On one of the many occasions I have done something so outrageous that totally mortified my girls in recent memory, they went into full-blown incognito mode—slouching all the way down in their seats—to avoid being seen in the car with me, after which they elaborated in great detail how lucky I was there were no video receipts of my behavior, or I’d be “totally canceled.”
After laughing about it (raising teenagers requires humor, forced as it may be at times), it got me thinking: What else in my life would call for a “cancellation”? No doubt about it, I’ve had my fair share of missteps and mistakes on this journey of life. Some will haunt me until I reach those pearly gates. Others just “mortify” me upon recollection. Gaffes. Unintended hurts. In- discretions. Harsh words. Infidelity. Social insensitivity. Gross judginess. Jealousy. Intemperate temper. Planet carelessness. Big breaches to little hiccups, like having too salty a tongue (never met a curse word I didn’t like). I mean, the list could go on and on (let’s not forget root perms!).
We all have our proverbial crap. For my part, I can honestly say that my missteps are never choreographed with malice or ill intent. Not that this absolves me, but I do like to think that I’m quick to apologize for any errant behaviors (although I’m sure some of my exes may beg to differ). I do make a point to legit apologize to my children when I make a mistake, and I try to teach them that changed behavior is the best “I’m sorry” you can give.
All in all, it’s a powerful redemptive cycle: F*ck-up → Acknowledgment → Apology → Grace → Forgiveness → Redemption → Growth. That forgiveness hurdle can be a tough one, however, and many of us have trouble clearing it—whether as the givers or the receivers. Notice what comes before forgiveness in the process I just laid out: grace. You can’t fully appreciate the beauty of gratitude without taking in the scenic majesty of grace. They’re intertwined.
There are so many exquisite literary explanations of grace and its place in theology and life. One of my favorite no-non- sense takes on grace comes from Bono, whose profound words aren’t solely limited to his super-cool lyrics. He’s quite the philosopher, all-around badass, and champion for good. He said, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”
Haven’t we all? Back in the day, I think I did some at a U2 concert. And a Stones concert. Definitely at some Grateful Dead shows.
I love how Bono worded his explanation of grace. Love interrupts the consequences. I think about that often. I count so much on God’s grace, yet at times struggle with extending it to others. I really struggled extending grace to my cheating ex-boyfriend, making forgiveness even more difficult. I mistakenly conflated grace with tolerance—felt that if I truly extended grace, there would be no consequences for his cheating. I gave great “I forgive you” lip service without really meaning it or practicing it. Meanwhile, my passive-aggressive words and actions were constantly reiterating that he was a cheater. It was like constant background music. Literally, I sang “Bed of Lies” by Nicki Minaj to him. On more than one occasion.
When you don’t extend grace, it serves as a kind of prison to the person seeking forgiveness, never allowing them to step out of the narrative, out of the label, out of the mistake. And when you are boxed in, you can’t grow, be different, or be better. You can never reach the redemptive part of the cycle. Think about it. If you plant a tree in a small container and keep it in that container, the roots begin to circle around the pot until there is no potting soil left. Eventually the tree can girdle/ strangle itself and die due to lack of space. Boxed in, it can never thrive and flourish. The same holds true for people. Whether you “hold” someone big or small, they will meet that space.
Grace sees beyond our mistakes. And thank goodness—because do you want to be defined by your mistakes? God knows, I don’t. The theologian and clergyman who wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” had previously been a slave trader. He went on to become an ardent abolitionist. Grace redeems.
Every time you don’t extend grace, you’re withholding love.
I read a Pinterest post (gotta love Pinterest) that stated: “Grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose in- stead of serving shame.” Just sit with that for a sec. I love, love, love that. Grace transforms and recontextualizes. Mistakes are now your teacher, not attacker. You can’t fall from grace. In actuality, grace catches you when you fall in its loving embrace.
Given my litany of screw-ups, flaws, and mistakes, I’m so grateful for God’s grace. Whereas His love carries me, it’s His grace that sets me free. It allows me to move past and forgive myself as opposed to being held bondage by those inner demons of guilt and regret. Grace escorts any guilt or shame out the back door, thus opening the possibility for transformation.
Grace allows people to step out of the shadows of their mistakes and missteps—and become.