I think you have to dig to find the moments of grace in this life, get on your knees in the dirt and plunge your hands into the earth. Grace isn’t brimming on the surface like a ripe cherry or peach to pluck for your own satisfaction. It’s more like a needle hidden in a filthy, sodden haystack pummeled by torrents of rain and weighed down by blankets of choking humidity. Sometimes Christians don’t like this idea I’m putting forth, but I guess the indignation makes sense. If you go to church two or three times a week, you hear about grace so much I would think it’d get to the point where it almost becomes a given or a staple in your world.
But good doesn’t always triumph over evil, at least not right away, though we’ve been fed with enough Disney and Star Wars to conjure up convictions to the contrary. If, however, something does come along to mitigate the current disheartening circumstances of our lives, something consistently exists in our ethos that tells us the intervening salvation will be hard to miss, blatantly in our faces, and something pregnant with peaceful and serene qualities of deliverance. Maybe a flute will play in the background softly. Perhaps a faun will lope across our gaze on a grassy hillside. But I have rarely found this to be true, whether in my life or in others’ lives.
My friend Caroline shared a sermon series (that has nothing to do with this topic), and the guy speaking noted that “happily ever after” only exists in children’s tales, thus meaning it is textbook childlike thinking to believe such a fantasy exists. He’s right. Nowhere in our adult world do you find “happily ever after,” and if you do locate its propagation, it’s always met with a scoff or smirk because what we just witnessed on the movie screen is so far-removed from reality, we label it as “ridiculous” (case in point: romantic comedies).
Often such things as “wholeness,” “deliverance,” or “victory” that bring us out of difficult circumstances do not come with a sweep of the hand. Usually it is a struggle that gets you out of the struggle. Deep down we know this to be true. Addictions do not just vanish. Pain does not just evaporate. Oppression does not just flitter away. Why? Because none of those things appeared or began out of thin air, either. (If they do disappear in a way different from how they materialized, usually we chalk this up to divine intervention.) They took time to reach their maniacal levels of potency, so the usual way to undo them is by the same pattern: a lengthy, painstaking effort. And even after the struggle, it’s not like everything will be back to the way it was. You can’t go through the fire without being burned, scarred, and fractured. But it is in that struggle where grace can be found.
It could be an adult who’s never given a second thought to anyone his entire life, but suddenly finds himself taking care of his ill, elderly parents. It could be a weary traveler who has been robbed and has nothing left, but is invited in for dinner by a family who doesn’t even speak his language. Neither of these examples suddenly “fix” everything, but they do present to us the foundation for what could begin to bring grace to our lives—these difficult, yet redemptive, situations should we choose to embrace them. They present the opportunity for a change to occur, which means now the equally difficult struggle begins: piecing together who we are after trauma. We won’t be the same as we were before; therefore, life will not be the same it was before, either. But simply that opportunity to rebuild can be the moment of grace in and of itself. Yes, it’s miniscule, but it’s something.
I find that the stories I write (or attempt to write) aren’t necessarily overtly cheery, and I don’t know that I have a problem with this. This is especially true with short stories. Perhaps with a novel you could have enough time to fashion together a happier ending; not a “happy” ending, understand, but an ending where, even though life has been drastically altered, everything is stable for the most part. But with a short story there will almost always be a sense of irresolution, a feeling of, “What now?” because you’ll only have enough time perhaps to present the epiphany without divulging what the character will do with his or her newfound sense of clarity.
And though some would criticize that by saying, “That’s pessimistic,” I disagree. I’m simply aiming to speak the universal language we all already know: that grace exists in everyday situations, but that doesn’t mean it’ll always be easy to swallow, and sometimes we very well may miss altogether that grace even exists in the moment. But it does come eventually, and from it we grow. And while we all say we’d rather have the cushy, comfortable life, I don’t know that we’re being completely honest. Because there’s nothing worse than looking back and realizing you’re pretty similar to the way you were five years ago.