Grace is one of the most foundational concepts in the Christian faith. Jesus’ death and Resurrection was the ultimate grace offered to humankind. This is something that we tend to struggle with within American culture. It is a free gift, and we like to earn what we receive. There is a delicate balance we must find in accepting grace for ourselves and offering it to others.
In traditional American society, when someone is wronged, there are consequences, and someone is found ‘at fault’. There is payment required in some form to make up for what happened. The principle of grace turns this idea on its head. Romans 6:23 says ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ The punishment we deserve as sinners is death. No hope of an afterlife or eternal relationship with Christ. Rather than this punishment (as just as it would have been), Jesus Himself paid the price and offered us grace. This, my friends, should cause us to live differently.
When I was a youth director, I used to use this analogy to explain the magnitude of grace: I walk out the door with a student, they step into the street, and a bus is coming toward them. I push them out of the way, and I get hit by the bus instead. As heartbroken as they would be, my hope is that they would choose to live life in a way that honors the sacrifice I made. This example is a fraction of the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross.
When it comes to mental health, many are struggling right now. Rather than extending grace to ourselves, most of us heap on sorrow, guilt, and shame. We tell ourselves that we are not doing enough or ‘being enough’. Our internal monologues contain words and phrases we would (hopefully) NEVER utter to another human: You’re a bad mom, you’re a loser, you’ll never amount to anything…and many more. My simplest tool is to stop and ask yourself, “Would I say this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, this is a great place to start with grace.
The challenge of negative thinking is that there is no feedback. If we say horrible things to a friend, they are going to react. They may cry, they may be angry, or they may even shut down. But they react. We can’t see our own reaction to our internal thoughts. We just jump on the bandwagon with reasons to confirm why that thought is true…or feels true. The second tool is to validate why your negative thought feels true. Then process why it might NOT be true.
Balance your thinking by adding flexible thoughts and not just running away with shame. This is also helpful when extending grace to others. Life throughout the pandemic has been a struggle. We are all trying our best to make it through this challenging time, but some struggle more than others. We don’t always speak kindly or behave in the ways we normally would. It is helpful to try and think ‘what might that person be going through that I don’t even know about?’
When someone cuts you off in traffic before you run away with ‘Oh. Sure. You’re just more important than the rest of us on the road?!’ Try and think flexibly about why they might be in a hurry. What if it is a husband rushing his wife to the hospital when she is in labor. Suddenly, we are filled with compassion. As empathy increases our frustrations usually decrease. I end most of my sessions by saying, ‘be kind to yourself this week’. Or my couples hear, ‘be kind to each other this week.’ 2 nd Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power made perfect in your weakness.” Don’t be afraid to be weak…and be kind to yourself.