Grace & Gratitude When Life Hurts

By Kathy Kuhl

Grace in difficult times—an odd topic for Christmas?

It’s certain that sometime our kids will suffer. (Some of you are watching your children suffer today. I am sorry.)

But strip back the years on the Christmas story and consider—a pregnant young engaged woman, with no family but her fiancé nearby, nowhere to stay, giving birth in a stable. Yet she showed grace, and it was a day that changed the world.

In small or large battles, we want our children to be strong, to fight despair, disability, bullying, cancer, or whatever evils they face. We want them to be strong.

We also want them to show grace. I’ve been thinking about the word grace since it appeared in articles about former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s fight with cancer.

The word “grace” can mean different things. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire danced with great grace. Football players fly down the field with grace, slipping around opponents to score. To have grace implies having strength to accomplish something difficult.

Grace can be poise under other pressures:

  • the child who still cannot read, but who tries again,
  • the woman or man who knows what to say to hostile people without biting back,
  • Jimmy Carter responding to cancer in his brain and liver.

Washington Post journalist Sarah L. Kaufman commented on Carter’s grace. It’s a kind of grace we long to see in our children when they face trouble. She saw grace was the right response:

Grace–meaning elegance, calm, equanimity–is the only strategy that make any sense, really. Disorganized emotions and raging thoughts of worst-case scenarios will only make the situation worse. Carter employed a textbook coping strategy, what any therapist might advise: Try for a balanced perspective, look at the big picture of your life, reflect on who and what is important to you.

But how difficult it is to acquire such a view! Difficult, that is, unless you’re in the habit of feeling grateful, and of reflecting on all that you have to be thankful for, even in tough times. This seems to be Carter’s habit. It’s an underestimated superpower, and terrifically inspiring.

How can we help our children develop this superpower? Ms. Kaufman is right that gratitude is part of the secret of Carter’s grace. The habit of giving thanks does change the internal dialogue in our heads. (I’m only a beginner at this, but it is powerful.)

Carter’s grace comes not just from counting his blessings, but from his faith. Leonard Pitts, Jr., commented in the Miami Herald that people commit all kinds of acts in the name of faith, including horrible crimes. Pitts described President Carter’s faith:

Yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling statement of belief in things not seen. Unsentimental, poised and lit from within by an amazing grace, Carter discussed the fight now looming ahead of him, the radiation treatments he will undergo, the need to finally cut back on his whirlwind schedule.

He smiled often. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said, in such a way that you believed him without question. And it was impossible to feel sorry for him….

Carter presented an image of faith we don’t see nearly as often as we should. Which is sad, because it is also the image truest to what faith is supposed to be — not a magic lamp you rub in hopes of a private jet, not a license for our worse impulses, but, rather, an act of surrender to a force greater than self, a way of being centered enough to tell whatever bleak thing comes your way, “So be it.”

Yet Pitts neglects to point out that faith is only as good as the object of its faith. I may trust an honest-looking man, and he may still rob me. Then my trust does no good.

We want our kids to trust—to have faith in—what is true and certain.

So while my blog focuses on helping parents teach children with learning challenges, I urge you to focus on what will help your child in tough times: building faith in God. He will sustain them whether they are facing bullies on the playground today, a disability that makes learning hard, or bad news in a doctor’s office decades from now.

I hope whenever I face very bad news, I’ll have the same grace as the former president. But if I do, it won’t happen by accident. Grace is and will be a gift, a gift I need to appreciate now, and to nurture by practicing gratitude and trust in God, and by pursuing knowing Him.

How do you help your children grow in grace? Please comment below.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/Ron Harris, via Washington Post.]

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