I have often wondered about the word “grace.” It’s used in many ways – saying grace before a meal, grace notes in music, a grace period on a late bill – and there are so many variations that the meaning can get muddied.
But there’s no mistaking the way the word is used in this statement in one of my favorite books, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy: “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 meaning of the word “grace” hadn’t really sunk in when some years ago I faced a tricky situation. 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 seemed to be no prospects in the remote area where I was living. This added to my uneasy feelings. Also, I was concerned the wedding guests would assume I must be envious of my sister’s life. Experience had taught me that when I felt unworthy or rejected, I acted in a very negative way. It was a bad situation in the making for sure.
It was at that point I decided to take a different approach than simply worrying: I began to pray. I was not praying to lose weight or grow more beautiful or find a fiancé. Those events 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, supportive, and friendly.
I started with the Lord’s Prayer Christ Jesus gave us and the spiritual interpretation of it found in Science and Health. This section on page 17, which uses “Love” as a synonym for God, really stood out to 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 that in this situation it wasn’t as much about debts and debtors as about feeding my “famished affections” and reflecting God, Love, in my love for others. This would be a genuine desire for “growth in grace.” Gradually, I grew confident that I’d be able to express that grace in “patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.” Since God consistently sees us as His worthy and beautiful spiritual creation, I reasoned, 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 I was relaxed and self-confident. Family members and guests remarked about it. To be honest, I had the time of my life. That day and afterward I was never tempted to feel inferior or jealous of my sister’s happiness.
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. We smile more, and others smile back. God’s love is reflected in our love, and reflected back to us again by others.
My own path did end up including marriage – nine years later.
One day my husband 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 could get a new magnet that says: “May I be the kind of person God knows I am.”
Adapted from an article in the Jan. 28, 2013, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.