“Grace slips in among the details of daily life, in all the noise and press and chaos of it, and asks us to take notice. Manifesting through words, through art, through all manner of creative expression that ultimately flows from the heart of God, grace gives us the tools and the ability to respond not only to what we find beautiful but also to work with the stuff of life that is awful, that is painful, that makes no sense. Grace does not make life make sense, but it can ground us in the midst of it, giving us a place to stand — or dance, or paint, or sing.” – Jan Richardson
The phone doesn’t ring. A neighbor drops by. The email goes unanswered. A gift arrives. The contract’s cancelled. An opening occurs. The plan fails. An opportunity arises. The old friend moves on. A new friendship deepens. The story loses its meaning. A new story gets told. That’s how it works. Whether we realize it or not, grace comes, but it comes dressed up in ways that make it look like everything but an answered prayer. It’s rarely what we want, but almost always what we need. We can’t force what doesn’t come. We can only keep our eyes open for what does.
The sooner you realize this, the sooner you’ll be able to stop agonizing over what hasn’t happened and start focusing on what has. It’s right there in that shift of focus that new beginnings begin. If you haven’t made this shift yet, I’m not going to tell you that now would be a good time to get started because you already know that. What you might not know, though, is how to begin, so let me tell you a story.
I have a friend who came to believe he’d lost his one chance at love. It wasn’t really true, but he tried his best to make it true. The funny thing is no one had broken his heart. He’d told the woman who loved him that their love was impossible and sent her away. Then he shrunk his life down to the bare essentials, blinded himself to what had actually happened, stopped talking, and began taking long walks.
Each morning he’d pack his rucksack, and head up into the mountains. Each day he’d walk further. Every day he’d discover some new path and follow it. When night began to fall, he’d circle back towards home. Then he’d have a simple dinner and spend the evening making notes about the things he’d seen that day: a patch of daffodils in full bloom on an abandoned farm, a heron rising from a hidden pond, a hawk perched on a low branch, watching as he walked by.
As the months passed, he stopped thinking about why he was walking. His notes became a journal that he began quietly sharing with a small circle of friends. Then he began painting. One night he even put on some music, and danced.
As he danced he remembered the day he’d come upon a stranger sitting by the side of the path. The stranger was dressed in old tattered clothing. His long matted hair hung down past his shoulders, and his weathered face glowed as he said, “I’ve been waiting for you. You’re the one who sings as he walks.” My friend began backing away. His heart pounded in his chest. The stranger smiled. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I see you out here every day and I hear your song. It sounds like a psalm. Maybe you don’t even realize you’ve been singing it.”
No, he hadn’t realized it. In fact, he’d convinced himself that he no longer had a song to sing. What he told me was that he’d become so full of his own story he hadn’t been paying any attention to the changes taking place inside him. He was just walking. Now all at once his body relaxed. Tensions he’d held deep eased out. A smile spread across his face. Still he couldn’t think of anything to say except thank you, and so that’s what he said. Thank you.
“Just keep singing,” the stranger told him. Then he stood up, patted my friend on the shoulder, and took a few steps before turning to say, “try not to try so hard. Let the grace you need come. It will.” And with that he waved and walked off leaving my friend standing there in wonder.
I heard this story while out walking the Camino de Santiago, and as I listened to it being told, I realized it could be my story. It could be anyone’s story. We get so full of ourselves sometimes that we miss the fact that Grace walks beside us and works within us even when we try our best to close ourselves off from it, even when we work hard to walk away from it.
That’s a great story, I told him. “Yeah, he said, “it was a perfect day, just like that song, and that’s when I began to realize all the days are if we let the grace we need come.”
“And did it come?” I asked.
“Yes, it did,” he said. “Look where we are.”
We were walking a beautiful path through Galicia. Evening was coming on. Cowbells sounded out across the valley as cattle came in for the night. I’d like to tell you the end of his story, but I can’t because I don’t know it. What I can tell you is that grace comes.
Once I stopped trying to force things, shifted my focus, stopped agonizing over what hasn’t happened, and started opening my eyes to what has come here’s what I began to see: a neighbor dropping by, a gift arriving, an opening occurring, an opportunity arising, a friendship deepening, and a new story getting told. Right there is where new beginnings begin.
Read: John 1:16