Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. —Karl Barth
The gratitude Barth speaks of is not happiness, certainly not elation.
Maybe we feel grateful when something turns out perfectly, or our hard work is rewarded with some kind of honor or recognition. But the deepest, most poignant gratitude comes when the reward is unearned, when we have mucked things up royally and yet there comes an invasion of grace. How else can you explain a feeling of beloved belonging, a sense of the goodness and rightness of all things, except as an intrusion from beyond—and a crazy one at that, one that does not make any sense according to accepted wisdom, and yet it opens the tear ducts of truth? (Tears never lie.)
If you’re like me, you want to know, How can I be more attuned to grace, more open to grace so I can experience that gratitude? The answer, I hate to tell you, is to keep being a human: keep making mistakes, keep being arrogant, keep being right, keep fixing yourself and others, keep talking and talking, keep working and working, and you will be perfectly in line for more grace and more gratitude.
There was a time when I found that answer unacceptable. I knew there were people who had broken this cycle of being “good” for long stretches and then collapsing in some kind of failure that catapulted them into the everlasting arms. These people had found a way to experience amazing-grace-and-deep-gratitude almost every day, and I wanted to be one of them.
But I had one thing wrong about those saints. They did not so much break the cycle as speed it up. They skipped the part about pretending to be angels who sometimes slip up. They didn’t wait weeks and months until their willfulness caused a major crisis—one that might bring them to their knees and into the presence of mercy. They began to see themselves every day as broken and in need of help, as wrong and in need of forgiveness, as lost and in need of a good shepherd. Every day they began as a project that only grace could save, and the gratitude flowed.
I can’t do that every day. But until I can, I will do it today.