Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grace Doesn't Wear A Red Cape

Grace is a slippery word. 

It's difficult to grasp, an elusive state of mind, of being, that I struggle to put into words.   I know it when I see it, but so often I forget to look.

Grace appears for me when I let go.  When I peel my white-knuckled fingers off the wheel of control and get myself - my thinking - out of the way.

I can't create Grace, whip it up like a killer cookie recipe, knead it to life with my bare hands.   When faced with a gnarly problem I like to roll up my sleeves, a determined set to my jaw, and attack it head-on.   I want it fixed, whatever it is, a solution delivered to me with a nice pink bow on top.

What I seek is a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of completion, with the more difficult things in life.   When one of my kids is struggling with something, for example, I want to strap on my red cape, swoop in and save the day.

When they were younger, the red cape did come in handy.  Problems amounted to skinned knees, hunger pangs, finding a missing toy, brushing tears away with a soft kiss.

As they get older, though, their problems become more nuanced, more adult-like.   Their questions don't have tidy answers anymore.   Their tears cannot be calmed with a simple kiss.    I still throw my red cape on and swoop around uselessly, just to feel like I'm doing something.    But I can't make it all better on my own, no matter how much I wish I could.

I have no choice but to learn how to let go, bit by bit.

I have to let them muddle through, fall down and get back up.   I run alongside, handing them tools they will need along their way.   I try to teach them to ask for help, speak up, express themselves, put a voice to their fears and their triumphs.

I may not be able to explain Grace with words, but I can try to show them.     Grace is keeping my heart open, so I don't miss the messages I'm meant to see, the people I'm meant to know.   Grace is letting solutions come to me, instead of forcing an outcome simply because I want one.  Grace is doing my best, and letting go of the outcome.  Grace is understanding my own limits, knowing when to ask for help.  Grace is calling on God, but rowing away from the rocks.*

When it comes to my children, letting go feels contrary to my protective maternal instincts, my desire to makes things okay for them no matter what. 

The reality, though, is that they have to work through suffering, through difficulty, and get themselves to the other side.   With my help, of course, but I can't do it for them.

They are figuring out that I don't have all the answers, in part because I tell them I don't have all the answers.  The words burn in my throat as I say them, but it's true.

Greta was trying to sort through a situation at school, and it had her tied up in knots.  She looked at me with tears running down her face, and asked me what she should do.   I gave her some thoughts, some observations, but told her I didn't have an answer to her problem, that some things have to sort themselves out over time.

"Sometimes when I'm stuck," I told Greta, "I pray."

"What do you pray for?"  she asked. 

"I pray that I will keep my eyes and heart open, so I can see what I'm supposed to see.  That way, if the answer comes, I'll be ready."

"That sounds complicated," she said. 

"How about just one simple prayer, then?"  I suggested, gently.    "How about just praying for patience?   Say it over and over in your head when you're feeling anxious.  You don't have to be in church to pray.  You can pray any time. Why don't you see if that helps?"

"Okay," she said dubiously, but she wasn't crying anymore. 

Grace is found in the waiting, sometimes.  

And, finally, I may struggle with how to define Grace, but Anne Lamott doesn't.  I keep this quote tucked away in my journal, and I take it out from time to time and soak in its beauty, its truth:

"[Grace is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love - the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there."

- Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, Some Thoughts on Faith

*"Call on God, but row away from the rocks", -Hunter S. Thompson


  1. Oh my. You are...grace-full. My life's goals are to live gradefully, and to share my experience for the good. I love reading what others have to say about grace, so thank you. I love the Anne Lamott quote - I must go back and re-read that book.

  2. I can feel the tug on the heart as the Red cape comes off. I can’t know how hard it is for a mom to let Go. The more moms I read – and I read tons – the closer I come to understanding. But I’ll never know in this life. I heart your conversation with your daughter. That was kind of like draping your red cape over her shoulders.

    You don’t have to give up the red boots though – do you? {smile}

    God bless you and keep you – and all of yours Ellie.

  3. This covered me in goosebumps. I chose "grace" as my word for 2011. I have some things to get through and I know that grace is what will carry me. For me, grace is holding my head up and speaking with a clear voice even when I have to make a difficult phone call or talk about the things I don't want to talk about.

    And I love those quotes. I often use "when you pray, move your feet" and am glad to add the Hunter S. Thompson one to my tool kit.

  4. I needed to read this today, thanks.

  5. I like what Craig said about draping the red cape over Greta's shoulders. Because while you can't answer all her questions and solve all of her problems, giving her the cape will enable her to help do it for herself. Passing the baton of sorts. Beautiful piece.

  6. "Grace is found in the waiting, sometimes." So very, very true.
    Such a powerful post. I'm bookmarking it!

  7. I love grace so much. :)
    And I love what you've said here, Ellie. So much truth.


  8. Beautiful, beautiful post. Love the Anne Lamott quote too, her writing is wonderful.

  9. Beautiful post. I love that quote. I think I need to remember it too! Thank you for sharing.