Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
– Leo Buscaglia
Grace. Everyone knows what it is when they experience it. Webster’s defines it as “unmerited assistance coming from God.” However, they also define its synonym, mercy, as “lenient or compassionate treatment (bestowed by anyone).” As such, grace or mercy can be shown by anyone to any other living creature on earth. That means you can bestow grace or mercy on others. Even more interesting is that while you probably know forgiveness is important, forgiveness is not necessary for grace. Let me give you an example.
A few years ago I was going through a divorce. Let’s just say I did not feel forgiveness, mercy or grace for my ex. In fact, I felt anything but. After years of emotional abuse and then losing absolutely everything through the divorce, I could not even comprehend thinking of him in a positive way. I don’t explain this to point blame, as I know I was somewhat at fault for our failed marriage as well. But I offer this background as a way to give you some idea of my mindset when the following occurred.
At the time of this story, I was working in a bookstore after losing a business I’d spent years building. I was just trying to survive day-to-day. The only thing that made me happier was actually being able to help the customers in the store. One day a woman asked me if we had any books on how to survive abusive relationships. I showed her what we had and helped her check out after she’d made her choice. I had met many women recently who had been in abusive marriages so I also shared with her some community resources I’d heard of that might be of assistance as well. One thing that struck me was that she exuded peace and contentment. I couldn’t understand how that could be the case if she was in an abusive situation herself. I was curious as to how she could exude such positive feelings as compared to my negative ones. As we spoke, she said she was actually looking for the book to help someone she knew.
It turns out that she had been married to an abusive man just a couple of years before. They were divorced, and he was now remarried. His new wife was somewhat functionally disabled. The customer I was helping explained that she was buying the book for the new wife. The customer said she had tried to befriend the new wife because she felt she needed help. Apparently the new wife had no family and no one to turn to for help. My customer said she knew how abusive her ex could be and was still struggling to resolve her feelings about him. But she wanted to do everything she could for this other woman. She said simply, “She’s going to need help from someone one of these days soon. I want to do whatever I can to be there for her.”
After she left, I was dumfounded. Here I was wallowing in my grief while she had stepped outside herself to provide mercy to someone else. I felt very strongly that I had been touched by the wings of Grace as it passed by. Not only did this woman reach out to make someone else’s life better, but she inadvertently changed the lives of those who witnessed this act as well. There are scientific studies that show that an act of compassion not only changes the lives of the parties involved, but also the lives of anyone witnessing the exchange. I believe that. That event has stayed in my heart to this day. And every time I’m tempted to lash out at someone who has hurt me, I remember the lady I met that day. If another human being is capable of grace, then we all are. So while I may not be able to forgive everyone that’s hurt me, I can find a way to show compassion to others who have been injured by life’s blows.
It may not be something that’s occurred to you before, but you can start looking for ways to spread grace and mercy to those you encounter. While it may take a little effort on your part, especially if you’re feeling hurt, think what a significant impact it can have on others’ lives. While I’ve never had the opportunity to be as generous as the lady I met at the bookstore, I have had the chance to ease peoples’ lives a little as they passed my way. And if someone’s life is a little easier because of me, then maybe I did what I was put on this earth to do. I certainly hope so. Nameste.