|Posted by KB & Associates, LLC on July 1, 2020 at 12:15 AM|
One morning, after little sleep due to a particularly turbulent case from my on-call crisis counseling job, I spent several hours on the phone with various agencies trying to reach a resolution. Every time I placed a call, the same frustrating response would eventually come up, some flavor of: “This isn’t our department/ jurisdiction, you need to call this person.” Each time I received this response, which I perceived as a shifting of responsibility, I became more and more angry. To me, this case wasn’t just a name on a page. To me, these were actual people in a crisis, who I had been called to help by the police at 2 in the morning, people who were scared and confused, being kept in a holding pattern until another agency could take over.
As I reached out to each new contact, I could tell my frustration, anger and indignation were becoming more and more apparent. My responses were curt, my voice became louder and more aggressive, and I had to stop myself just short of screaming at the person on the other end of the phone.
Meanwhile, I was reaching out to my supervisor to keep them updated. At the time, their response only added to my frustration: “Try to extend them some grace.” Extend them some grace, I thought. Why would I do that? I want to scream! I want to curse! I just want someone to do their job!
One definition of grace from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary reads, “Approval, favor; mercy, pardon; privilege; disposition or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; a temporary exemption: reprieve.”
The word also has spiritual and religious connotations. In this sense, it brings to my mind the 1779 Christian hymn Amazing Grace, the words written by the poet and clergyman John Newton.
The story goes that Newton was, by his own accounts, a terribly wicked person. He served in the British Navy, and for much of his career was a slave trader. One night, the ship he was on entered a terrible storm, and Newton was convinced he would die. He fell to his knees and asked God to deliver him. After that storm, the staunch atheist rediscovered his faith and entered the clergy, leaving his old life behind. The lyrics to Amazing Grace are a spiritual autobiography for Newton, about how he found forgiveness and redemption.
However, one does not have to have a religious conversion (especially one as dramatic as Newton’s), nor even be spiritual to benefit from the concept of grace. If we examine Newton’s story with a more secular eye, there are a few takeaways:
There was a crisis incident: Newton was trapped on a boat in a storm and was legitimately fearful for his life.
There was a moment of reflection, recognition and realization: Newton reflected on his life, recognized his faults, and realized he could do better.
There was an appeal for outside help and forgiveness: Newton saw the crisis as beyond his control and sought outside help, while at the same time admitting his faults and asking for mercy.
We all have moments of crisis. Some are capital-C Crises, like a ship in a storm or a near car accident, while some are lowercase-c crises, like having an argument with a coworker or significant other (or in my case, getting the runaround from agencies). These are moments when things may seem to go from 1 to 100 quickly. Our blood pressure rises, we might sweat or shake, our emotions can teeter on going out-of-control. We hope we have few capital-C Crises, but lowercase-c crises can sometimes be a daily or weekly occurrence.
The concept of grace starts to come into play here. In those moments, we have the opportunity to reflect on what has come before. Thoughts like: We keep getting into the same argument; This traffic is terrible; I hate my job. And in that reflection, we have the ability to take a step back, and recognize our part in the situation: Well, I do tend to talk over them…; Well, I did flip that person off; Well, I was late on the deadline… And in reflecting and recognizing, we can realize who we really want to be: I wanted to fight with them. I don’t actually hate them; These other drivers are just trying to get home too; I’m burning out, I don’t really hate my job.
This requires some humility. It’s not easy to recognize that it’s not all about us, that other people have feelings too, or that we aren’t prefect. It takes an act of grace to admit our humanness to someone else. To look at our loved one and say “I’m sorry, this fight was my fault. I’m taking responsibility for what I did. Can you forgive me?” “I should let this person into my lane.” “I should talk to my boss about taking some time off.”
Each of these moments offers an opportunity to meet our humanness – in all the idiosyncrasies and imperfections – and to be motivated by it. We have the capacity to listen instead of talking over our loved ones; to be courteous to other drivers instead of giving into road rage; to take care of ourselves. It’s a choice to take the moment of grace, let it motivate us and run with it. We’ll never be perfect, but we can be better.
Grace is a two-way street. Sometimes you are the person asking for grace on your own little boat in a private storm, and sometimes you are the person extending grace to someone else. It’s also recognizing the humanness of others- that other people aren’t perfect and also make mistakes. Extending grace is giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s also hopeful and optimistic, believing the best in people and that we can all do better.
We can also extend grace to ourselves. Sometimes we fall short of our own expectations. We don’t do as well as we wanted, don’t work as hard as we wanted, don’t act in the way we wanted. We can beat ourselves up over our humanness and imperfections, or we can extend some grace to ourselves and recognize, I’m doing the best I can in this moment, or, I can do better next time. I’m only human.
After talking to my supervisor with her infuriating reply, I went for a walk. On the walk, I realized a couple of things. I was looking at the case only from my perspective. Yes, my perspective and intentions were valid – I wanted to help my clients – but I wasn’t leaving room for other people in that perspective. Yes, the calls were frustrating, but the people on the other end were being just as frustrated by the system as I was: tired, overworked, possibly burned-out, spread too thin. It wasn’t the other people I was mad at; it was the broken system. I could scream and yell at the people on the other end or extend some grace, give them the benefit of the doubt, that they were doing their best. And finally, I had to acknowledge that I was tired. I had next-to-no sleep, I was emotionally drained from the crisis call- in short, I wasn’t being the best version of me.
I went home, ate and rested. Then I started calling again. This time I let my frustration with the people on the other end go. My frustration with the system remained, but the people on the other end weren’t the system, they were working in it just as I was. At the end of the day, we were all on the same team, trying to help those who needed it.
As much as I resisted it, my supervisor was right. Sometimes we just need to recognize our humanity and try to extend some grace- to others, to ourselves, and be open to receiving grace from others when we need it.