One of my favorite lines from the theater comes from The Man of La Mancha. In the play, Don Quijote has this habit of treating people better than some think they deserve to be treated. One of those people is Aldonza, a woman who’s been roughed up by life and become rather coarse and cynical along the way. Don Quijote, though, sees her as his fair lady Dulcinea, and he shows her all the honor and devotion that a knight owes a lady. She doesn’t know what to make of this, unaccustomed as she is to being treated so well, and after a while she cries out in exasperation, demanding to know why he does all these crazy things. Don Quijote replies, “I hope to add some measure of grace to the world.”

That’s a motto worth living by.

The world can feel like an ungracious place sometimes, full of competing interests and unkind judgments, where people pay attention to their own needs and wants and limit their caring to those closest to them. But people of faith know what grace is, because we know that God treats us better than we deserve.

God’s love is not conditional upon what we do for God, and God doesn’t wait for us to get our act together before he loves us. As St. Paul says, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

That’s grace, and it is amazing. The song “Amazing Grace” was written by a former slave ship captain who came to see that God loved him even though he had profited from other people’s misery. “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved,” he wrote. The same grace that cut through all John Newton’s rationalizations set him free to face his faults, and then made him a new creation by the power of a God who loved him anyway.

Anyone who has experienced grace knows what a liberating, joyful thing it is. In fact, the man we call “St. Paul” was on his way to destroy the church at Damascus, only to discover that to meet Jesus is to meet the grace of God in person, and it turned his life around.

That’s the same St. Paul whose letters often begin, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He knows what grace is, and how powerfully it can change people’s hearts. So he says, “Let your speech always be gracious,” because you never know when someone might hear a word from God in something you say, and in the way you say it.

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