Growing in grace
I have often wondered about the word grace. It’s used in many ways—saying grace, grace notes in music, grace period on a late bill; so many variations that the meaning can get muddied.
But there’s no mistaking the way Mary Baker Eddy uses it in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures when she writes: “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (p. 4).
That hadn’t really sunk in—nor was I sure I fully understood that word—when some years ago, I faced a tricky challenge. My younger sister was getting married, which delighted me; but I was concerned about my role in the wedding as her maid of honor. I had gained weight and feared that the dress I had ordered to wear wouldn’t fit. In almost every way, I just felt downright unattractive.
At the time, I wasn’t dating anyone, and there were no prospects in the somewhat remote area of Northern Michigan where I was living. This added to the uneasy feelings I was having. Also, I was concerned that the wedding guests might assume I must be envious of the beautiful unfolding of events in my sister’s life. Experience had taught me that when I had felt unworthy or rejected, I had acted in a very negative way. A “maidzilla” in the making for sure.
Grace is the state of knowing one is loved by God and therefore able to love others.
It was at that point that I decided to pray—not to lose weight or grow more beautiful or find a fiancé. Those would have been welcome, but they were not uppermost in my thought. Mostly, I just wanted to be gracious at the wedding. I wanted to be calm, loving, support my sister, and be warm and friendly toward her guests—and especially not be seen as the ugly older sister whose feet were too big for the glass slipper!
I started with the Lord’s Prayer and its spiritual interpretation given in Science and Health. This part on page 17 really stood out for me:
Give us this day our daily bread;
Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections;
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And Love is reflected in love; …
I realized it wasn’t so much about debts and debtors in this situation, as feeding my famished affections and reflecting that divine Love in love for my sister, our family, and guests. This would be a genuine desire for “growth in grace,” and gradually I grew confident that I’d be able to express that grace in “patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.” If God consistently saw me as worthy and beautiful, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for me to see myself that way.
During the months of preparation for the wedding, I kept praying along those lines, frequently and earnestly. My trust in God’s love for me deepened, and on the big day the wedding was lovely, the bride and groom beamed, and everyone was able to see me as relaxed and self-confident. Family members and guests remarked about it frequently. To be honest, I had the time of my life—and no one could possibly have viewed that happy maid of honor as inferior, unworthy, or rejected.
What had happened? Could it be that an important component of grace is the state of knowing that one is loved by God and therefore able to love others? As we grow in our understanding of divine Love’s perception of each of us as beautiful, complete, and at peace, our ability to see ourselves that way begins to emerge. Then we naturally express more patience. We worry less that someone will steal our parking place or take away our best friend. We fret less about not being able to find the right shoes or the right home. We smile more, and others smile back. God’s love is reflected in our love, and reflected back to us again by others.
It was nine years before my own wedding took place. Yet, I was never tempted to feel jealous about my sister’s happiness. My husband and I have a lot of fun together. For example, one day he brought home a refrigerator magnet. He said it spoke to him and reminded him of the dog that had been part of our family for a decade. It pictures the happy face of a golden retriever, with the words, “May I be the kind of person my golden retriever thinks I am.” I laughed at first, but now I really like it. It’s been on the fridge for a long time.
Maybe I should get a new magnet that says: “May I be the kind of person God knows I am.”