The Christian community has created a very unique language. We use that language to lift up the community and members of the community. However, all too often, we use that same language to express our discontent with others in our community in ways that, intentionally or not, are condescending.
The most common occurrence of this condescension can be found in the phrase, “I’ll pray for you.”
When this phrase is used well, it can convey a love and depth of understanding that few phrases can portray. For example, I think of those times when I have experienced a significant loss and someone has told me that they are keeping/holding me in their prayers. Through this phrase the person is expressing the understanding that the emotion(s) I am feeling may be so deep, so strong, so overwhelming that I will need the presence of God in my life to find healing. They are saying to me that I am not alone, they are giving me permission to experience my emotions, and they are conveying to me a reminder that I am a beloved child of God.
When this phrase is used in other ways, it can become associated with ideas such as “Pray away the gay.” In this case, instead of the phrase conveying a deep love and understanding, this phrase now means “I hope that God will enter your life and change it in a way that I think would make your life better,” or “I hope that God will enter your life and show you that the way I see this situation is the right way.”
Another form that this condescension comes in is with the use of the word “grace”.
Grace is one of those beautiful theological words that has a specific meaning that is very difficult to define using language. When you’re in the presence of grace, though, you know it, you feel it, you want more of it, you want to share it, you want for nothing else in the world to exist except for grace. Grace is found in those moments when the will of an individual and God’s will have become one. In that instance, grace exudes. Sometimes it is associated with forgiveness – being able to forgive someone or something when you were sure you would never be able to find forgiveness. Sometimes it’s associated with forgiveness when you are able to not even get mad at someone for something that would have previously caused a rift. Sometimes grace is associated with allowing people to just “be”, be themselves, in a given situation or space or place.
Calls for grace can be a beautiful thing. As Christians, we call on each other to show grace to one another. We need to show grace to our conservative or liberal brothers and sisters in Christianity. We need to show grace to the oppressed because we live in a society that blames the oppressed for being oppressed. Inherent in these examples is a call to work on being aware of God’s presence in your life. It’s a call to find new ways to work together with God in your life.
Calls for grace can be truly condescending though. What I’ve realized in the situations where I caught myself being the condescending one was that I was using the term “more grace” to highlight two thoughts: (1) an understanding that more of God is needed in the situation because true raw pain or other strong emotion exists and (2) that I have a specific way in which I would like to see this situation resolved (AKA I’m sure you’ll find that same conclusion if you just find the grace in your life.) It is the second thought that causes the condescension. This is implicitly saying that the way the person is currently choosing to handle the situation is not a path of grace.
I honestly believe most of us are well meaning when we use the term grace in a condescending way. In these situations we feel real pain and we want to see the situation “righted” or the pain to go away and we reach out and say that “more grace” would be an answer. More Grace, more God. Sometimes, however, we let the way we would like to see an answer be found dictate our use of the word grace. This specificity leads to condescension.
Today, I ask you to think about the ways that you use the words prayer and grace. Do you use them to talk about or inspire a greater understanding or insight into the amazing, intricate, and often surprising ways God works in our lives, or are you trying to influence or dictate another to have an action in a specific preconceived direction?