“Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . ”[1] So Paul begins almost all his letters to the scattered Christian converts from Galatia to Rome. How different from the way I greet people! His words are so much kinder than our English, “hello,” which is really just an etymological cousin of the word “holler” — a modified shout for attention. Paul’s greeting is instead an acknowledgment of love.

Perhaps Paul was echoing the angelic greetings that promised the birth of Christ. Gabriel greets Mary by saying “Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee . . . Fear not.”[2] That phrase, “highly favoured,” is alternatively translated as “full of grace” and is the basis for the traditional Ave Maria prayer. With his “fear not,” Gabriel also confers peace on Mary. First grace, then peace.

What is it to be greeted with grace? What is grace in the first place?

In the simplest of terms, grace is a free or unearned gift. We believe that God is generous and that he offered us his Son, who endured all things so that we could hope all things. 2 Nephi 25:23 says that “by grace we are saved after all we can do.” This phrase “after all” communicates an unexpected outcome, instead of the result of an inevitable process of cause and effect or action and reward. Grace does not have to come chronologically “after.” It is instead a disruption of cause and effect at any point, offering mercy instead of punishment and debunking laws of scarcity or entropy or retaliation. I am again reminded of Gabriel and Paul’s greeting of grace. Mary was “full of grace” at the beginning of her gospel story, not at some distant future judgment day. And Paul’s repetitive greetings spanned years of missionary work, expressing his hope that grace would be a continual presence in the life of the early Christians.

How can we see grace as both a starting point and continual presence in our lives, not just the happy resolution after the trial is over?

When I think of grace as a greeting, a starting point, I think of the change in perspective that comes with Christian discipleship. Sometimes this shift can be a simple act of will on our part, a conscious decision to look for the good. I think of the story of Moses and the brazen serpent. When the people were suffering, their healing came when they had the faith to look at what Moses was holding up. Alma explains this in his sermon to the Zoramites: “O my brethren [and sisters], if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?”[3] Alma describes the act of coming to Christ as an intentional act of noticing. Looking to Christ, we are prompted to seek out the good and find what is “virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy” as our 13th Article of Faith says. As Gabriel hails Mary with a declaration of her grace and Paul greets his fellow disciples with the hope for grace, so can I acknowledge the joy and goodness infused throughout my world. I can extend grace to the people around me, and if I look for good gifts, my eyes can be opened to see them.

I learned something close to this truth when I was very young; I must have been about six years old. I would hear people talk about “spiritual experiences,” moments when they felt their faith strengthened or sensed divinity in some way. I hadn’t experienced that myself, but I knew my parents and people at church had, and I was a little bit envious. One night, I had gone to bed upset, after some sibling squabbling. I was lying in my bunk bed, nursing my annoyance by making a mental list of the wrongs that I had experienced. But into my head came a little thread of melody that distracted me from my grumbling. “Count Your Many Blessings” is a simple song, almost a ditty of a hymn, with a catchy chorus that I had picked up on somehow. I remember being amazed because I knew that my mood had been decidedly ungrateful just a moment before, and all of sudden, against my inclination, I was being prompted toward gratitude. Call it conscience, or inspiration, or the Holy Ghost — but this was possibly the first time that I recognized an inner spiritual guide. This one experience shaped my understanding of how divine promptings work in my life. Instead of a contrived or Pollyanna-ish exercise in gratitude, this recognition of my blessings became a moment of profound truth, one that I’ve often come back to. Many years later, I feel at my most honest when I am seeing and acknowledging what is good around me. For me, this recognition is grace in practice.

Practicing gratitude is a simple way to greet the world with grace, easy enough for a 6-year-old girl to understand. But it is not always easy or simple to make a course correction toward a happy state of mind or to will ourselves into contentment. Sometimes we experience tragedy and the most appropriate emotion to feel is grief.

Does grace have a place in these moments when our world feels fallen? Or is it put on hold until a later happier resolution?

For me, some of the most convincing evidence of God’s grace comes when I explore my family’s history. Like every family, mine is full of imperfect people and a fair measure of tragedy. I look back on some of the individuals whose lives were sadder than others with an instinctive feeling of protectiveness and compassion. My great-grandmother is one of these individuals. Divorced when her two children were teenagers, she lived just a few more restless years, pursuing some unsuccessful business ventures in Florida and Washington D.C. before taking her own life at age 47. Her death was especially difficult for my grandfather, who dropped out of college around that time, moved to the east coast to find work, and never returned to live in his hometown again, seeing his father, step-mother, and younger half-siblings only rarely.

