Thursday, December 21, 2006


The child was staring at me. I smiled pleasantly back. Mom, grabbed him by the arm and chastized him saying, "Remember, 'there but for the Grace of God ...'" And she was off. I sat stunned. Of course, I'd heard that sentiment before. With shock I realized I'd even said it. But oh my gosh, what a thing to say. Being at the receiving end of the comment left me feeling punched in the gut.

There but for the grace of God go I.

Who would dare to assume that I did not have God's grace. That you do - by virtue of a normal birth and a normal set of legs. That God loves you ... gives His grace to YOU and denies this to me. To others like me. That God approves of the divine right of kings, the divine reign of normalcy, the divine sense that the accident of birth makes one gifted the other graceless.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I thought of Linda, a beautiful woman with Down Syndrome, a woman who lives a life of prayer and service, a woman who believes with more certainty than anyone I've ever met, a woman who's prayers for my health were answered ... can it be that she has a capacity for grace greater than God's? That she, who can see everyone else through pure eyes, cannot be sheltered under the umbrella of God's grace?

There but for the grace of God, go I.

It's hard not to get angry. Really really angry. When writing this, it's hard to explain the hollow feeling I had inside hearing myself being spoken of in such a manner. It was like someone had reached inside of me a surgically removed my soul. That I rung empty. That I had been dispatched to the edge of hell ... to wait in the lasting forever in darkness and loneliness.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

When Jesus healed the blind man - he forgave him first - then he mixed spittle with dirt and made a poultice to put over the man's eyes. But while he was forgiven, held now blameless, he still was blind. Healing and forgiving are different processes. One can be forgiven and broken, one can be loved and imperfect, one can be graced and disabled. At least I always thought.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

She was an old woman then. My Sunday school teacher. She made me stay after class and she spoke to me. She said that she noticed that I wasn't a very happy child and that I spent way too much time comparing myself to others and finding myself wanting. She said that I had to learn to compare myself only to myself. That I should find what's best in myself and always strive to be that best. Not someone else's best ... my own. That I should only feel that I'm lacking when I don't live up to what's best in me. She explained that God had made me, that I had to honour what God had made and do what God made me to do in the way that God made me to do it. She said that the secret of JOY came when you admired others without envying them. That you learn to judge yourself by the standard that was set for you. That JOY stood for Judge Only Yourself. She said that this little secret that she shared with me (that until now I've never written about before) had guided her. She did not judge others - for that would make her feel either superior or inferior, that she judged only herself for it was only then that she had a chance to be successful and when she wasn't successful - she knew at least where she needed to strive, to try harder. "There but for the grace of God, go I," is a deeply judgemental thing to say, a statement that kills joy, that demands heirarchy, that uses the sharp edge of pity to cut.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Today is my birthday. I'm going out with friends for dinner and a movie. I might even have a beer. And as I look towards my future, I make this claim, in spite of what others may think, in spite of what others may believe, in spite of my own self doubt ...

There with the grace of God, go I.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,
What a poignant, provocative and perfect post.

I too, have spoken those words without thinking of their implications. I never intended to imply that anyone was without God's grace, but of course that is what I was saying.

You've made a really important point today and poured out through your keyboard a message that we all needed to hear.

Here's to "old" (she was probably my age :))Sunday School teachers!

Happy Birthday! I'm glad God made YOU!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave- incredible!
I've had the same thought about that phrase, too, but I have never considered it to the extent you did today. Today a friend ,who most people would utter that phrase about ,[she is physically and mentally disabled] was praising the Lord for blessing her and answering her prayers for a friend.His grace was with her today! And Jann Arden said in an article recently that she "discovered more about God " in Africa where "people were starving but weren't unhappy". Guess God's grace was there too!Belinda was right-you did make a great point-several actually- one of course about judging others and another about judging the form that God's grace takes. "that phrase" like many others says more about the one uttering it than it does about the one it is being said about,or God, or His grace.Frances p.s.-is it just me or are these word verifications getting harder?

ballastexistenz said...

That thing you said about someone reaching in and taking your soul out or something... I've been looking for words for that one, for ages. I had been using "view-from-above" but not explaining it as well as the one phrase does.

Ruth said...

I too have felt the blast of words like that and seen parents pull their kids away (teaching them fear of people with disabilities). This post put words to some of my feelings, reactions and thoughts. Thank you.

Edward said...

Outstanding post. I think many who read this will never look at that phrase the same way.

Anonymous said...

I'm an atheist so I don't put the same religious spin on the phrase and its analysis that you do, but I still have largely the same gut reactions for largely the same (secular) reasons.

I liked this phrase in your post: ""There but for the grace of God, go I," is a deeply judgemental thing to say, a statement that kills joy, that demands heirarchy, that uses the sharp edge of pity to cut."

Even for someone who doesn't believe in God per se, the judgement implied in that phrase, the assumption that there is somehow something more bleak about my life just because I'm Deaf or have attention deficiency is just inherently offensive and demeaning.