Be completely humble
and gentle; be patient;
bearing with one another in love.
I lost a few nights sleep in the month after being diagnosed with cancer. Usually the sleeplessness was not about my reaction to the diagnosis itself. It was because I was reacting to something friends did or didn’t do. Or to something a health care professional said or didn’t say. I didn’t like being reactive in this way. I wanted to be humble, gentle, patient and loving all the time. But I was not. Pride, anger and impatience were often part of my struggle.
I am convinced that it is God’s desire to transform us into people capable of humility, gentleness and patience. Another way of saying this is that God wants to free us from all that prevents us from reflecting the light and love of God. God’s desire is to make us capable of extending grace.
When I found myself reacting to other people I prayed: “Please show me how this looks through your eyes. I know my perspective is warped because I am anxious and raw. Open my eyes and my heart.”
Often praying in this way was helpful in restoring a humble, gentle perspective—an ability to extend grace. In addition to receiving grace to extend grace, my eyes were opened to see more clearly the many acts of kindness that were extended to me. As I learned to receive these gifts of kindness and allowed this grace to move me, it became easier for me to stay in a place of extending grace to others.
Often what I would see is that the friend who had said something I reacted to loved me and had no idea that what they said had been hurtful to me. What I needed was to “bear with them in love.” I needed to see their love for me and my love for them and to let the missteps go.
When God gives us the grace to receive grace and to extend grace, the circle becomes complete, and we often experience the blessing of grace coming back to us. This completion of the cycle of grace does not necessarily come in the form of a direct response from people to whom we have extended grace. The completion often comes because extending grace to others creates a greater opening for the outpouring of God’s love and goodness in our hearts.
The surgeon I saw is a hard working, energetic, gifted woman. I saw her for consultations twice before my first surgery and again after each of my two surgeries. One of these appointments was scheduled on a Friday late afternoon just before my first surgery. I had cleared my own work schedule so that my husband and I could get there on time. We waited for an hour and a half. We both felt a bit of the frustration that can come when you make an effort to get somewhere on time, only to find yourself waiting.
The walls were fairly thin in the consultation room where we waited and we could hear the surgeon’s voice in the next room. We couldn’t hear much of what was being said, but we knew she was talking to a young woman who had serious breast cancer and was very distressed.
It was not hard to extend grace for an hour and a half to the doctor. She was answering question after question and offering much needed hope and reassurance to this young women and her family. We were grateful that she was that kind of doctor.
When she came in to see us she apologized profusely. She stated briefly that it had been a heart wrenching week with too many women in their twenties and thirties faced with difficult diagnoses.
Several weeks later, after my second surgery, I was again waiting for a consultation with this surgeon. This time I had a book with me, just in case the wait was another long one. The book I had with me was Rachel Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom—a deeply moving book about faith and hope in the midst of health crises. 2
This wait turned out to be another long one, but, perhaps because of the book I was reading and the grace that flowed from it, and because I was now cancer free and done with all treatment, I was in a very calm and meditative place. I read a story from Rachel’s book, and then I prayed for the surgeon. I reflected on the patience, kindness and gentleness she had extended to me. I thanked God for her and asked God to bless her richly for all she gave of herself to me and all the women she helped. And then I would read another story and pray for her again. I did this over and over for almost ninety minutes.
When she arrived and apologized again for the long delay, I felt nothing but gratitude for her. When I thanked her for all her good care for me, she put her arms around me as I sat on the end of the examination table and hugged me. As she let go of me and pulled back, her eyes were brimming with tears. I don’t know what her tears were about. But I do know that grace filled the room, holding us both in its kind embrace.
When things are tough, ask for grace to extend grace. Then wait and watch. Grace will flow to you, through you and right back at you.
When you don’t know what to do…extend grace.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. Who has extended grace to you during this and other difficult times?
2. To whom have you extended grace during this difficult time?
3. What was the experience like for you to give or receive grace?
* Rachel Remen Kitchen Table Wisdom (Riverhead Trade, 2006).