A few summers ago my mother and I had the chance to be in the Midwest and we decided to visit my grandfather’s hometown. We hoped to find this great-grandmother’s grave, which neither of us had seen, and then stop in to visit my grandfather’s half-sister (the daughter of his father’s second wife) and her husband. We found the cemetery with no trouble, but it was much larger than we had expected, and without a map of the cemetery plots, we were lost. After some wandering, hoping to chance upon the grave, we sadly gave up our search so that we could meet Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Ken at the appointed time.

We arrived, and after hugs and snacks, Uncle Ken proposed that we go on a driving tour of the town to look at places of family significance. When he heard about our misadventure in the cemetery, he was surprised that we had gone without them, telling my mother, “I know where your grandma is buried. I check on the grave every once in a while.” We piled into the car, and he walked us to the gravesite that he had been faithfully tending for decades, pointing out her parents and showing where he had weeded and cleaned the headstones. These were not his people–the ex-wife and in-laws of his father-in-law– yet he had considered what these graves might mean to someone and expanded his routine of tender compassion in order to include them when he visited the cemetery for his own family. My great-grandmother’s story had always been a sad one and still is, but my mother and I were both comforted by this man’s care for her long after her unhappy and premature death.

I know that this experience is fairly undramatic. There is no supernatural miracle involved, and the sadness of my great-grandmother’s life has not been reversed. Yet, there is a measure of healing in the acts of love that continue her memory. Experiences like these are some of the strongest evidence I can think of for God’s grace. Why should I feel love for a great-grandmother whom I’ve never met? What logic is there in that? Yet, I do feel love, and so did my Uncle Ken, who showed that love through his actions.

This story of tragedy and love reminds of the story of Jesus’s grandest miracle: raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick, but he waited until he was sure that he would be unquestionably dead when he arrived. By the time Jesus met Lazarus’s sisters, Martha and Mary, they had been in mourning for four days and were devastated. And let’s not forget Lazarus himself, who had suffered through his sickness, then experienced whatever it feels like to die. I have felt some frustration at this strange setup. Did Jesus prolong the suffering just so that the end miracle would be that much more glorious? Mary and Martha were heartbroken. They knew Jesus’s power and had a strong conviction that Lazarus would rise in the resurrection at some future date, but they both greeted Jesus with the same words “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,”[4] words of reproach and bewilderment at his abandonment of them.

We all know the miracle that comes later, but I can’t fully explain the delay, except that in all this devastation I see evidence of grace. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken, but they were joined in their grief by Jesus. This is important. This chapter is famous for the shortest Bible verse: “Jesus wept.” But my favorite is the one that comes right after: “Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!”[5] Jesus performed his miracle for the glory of God, but perhaps in this scene, God’s glory and grace were just as accurately demonstrated through Jesus’s love for his friend. I wonder if Jesus would have been able to perform such a drastic miracle if he had not wept along with the tragedy of Lazarus’s death. His compassion and sorrow, even perhaps his personal sense of loss at being absent from his friend’s deathbed, seemed to be a necessary part of his experience that day.

Our doctrine declares that Jesus was sinless but not that he was never weak. After all, humans are by nature weak, and he lived a human life. We feel pain, sadness, and uncertainty. It’s easy to see the grace in the miracle, but there is also grace in the compassion of Christ. Without this love, raising Lazarus would have been like a magic trick, empty of meaning, and not a true demonstration of God’s glory. Grace can exist not just in the unquestionably joyful moments of life, but because we live in a world where pain and joy, suffering, and relief are intertwined.

Our LDS scripture links weakness and grace together and places grace in the context of our trials and troubles. In Ether 12:27, Moroni writes words that he hears the Lord speaking to him: “If men [and women] come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.”

Grace is not just the solution at the end of it all; it is infused within the conflict of our life. But weakness makes grace possible. More importantly, recognition of weakness means grace can be more fully enacted. Love is at the root of it all, the thing that makes it worthwhile.

Greeting the world with grace means encountering the people in it with love. In my life, human love has become a kind of evidence that there is divinity infused in this world of ours. Even when our human stories are laced throughout with disease and violence and trauma, we have the priceless opportunity to exercise faith in the eternal worth of others, to hope that goodness will outshine and outlast everything, and to love as much as we can. This is grace.

[1] Romans 1:7
[2] Luke 1:28, 30
[3] Alma 33:21
[4] John 11:21, 32
[5] John 11:35-36