Article: ‘There but for the grace of God go I’

Newry Cathedral News

How many of us have heard our mother or other family member use this saying? We have grown up with similar sayings that are founded in the traditions of our religious beliefs. They are part of an everyday vernacular for some and in many ways have become synonymous with our lives.

Despite enduring two years of Covid-19 restrictions, we are still experiencing the after effects of the pandemic and the on-going impact on our lives. For many in our community normal life has not recovered, the economy with rising energy costs is teetering, mask wearing is still a normal in the lives of many, a new variant is in the air, and people are still struggling from grief, loneliness, and lack of normalcy.

As we pause and look around us, at the current state of our world, we could all be saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

How often have we heard or even used this phrase? Literally meaning that we thank God for his blessings that we are not in someone else’s sad position. We look upon someone’s unfortunate circumstances and whilst we have utmost sympathy for them, we are also extremely grateful that whilst we are sharing in their grief or sorrow, we are not there and as such are grateful for the blessings God has granted us.

As we reflect on the wider interpretation of this saying we would have to ask, ‘without God’s grace where would we all be?’ Many of our community have been raised with faith, it is in our DNA. However, some have lapsed or simply drifted in the secular tide of fashion, but that does not mean that God’s grace is not still freely available to all. Even reflecting on some of the old religious based sayings or repeating these words heard from our parents and others is a communication with God and brings many blessings in various guises. The simplest blessing is that using these words rekindles fond memories of the person you heard them from, possibly your mother.

I shared my thoughts of this saying with a good friend of mine and she came back with a few nuggets her mother used to use. These included,’ All for thee oh Lord, all for thee’, which would be said when a sacrifice had to be made. Another was ‘that’s a wee bit of purgatory done,’ which would be said after a difficult task was completed. A different take on this was ‘your reward will be great in heaven,’ or ‘offer it up for the holy souls in purgatory’ as often used by my own mother and many others.

Unfortunately, experiencing pain and failure is a part of our everyday lives. We don’t always get to have happy days with perfect weather and endless successes. Expressions of comfort shared with others helps express our thoughts and commiserations and also inspires us. Of course, during difficult times it is nice to have some comfort, whether it is from a friend, a family member, or even a stranger. We find strength in sharing thoughts, prayers, and affection.

All of these ‘old’ sayings are grounded in our faith, the faith of our parents and generations before us. Weaving these sayings into our everyday language is not just repetition, it is open testimony to our faith. They are the simplest expression of prayer, add real depth to conversations and helps us and others to share in the grace of God, making us alive and thankful for all the gifts we have.

It is by God’s grace and through his gift of faith, passed onto us from our forefathers that we are saved. When we witness the troubles of others, their losses or sorrows we share in their situation and ask God’s blessings on them and ourselves by saying ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

As you read this short article reflect on the sayings heard in your own childhood, remember those who used to say them and the ‘lift’ it gave to all. Why not resurrect some of these into your own daily vocabulary and add real colour and faith to your conversations?