“There but for the grace of God, Go I”

By Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression or maybe even said it yourself after avoiding a near misstep from a catastrophe or frightening experience; “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” When saying it, you have acknowledged outside factors like “the grace of God” having just played a role in avoiding a similar fate or catastrophic event as that of someone not as fortunate.

Initially, this phrase was thought to be credited to a mid-sixteenth century statement made by John Bradford. “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” He was referring to a group of prisoners being led to their execution (Wikipedia). The irony of Bradford’s statement was that he was eventually burned at the stake for alleged crimes against Mary Tudor. He did not avoid execution.

I think that when you examine the meaning of this statement which was initially intended as an expression of sympathy, it makes you wonder if the person saying it, although empathetic, somehow believes they are luckier than someone else or they have more grace granted to them by God than someone else.

One example that comes to mind is when I have come upon a homeless person asking for a handout.

Quite honestly, I have made this same statement in that instance but I am also putting myself in the place of someone less fortunate. Essentially, I try to remind myself not to sit in judgement of their misfortunes. If I’m being totally honest with myself, there is a certain sense of relief that things I have done in my life make me more fortunate to have not come to a similar outcome.

But what I am now, I am through the grace of God and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others, not I but the Grace of God which is with me” (Corinthians 15:10).

Is it possible that some people are more blessed than others when it comes to God’s grace?

Grace – The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace. God brings to completion in us what He has begun “since he who completes his work by cooperating with our will began by working so that we might will it.” (Catechism, 2001).

I like to understand this with a question. Isn’t it true, we all have had good and bad things happen? That is life!

I’m referring to things like loss of jobs, loss of someone special in our lives, loss of a pet, loss of our financial security, health issues and concerns, a frightening diagnosis, the list goes on and on. Coping with these things can be a challenge. But, does it appear that some people have more than their fair share of bad things than others? Do we sometimes look at people who seem to have numerous concerns they are coping with and make the statement, “There but for the grace of God go I?”

I think the answers all lie with Jesus.

Remember, Jesus had upset in His life. He lost friends who betrayed Him, he was put through temptation. He was persecuted and suffered at the hands of his tormentors; eventually being crucified and hung on a cross to die. He knew that life would have difficulties. Through Scripture He repeatedly reminded us that all of us will face challenges, but in the end everything will lead to Him.

I have often believed that some people who seem to have more burdens than others is simply Jesus putting people in our lives to be examples showing us the importance of perseverance and coping with difficult times and showing that everything we face good and bad is about bringing us to our knees. We are all who we are based on our life story. Finding God’s grace in all of that is what refers us back to the example of Jesus.

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of His own life infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and sanctify it. It is the sanctifying grace received in Baptism (Catechism, 1999).

So how do we obtain this Grace needed to help us through life? I remember as a child in Catholic schools the Sisters teaching us that we have one goal – We should always try to be Christ-like!

All of our efforts toward that goal I believe now are gifts of grace. When realizing that, we can honestly say with true humility; “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

rsz_1cathyCatherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education at the University of Nebraska majoring in Special Education and minoring in English Literature and now works in the insurance industry. A mother and a grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. A writer for Tuscany Press, she is also working on several longer writing projects.
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