and practical, doesn’t it? The problem is that I never bothered to include pastor in our discussion. I made assumptions about his response to the pandemic and proceeded to make decisions without his input.
In an age when we can connect virtually with people down the street or around the world, I made a poor decision in order to arrive at a bigger decision. Words of loving kindness were shared with everyone, but the one person who needed to hear them.
Waaay too many words!
During this past year I also shared too few words of loving kindness. I’ve known that a colleague was working through some hard stuff, some very hard stuff. I assumed she would want space. I assumed she didn’t need me telling her I understand when I didn’t, telling her it was going to be OK when I didn’t know for sure that it would be.
I feared that my telling my colleague anything would sound trite, so I said nothing. In doing so, I left her feeling alone, insignificant and unimportant, not something I intended to do, but a very real consequence of my actions.
I didn’t need to have all the right words; I just needed to ask, “How are you doing?”
You’ll often hear the faith community talk about grace and mercy. We talk about grace and mercy almost interchangeably, but they’re very different.
Mercy is not getting what we deserve when we mess up.
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, being forgiven when we mess up.
Reflecting back on the time when I said too much and when I said too little, grace abounded. Grace alone.
In both situations, I was forgiven. I got the grace I really didn’t deserve.
Did I mean to hurt two very important people in my life? No, but the truth is I made unfair and hurtful assumptions. And what’s especially troublesome about that is that during this past year, I’ve really tried to use my own personal peace, security, and good health to benefit of those around me.
And to have missed the mark is humbling.
Again—I don’t share this to solicit sympathy.
It’s easy for me to think, but I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t have known, but I (you fill in the blanks).
And then I can easily slip into the blame game.
If he hadn’t, if she had.
We all screw up.
We all have moments when we’ve done what we didn’t mean to do or not done what we meant to do. And when that happens, I’ve got to own it, not explain it away. If I don’t, I can’t begin to appreciate the grace shared with me, the grace given to me, the grace that restores me in the relationships around me.
It’s also the grace I get to share with others. Grace alone.
In chapter 4, verse 16 of the New Testament’s letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
And our time of need might be when we need it most and also when we most need to share it.
In another New Testament letter, the second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul adds in chapter 8, verse 7,
“But as you excel in everything—
in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—
see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
Our missteps can hurt ourselves and others. To say “I was wrong” is really hard, but misunderstandings can be more isolating than a pandemic and the long-term effects of unforgiveness can be more damaging.
Earlier this week was Global Forgiveness Day. A forgiveness coach, Brenda Reiss, reminded us that global forgiveness starts with ourselves, our family, bosses, friends, and co-workers. She goes on to say that as we practice forgiveness right here at home, it has a way of expanding out to others around the world.
Yes, around the world.
For me to hear “You’re forgiven” was a blessing. And knowing how important it is for all of us to hear “You’re forgiven,”
I pray that I might excel in the act of grace also.
As we close, I want to share the words of a hymn by Jeff Nelson and Scott Wesley Brown. It’s called “Grace Alone.”
Ev’ry promise we can make / Ev’ry prayer and step of faith
Ev’ry diff’rence we will make is only by His grace
Ev’ry mountain we will climb / Ev’ry ray of hope we shine
Ev’ry blessing left behind is only by His grace
Grace alone which God supplies / Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us our Cornerstone / We will go forth in grace alone