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 as well. –2 Corinthians 8:7
Grace is not part of consciousness; it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason. –Pope Francis
We’re all in this COVID-19 mess together. I’ve been seriously rethinking what I wrote 2 weeks ago about failing. And I’ve decided, through my own struggles and those I hear about daily, we all just need some grace right now.
What I’ve begun to see about uncertainty is that it opens the door for us to feel like we’re failing because we don’t have a measuring stick for this. If you’re like me, I’m trying to measure my performance (and possibly me too) according to the methods of normal life. Well, I don’t know about you, but MY normal life is NOT spent on my back porch only leaving my house for essentials once a week. Sunday, following the CDC recommendation changes, I made my first grocery store run wearing a mask. It felt like an apocalyptic movie seeing most of the other shoppers also in masks. NOT NORMAL!
Another thing I’ve discovered is how deeply grateful people are for even my most minimal efforts right now, regardless of how I might measure them. Clients are grateful for face-to-face video sessions. Students are grateful for the YouTube lectures and my ongoing goofiness. My mother and daughters are grateful for phone calls and facetime. And my partner and I are profoundly grateful for each other and the hugs and affection we share because they are all the physical contact either have experienced for a month now.
My heart tells me I am not failing despite what my own critical voice is saying. In fact, I’m doing my very best. And it is different than previously.
The best article I read this past week was in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Aisha S. Ahmad and while it is directed at professors, it is relevant for us all. You can read it here. While she is not specific about her country of origin nor her circumstances, she writes of her life in times of global crises, “I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement.” She gives practical advice on how to manage this time of pandemic.
We are still in the early period.
This is what I found most comforting:
“Your first few days and weeks in a crisis are crucial, and you should make ample room to allow for a mental adjustment. It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel bad and lost during this initial transition. Consider it a good thing that you are not in denial, and that you are allowing yourself to work through the anxiety. No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity.” … “Next, ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now.” … “Know that you are not failing. Let go of all of the profoundly daft ideas you have about what you should be doing right now.” … “Instead, focus intensely on your physical and psychological security. Your first priority during this early period should be securing your home.”
We are still in this early period.
I’ve found myself suggesting time after time this week to friends, neighbors, family, clients, students—really anyone who would listen—that we all need to be gentle with ourselves. To allow ourselves, and those with whom we are quarantined (especially!), a little grace. I need to listen to myself more carefully.
WHAT IS GRACE?
As week 5 approached, I knew clearly what topic I wanted to write about but as I mulled it, I found that I was struggling to even describe or define grace. I could feel it in my gut. I know when I experience it. And I know when I offer it. Both are supremely powerful experiences.
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. –Anne Lamott
Grace (gratia) is of Latin origin—meaning pleasing, thankful—the root of our English gratitude, as well. Religiously, it is considered an unmerited gift from God-of mercy and forgiveness for no particular reason other than spiritual healing and love. It is often associated with mercy—meaning loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness or forbearance (a refraining from the enforcement of something). It implies benevolence.
I am a part of a very active (and sometimes inane or intrusive) social media neighborhood group. This past week it has appeared to be functioning as a neighborhood policing group around social distancing. After hearing distant sounds of collective laughter, someone called the police to a home where a number of cars were gathered. A woman later blasted the group saying there had been a death in her family and that she did not appreciate calling the police to her home before anyone inquired what might be going on. She added that they were certainly not the revelers. Then she left the group, no doubt hurt and deeply offended. I felt terribly saddened that no one offered any measure of grace to her.
This morning I got a call from a friend, who faithfully phones on her way to work each week, and she told me of a co-worker who is sending critical, harsh emails to the staff. The woman uses demeaning language and insults people broadly. I was stunned! No apparent compassion for the current workplace struggles or what people might be experiencing in their personal lives. Quite frankly, it’s shameful behavior. And hard to also grant this woman grace. Then I stop myself: clearly her own stress is leaking out.
Give us grace and strength to forebear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, spare to us our friends, soften us to our enemies. –Robert Louis Stevenson
HAVE A LITTLE FAITH
When this blog greets you, we will have marked the end of the holiest week of the year in 2 major faith tradition celebrations: Easter and Passover. As I sit on my back porch (again) and write this, I find myself in tears (again) with a faint song running through the back of my consciousness on what I call the “jingle channel.” I look it up. Then I play it on repeat. And I cry more.
When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me
And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try
And have a little faith in me
Have a little faith in me (repeats)
And when your back’s against the wall
Just turn around and you will see
I will catch, I will catch your fall baby
Just have a little faith in me… Have a little faith in me …
Where do you place your faith?
Do you place your faith in God? In Allah? Yahweh? El Shaddai?
The Great Spirit? In Nature? Your Higher Power?
Do you place your faith in love? In Yourself?
Is it in your community? In your spiritual community?
Your faith? Knowledge? In science? In your experience?
Is it in the passing of time?
…regardless of our spiritual beliefs, grace comes from something greater than us.
I don’t know but I have a hunch that regardless of our spiritual beliefs, grace comes from something greater than us. The darkest parts of me doubt that it is human nature (when I observe greed and war) despite my overall hope in humanity. Either way, I believe we must place our faith somewhere right now. And I can say for sure that this exceptional time will work out better if we embody that greater good and share some grace with others. And with ourselves. Expecting yourself to be normal right now is not sane.
We are all grieving as Amy wrote last week—both for the many, many tangible losses, as well as the less tangible. It is messy. Let’s all offer up a large measure of grace. And have a little faith.
Rhea Ann Merck, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist, persistent woman, mother of 2 amazing young women, writer, teacher, life-long learner, curious & creative human, lover of life, passionate about making life better every day…