When I was in high school, I had a conversation with a classmate that I still remember almost 20 years later. We were discussing a popular female musician. My classmate insisted that the young woman had a big nose, far too big to be pretty. I replied that, even if that were so, her voice was still very lovely.
My classmate looked at me and stated, “You always find something good to say about someone. I need to learn to do that.”
I didn’t think much about it at the time because I was merely stating the truth: her voice was (and is) lovely. It didn’t think that I was doing anything extravagant, despite my classmate’s implication. But it has stuck with me all these years, always floating in the back of my mind somewhere. I have come to believe that it has influenced the way I think about and speak of others, whether I notice it or not. There is a grace in being willing to find what is good in someone, in choosing to build them up rather than tear them down. I also believe that there is grace in being willing to see what is real in someone.
What is real will not always be pretty, it will not always be easy. It may be messy, it may be difficult to fathom or handle, but grace involves seeing people as they are, where they are, and extending compassion and loving-kindness to them in that moment. I will admit that I have not always stuck it out through the real in people. There have been times when I have backed up or slipped away, when I have chosen silence over the difficult and homeostasis over the challenging, or let relationships fall silent, wither, and die because I just didn’t know what to do and was too scared or hurt or weary to try, to reach out, or to forgive. I admit this with regret and repent of it now, though, in some cases, I know the deep truth of Dickens’ words:
“[There is] no space of regret [that] can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” (A Christmas Carol, Stave 1, brackets mine)
I know that letting go is a thing that sometimes needs to happen, that it is sometimes necessary for emotional and mental health on both sides. But I like to think that I might be intelligent enough (even if just) to tell the difference between needing to let go after having tried and moving away from the real. I have been shown the gentlest and strongest grace by those in my life, in those times when I know I was difficult, frustrating, and confusing in my realness. I want to emulate their example and sit with them and others in their real, to understand when they are speaking out of pain, and reach out in love.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
Extravagant grace is not an easy thing, but those who have internalized it, practice it, live it, make it look easy. They make grace look natural, even though it isn’t. Grace is a choice and sometimes a hard one, but the good it can do is immeasurable. Be brave, dear ones. Let’s stick through the hard; let’s sit with people through the real. Let’s shut down our propensity to take things personally and reach out softly in love that might be unexpected but so deeply and desperately needed.