Grief, guilt, and the touch of grace

A Christian Science perspective.

While talking about a character in one of her books, author Alice McDermott connected that fictional life with our own lives when she said that it's not the life crises that really matter but rather the moments of grace in our lives (A talk at Chautauqua Institution, June 29).

That statement resonated in my thought for days. It had a ring of truth because it matched my own life experience.

We’ve all had those tough times – hurtful, challenging experiences. Times that leave bad memories. Memories that would try to hang on to us, to become a part of who we are.

But we can move past all that. And that’s where grace comes in. One dictionary defines grace as that “unmerited” love of God coming to our lives to save us, to comfort and heal us.

The Bible says, “God is love” (I John 4:8). In Christian Science, Spirit and Love are synonyms for God. So Love must be infinite, universal. It’s always acting to bless. As divine Love, God loves us in a way that is everlasting, strong, and powerful. The Bible tells how God’s love preserves us, casts out fear, is a present help in trouble, fathers us, and blesses us. And those are only a few of a long list of the actions of divine Love.

God’s love, seen as grace, is love we don’t need to earn. We don’t need to be “good enough” to be loved. Grace is love that’s naturally, constantly given. It’s always ours because God is our Father-Mother, and we have an eternal relationship of unconditional love.

Of course, this may not always appear to be true. Sometimes the clamor of our troubles, the bad memories, and the fears loom so large that they encompass our thought, crowding out everything else. But the wonder of grace is its ability to penetrate that clamor and lead us to peace and comfort.

I had a moment of grace like that. After a loved family member passed away, I was overwhelmed with guilt. It seemed that every not-so-loving thing I’d ever said and done kept parading back and forth in my thought.
I didn’t know at the time that such feelings can be typical of a grief experience. I thought this was all evidence of my unworthiness.

And then there was grace. One day in the midst of grief and self-recrimination, I found myself with Bible in hand, open to a verse from Philippians, which read, in part, “forgetting those things which are behind,...” (3:13). The text almost shouted out at me. Its message was clear. And with my immediate acceptance of that directive, the guilt dropped away. What remained was great gratitude for that clear evidence of God loving me.

Later, whenever feelings of guilt crept back into my thought, I was able to turn quickly from them. I’d gotten a message from God. Trusting and honoring that message enabled me to turn from the temptations to feel guilty until they finally stopped coming.

The verse from Philippians continues, “and reaching forth unto those things which are before,....” This was also important because it included a promise of continuing good in my life, of ongoing grace. That has proved to be true. A verse from John Newton’s loved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” comes to mind:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Bible’s statement that “God is love” doesn’t require us to meet certain criteria or conditions. God’s love for us just is, always.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14

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