By KATIE PREJEAN MCGRADY
WINDOW SEAT WISDOM
I learned the Act of Contrition in second grade. Mrs. Tartamella would patiently practice with us every day. We'd go through the prayer line by line, and when we'd get to "I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more ..." there'd be a huge emphasis on the middle part of the phrase.
"With the help of THY grace ..."
It was almost sing-song the way we'd say it, a gaggle of 7-year-old kids learning a prayer we will hopefully say thousands of times throughout the course of our lives, emphasizing "thy grace," as if we fully comprehended what it meant. I'm not sure I even know what it means now.
It's an emphasis on God's grace – freely given, abundantly bestowed. It's what truly matters, and in the grand scheme of things, it is God's grace that transforms us, spurs us on, heals deep wounds and helps us make good on that resolution to sin no more.
As 2021 begins – a year so many of us are relieved has finally arrived, hoping it'll be better than the year we've just left behind – we are making resolutions. Firmly resolving a lot of things, we may find ourselves in this early part of the new year trying to think of ways to make things easier, happier, holier and healthier.
Some of our resolutions are probably boilerplate: eat healthy, exercise, pray more, go to bed before midnight. Maybe they're quite significant resolutions, involving bigger investments than just not swinging by Chick-fil-A for an iced coffee every morning after school drop-off.
Wherever those resolutions fit on the "I'll do better this year" spectrum, I dare say that most of us launching into this year with at least a small desire to do some things differently will need significant help to actually make good on our resolutions.
And the help will come with "thy grace."
It has to.
Because whether it's choosing fruit over ice cream for dessert or working to root out implicit bias and defeat racism in our homes and communities, the good work we resolve to do in this new year is only done because we are spurred on, transformed, healed and aided by the free, abundant, life-changing gift of God's grace.
We can each make the resolution. We can each declare the good thing we want to do. We can even post those resolutions on social media. On our own, with just a desire and some commonplace habit building, we won't get very far.
But with the Lord, we can become holy.
In him, we can accomplish remarkable things. Not by our own power, and certainly not simply because we grit our teeth and get to work, but because we have been given, and gratefully receive, his grace, which aids us in the work.
Is that not what Scripture tells us? On decorative signs hung in homes across America, we read, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Those words from St. Paul, written to the Philippians, aren't just pithy, meant to make us feel like we can conquer the world. It comes as St. Paul tells his audience about generosity of spirit, instructing them how to give of ourselves to the task, the moment at hand, the same way he has done. And he was able to do it, and we will be able to as well, because of Jesus Christ.
With the help of his grace, we can face and take on — and even succeed — with the resolutions before us, whether those of our own making or those we feel called to because of circumstances, tensions and challenges within our country and world.
We firmly resolve and hope for a better year with the help of his grace.
Katie Prejean McGrady is a speaker, award-winning author and host of the Ave Explores podcast. She lives in Louisiana with her husband and daughters.