Grace is what God gives us when we don’t deserve it and Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve. – Anon
I first saw this quote about a year ago on a monitor at the YMCA where I was working out. At the time, I had just made the decision to turn to Christ and join the Church so I took the time to write it down. The saying intrigued me. There I was loping along on the treadmill and I thought, “God certainly didn’t bestow any gracefulness on me!” It was one of those moments where I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, specifically the definitions of grace and mercy. Considering the new spiritual adventure I was on I thought I probably ought to get familiar with both terms. Half of the quote, the mercy part, wasn’t so hard for me to understand. But, it took me a long time to get my mind wrapped around the grace part.
Maybe it’s because I tend to be a little ornery at times, but the sarcasm in the phrase about mercy wasn’t lost on me. It is a subtle, tongue-in-cheek way of saying that God doesn’t punish us for our sins that merit punishment. It’s our deliverance from His judgment. Ever since I was a boy and I heard my grandmother say, “Lord, have mercy on you, child!”, I have fully understood the context in which she uttered that oath – she was pleading to God to grant forgiveness to me, forgiveness for things which definitely merited punishment. I’m pretty sure I owe my grandmother big-time for acting on my behalf.
But, understanding the grace part was a little more challenging. After a lot of mulling it over, I think I finally figured out why. There are many definitions for the word “grace”. In its noun form I was familiar with two meanings: “a meal time prayer”, and “ease and suppleness of movement”. More to the latter, I believe I confused the word “grace” with another similar noun, “gracefulness”, which means “the quality of being graceful”. In fact, this meaning had such appeal to me that it seemed like the perfect name for our youngest daughter, Grace. My wife, on the other hand, because she has been Catholic her entire life, probably understood from the get-go what grace really means and intended it as such.
Eventually, after breaking down and doing one of the hardest things there is for a guy to do – to look a word up in the dictionary – I realized my ignorance when I read Webster’s primary definition as, “Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” The operative words to me in that definition are “unmerited divine assistance”. In my simple mind I translate that to mean that God, through His goodness, is giving me something which I have not earned. And, if the truth be told, it’s probably in addition to the mercy He has shown me for what I really deserved. I’m sure they go hand in hand.
Now that I can no longer plead ignorant to its meaning, I have to consider it in the context of being a Christian and I have to determine how to apply it to my life. To receive grace, it seems the logical first step is to take to heart Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God”. In my prayers I offer thanks for the mercy He has shown me and I ask for help, His grace, in strengthening both my faith in His Word and my resolve to do His Will. And, as to how I should apply it to my actions going forward, I have also read or heard, but I don’t know where, something along the lines of, “…help me to be Christ-like and let the grace of God work through me so that I may forgive those who need my forgiveness.”
There’s a little irony in all this. Now that I understand what God’s grace really is, I realize how, seventeen years ago when I least deserved it, He bestowed on me a lifetime of grace by blessing me with a beautiful and loving daughter who is the embodiment of her name. God is great! I think He also has a good sense of humor.
I have mentioned “God Moments” before, those times where God becomes present to you in some unexpected way. I think these “God Moments” are examples of His grace. If you have ever had any “Ah-Ha” moments you would like to share about receiving God’s grace, I’d love to hear about them.