What do you think of when you hear the word grace? Do you think of the little prayer some people say before a meal? Or maybe it’s the name of a girl you know? Maybe you think of the way a dancer moves across the stage. Grace is a term that has many different meanings, but when it comes to our relationships the most useful definition is probably a fairly simple one: unmerited favour. In other words, in the context of our relationships, grace is being willing to give something (favour) without needing something in return (unmerited). Grace is often the lifeblood of our relationships because as people we are imperfect and likely to do things which those around us may not like, and grace is what enables people to look past these things and put effort into maintaining the relationship. Grace gives us the ability to look past people’s faults and see their value in our lives. So what does this look like in practice? What does it mean to have grace in our relationships?
Firstly, grace requires flexibility. Each and every person we interact with is unique. They have their own unique personality, experiences, skills and habits. Some of these things are going to work well with our own uniqueness, others are going to clash. Some habits that people have are going to drive us nuts, others will make sense or just not worry us. Having grace in our relationships means having the ability to acknowledge differences and having the flexibility to accept them. We need to be able to work out what is important and what isn’t and put our attention onto the things that are. Grace gives us the ability to not sweat the small stuff and to enjoy our relationships without the little things getting in the way.
Secondly, grace requires forgiveness. Sometimes the things that people do aren’t things that we can just be flexible about. Sometimes they cross a boundary and cause hurt, and it’s in these times that we need to be able to forgive. Even those who are closest to us and know us best are likely to upset us at times, often unintentionally, so we need to be able to show them the grace to forgive them in order to maintain the relationship. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, in fact at times it can be one of the hardest things to do in a relationship when the hurt is a big one, but it is essential for our own well-being. The thing with forgiveness is it’s not just about showing grace to the other person, but also grace to yourself. You’re allowing the other person grace in forgiving them, and yourself the grace of not carrying the burden of a grudge.
Finally, grace requires boundaries. This may seem to contradict the other two, but in reality it is an extension of them. There will be times in our relationships when, even where flexibility and forgiveness are given, a boundary needs to be drawn. This may be around unsafe behaviours where you forgive someone but choose not to have them in your life. It may be around behaviours that are not being changed, where showing grace means drawing a line in the sand and holding the other person accountable by saying that if things do not change then you will have to take a step back. By having boundaries we are giving the other person a message that their behaviour is not ok and offering them the opportunity to grow. This in itself is grace because if we didn’t care then we would not take the time to identify the negative behaviour and give this chance to change, but by naming up we show them the grace of honesty and opportunity. It may not be the opportunity to grow in our lives, but the opportunity to grow so they can be a positive part of someone else’s life.
One of the great things about being human is the variety and uniqueness of the people around us. This brings depth to our existence, but can also cause difficulties at times. Grace is what gives us the ability to get through these relationships. Grace gives us the ability to be flexible around the small frustrations so they don’t become big. Grace gives us the ability to forgive when someone wrongs us so the relationship can continue. Grace gives us the ability to maintain boundaries to keep ourselves and those around us safe. Grace is essential in all our relationships, and the more important the relationship is to us, the more important grace is to the relationship.