deserve: to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital.
grace: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification; disposition to or an act or instance of kindess, courtesy, or clemency; a temporary exemption; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful
It’s cliché to state that there are no guarantees in life. Everyone’s met some form of disappointment on the path and yet, it’s hard to shake off the belief that we merit what we want just because we want what we want, or simply by virtue of our good character we deserve it. If I could abolish something from this world, it would be the notion of deserving something.
The definition implies a deep sense of judgment that someone merits reward or punishment based upon his or her actions. A student deserves a better grade. The accused deserves harsh punishment. We deserve better. All of the above may be true, but it’s also true that humanity falls pretty far from fairness on any given day. I suppose our desire for just deserts stems from our desire for justice, for fairness. But life isn’t fair.
The day before yesterday was my aunt’s birthday. Her personality could light up a room. She loved a good joke and to get a party started, even if the party was shucking corn on my grandparents’ porch. I can hear her laugh still, although she doesn't laugh much anymore. She’s lost in a valley of dementia, never to return to any of us. It does little good to wallow in the fact that my uncle and cousins deserve her true presence in their lives, and certainly aren’t deserving of witnessing the cruel fate that now is her agonizingly slow decline. And so I ask for grace.
This week, a dear friend undergoes his second surgery to remove tumors in his brain, just over a year after the first. In the interim, he’s endured radiation and chemotherapy. His family has suffered their own trials in caring for and supporting him. I am working on not being angry at how he and his family deserve a life filled with less pain and uncertainty. And so I ask for grace.
We are often asked to endure much more than we feel we deserve. And it’s often a challenge to do so without becoming bitter and brittle, especially when these monumental challenges are fraught with enough obstacles to rend our hearts shattered beyond repair.
Anne Lamott said, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” As I faced my own challenges with cancer three years ago, I definitely had dark days and sleepless nights. There were times when I struggled to breathe and felt as if I were drowning in a sea of fear. When I didn't feel as if I were drowning, I felt as if I were submerged, pulled and pushed by currents stronger than me. But there were moments, too, when I was buoyed up by something I can now recognize as grace. When grace finds us, it is indeed magical, filled with tingles and sparkles, and we are less afraid and less alone. Grace is a quiet presence, requiring us to surrender ourselves to its magic, which is tough to do when mere breathing is a challenge. Consider Aaron Sorkin’s words, as everyone you meet could likely use some grace:
Don’t ever forget that you are a citizen of the world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day.