Giving Space and Learning Grace

I talk a good talk about giving grace and learning people’s stories and giving people space to be who they are, but in reality, I am pretty judgmental and not very gracious in lots of situations.

For one example, this morning I sat next to a woman in church who kept sighing the whole way through the bad poem that was read, through the sermon, and through the strange liturgical singing prayer thing we did. I found myself really getting angry with her every time she’d loudly answer what I believed to be rhetorical questions asked by the pastor. I have a low tolerance for people who I perceive need to be in the spotlight. But then I stepped back and thought about how I don’t know this woman’s story. Maybe she had a past that really resonated with what the pastor was saying. Maybe she had low self-esteem and needed to feel like she knew the answers. Maybe, just maybe, I was being the opposite of the person I really want to be. We’re in church for crying out loud and there I was judging everything about someone I didn’t know. I was stealing her space, and I was shaming her in my head.

For another example, as I said above someone read a poem in church today, and all I could do was sit there, like I was in poetry workshop, and critique the poem for its lack of poetic-ness and poor imagery. Even better was that it was up on the giant projector screen, so I could critique the word choice, the line breaks, the rhythm or lack thereof, and basically everything about it. I stopped listening when there were too many mommy references. Maybe this poet had a hard time composing because of the pressure of Advent. Maybe she wrote from the heart and not from the head. Maybe she needed to process peace for her own rejuvenation and healing. And, again, I was being the opposite of who I want to be. I was stealing the poem from the poet and from all those for whom it could have been a blessing. My negative waves were likely tangible.

For a third example, I stopped at Caribou this morning before church, and I ordered a medium hot press in my mug. From my perception, the barista apparently thought I didn’t know what size my own mug was, so she charged me for a small. Then the barista at the bar only made a small hot press, so then I had four ounces less of coffee. There was also a whole over ring debacle, in which she made me wait in line while she fixed it, then re-rang my order. From my perspective, she was inept. But maybe the new computer system really had her rattled this morning. Maybe she had a rough night last night. Maybe she was nervous because I was a fellow employee. Maybe, I needed to give her grace instead of judgment, and maybe I could live with only twelve ounces of coffee, instead of sixteen. I scowled, I was short, and I took every opportunity to give her grace to do just the opposite. What an ass!

All of this to say that I am working (still and forever) on giving space for people to be who they are, and I am working (still and forever) on giving grace to people when they miss my high-held expectations for them.

I hate this lesson. I hate realizing how often I fail to recognize the divine spark in my fellow humans. I hate thinking about how this makes people relate to me, like there is some secret handshake to be my friend, equal, comrade.

There isn’t a secret handshake with me. I do believe in grace. I do believe in space. I do believe in all those things I say I believe in.

Being a real person is hard work.

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