I have been teaching the concept of the Culture of Grace for a while now and I believe it remains such a vital aspect for any relationship. This concept will work with your kids, siblings, friends, and co-workers, but in this blog, I will use a married couple as an example.
Creating a culture of grace in your home will eliminate suspicion and lack of trust. If we develop a culture absent of these two negative elements, it will change how couples communicate and it will reduce the amount of relational stress.
Let me give you an example. Suppose the work day is almost over and the husband is getting ready to leave work. The wife, as usual, has dinner almost done and it will be on the table by seven o’clock. Now, right before he leaves from work his boss stops him to discuss something that needs attention the next day.
Now, he is running behind. He jumps in his car and heads out, looks down at his watch and realizes that he is going to be about five to ten minutes late. So, he gets out his phone to call and the phone is dead, and needs charged. To add to this, he gets stuck in traffic and has no way to call or let her know what has happened. She tries tracking his location with her phone, but nothing shows up because his phone is off.
As he is waiting in traffic, all he can think about is how he is going to “get it” when he gets home. He thinks, “She is really going to go off on me. I should have never let my boss stop me.” The entire trip home he is anxious and trying to figure out the right things to say to explain why he is late. The more he thinks about it, the more he becomes extremely frustrated with her because he just knows she is going to chew him out when he walks in the door.
He starts talking to himself, “How dare her take this out on me. I didn’t do anything. This is not my fault. If she can’t understand, that’s on her!”
What is happening here is a certain stimulus has triggered psychological tension. The information that has been presented has been given a negative cognitive appraisal (interpretation) and anxiety is building. When a person interprets certain information, the appraisal determines the feelings experienced. Feelings lead to a behavior and the behavior to an effect (consequence). It matters what we do with the information we receive. If we take information and appraise it in a negative way, the feelings we have toward that information will cause negative behaviors. Negative behaviors create negative consequences. However, if we appraise the information in a positive way, our behaviors will be different and the end result will be positive effects.
During his trip home, due to his anxiety, the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are rising. He is deciding now what he will do when he walks in the door, “flight or fight.”
Be generous with grace, one day you might need it!
Meanwhile, back at home, there are a couple of ways she can handle this situation. She is getting really aggravated because he was supposed to be home 30 minutes ago and now after all of the hard work of getting dinner ready, it is cold. She has a choice of two options, suspicion or grace!
He pulls into the driveway, cortisol levels are at all-time highs, and shuts off the car. At this point, there are some things he could do to ensure that his mind is calm for whatever happens when he walks in the door; I will be discussing these methods later.
He gets out of the car with his responses already rehearsed. He takes a deep breath and walks in.
Now, you can imagine how she feels about the amount of time spent cooking and with the food setting on the table cold. Think about how he feels being late because of factors that he had no control over. He walks into the kitchen with his defensive responses on the tip of his tongue and she speaks first. “I am so glad you made it. I was so worried that something had happen to you!” GRACE! Instantly, cortisol levels drop, and the mind returns to homeostasis (equilibrium). Because of offering grace first, both individuals’ mind returns to the psychological relaxation stage.
Many times, it’s easier to suspect and accuse rather than offer grace. When we believe someone is not thinking about our feelings or doesn’t appreciate what we have done, it causes tension. We might not be able to see that the environment is what caused the problem; we tend to blame the person. But, if you looked at it with a different perspective and put yourself in their place, wouldn't you want grace?
Can you imagine for just a moment what a marriage would look like if its foundation was built on a culture of grace first, before suspicion or lack of trust? There are empirical studies that prove that couples who handle conflict with a culture of grace, live longer. Why? Couples who practice grace have less anxiety and lower blood pressure which are linked to stress.
You might ask, “What if this kind of behavior happens all of the time?” Well then, at this point it is no longer about grace; it is now a conflict and requires a hard conversation.
To hear more on this topic, watch this short video segment of a teaching that I did on the Culture of Grace.