Grace as Courage
“Courage is grace under pressure.”
― Ernest Hemingway
I don’t know when or why I decided grace was a soft posture but somewhere along the line, early if I’m honest, I did. I decided that grace wore gauzy sundress in pastel colors and traipsed carefree through fields of flowers. I decided grace wore ribbons in her hair and had soft hands and never bit her nails. I decided grace was gentle and quiet and content and served herself last, and often went without, and had no desires of her own. Grace melted in to make the lives of those around her easier and more comfortable and safe, without any pronounced distinctions of her own.
Perhaps this understanding emerged because, in the formative years of my spiritual life, I learned that women were to be gentle and quiet and gracious. Maybe it was because the girls I knew who took ballet lessons were commended for their grace, while I managed to trip so badly I face planted while walking down the hall once.
Whatever the reason, I decided early on I would do my best to accept the grace offered by God, because I was supposed to and I didn’t want to go to hell, but I would likely never be good at extending grace to others. I preferred jeans to sundresses, and my hands were calloused and cracked, my nails picked and bitted to stubs.
“How odd that God offered grace anyway,” I wondered, though never admitting so (not even to myself). In contrast to the images of grace, soft and flowy and serene, the images I had of God were mighty and strong, bearded and demanding and always male. God was a rock and a warrior. God demanded perfection, and if you couldn’t live up to snuff then you at least had to be very sorry about it and live on your toes under his wrathful eye.
I could never make heads or tails of verses I memorized like “for it is by grace you have been saved” or “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all.” The mighty, male, warrior God I knew didn’t have room in his character for grace. He must be gritting his teeth and restraining himself to eke out some tiny measure, just enough to pull me and anyone else who asked Jesus to be their savior to the other side of eternity.
But God is not only strength, solid as a rock. God bleeds, God weeps.
We’ve done a terrible disservice by projecting only a bearded, mighty God who wars and never a God who comforts her children and holds them close, who gathers them under her wings in times of trouble and insists that living in her shelter is not only enough–it is good.
I have been striving my whole life to be good, to embody the softness and serenity I imagined grace to be, even if that meant I could no longer recognize myself.
But grace is an invitation to become most fully who you are because that’s how we know more about what God is like. Each of us bearing our own small part of God’s image. Grace is the courage to show up as ourselves, and know that not only are we enough–from creation we are very good.
Grace doesn’t mean I spend days looking to the flowers and the sweet and pristine and nice, denying that any trouble exists, or that great, warrior God will certainly attend to such scary and demanding issues. Grace takes in the scope of every evil, every heartbreak, all brokenness, and even death and insists “even here, life.” And not just a meager life, but life full and overflowing.
Grace is the means by which the world heals.
And not only the world, even me. Even you.
Walking in grace doesn’t mean I hold space for only seeing the healing or only seeing the broken.
Walking in grace invites me into the pressure of holding space for both.
I don’t understand it, but grace is the courage to show up every day to seek a bit more understanding.