Gathering the Graces: Softening Our Hearts to Receive Grace

September 23, 2020

This month’s blog series is “Gathering the Graces”.  St. Ignatius invites us to ask God for a grace each time we pray. This month, blog contributors will share stories about the graces God has given them and where God is leading them.

Maybe you are like me and often find yourself closed fisted and hardened of heart. Maybe this closed and hardened feeling is a result of anxiety, hurts, resentments, or a lack of trust. Maybe it is a result of holding onto impermanent realities, comforts, or promises.

A closed hand and heart cannot receive.

What opens a hand and a heart to receive? Trust? Vulnerability? Freedom?

This posture, though, can sometimes be uncomfortable. Recently in our Covid climate, I was sitting in my car in a moment of desperation, closed and hardened. I want to say that it was a moment of pause, but it felt more like a moment of paralysis. How was I going to figure out the litany of problems and fires that were gathering throughout my day? Words and plans were swimming in my mind as I tried to figure out how I would proceed. In the middle of my monologue to myself, a friend called. Knowing we were under a bit of stress, she offered a reprieve. My immediate posture was, no. 

Why would I say no to a gift of grace so undeniably piercing into my life? I remember saying words to falsify the reality, “No, we are okay, we are fine.” We were going to be okay, sure. We were going to be fine. In the immediate, though, we needed the reprieve. 

She offered again, and I felt tears warm my face and open my heart. I was so hardened and so closed that I surprised myself. I did not even know how dearly I needed the reprieve.

This is how grace enters. This is how grace penetrates our lives even when we are closed and hardened.

To be clear, we do not deserve grace. We cannot earn grace. Grace is freely given. God uses all things to present grace to us.

How can we open our hands and soften our heart?

  • Pause

Life is not so fast that we can not give ourselves a minute to consider and notice the grace entering our lives. Moving slower helps us become more aware of what St. Ignatius would call “the movements of the spirits.” Sometimes we haunch everything on our backs and forge through forgetting to pay attention to God’s moving with us. 

Pause from the busyness. We think in the clutter or even distress of situations that we have “no time” or “no energy” to pause. This is a lie the false spirit tells us and we tell ourselves. The pausing reignites the time and energy allowing a moment of consideration. The pause gives conscious attention and  awareness that God is present. This is the essence of prayer.

Saint Mother Teresa said:

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. … I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.

Pausing allows room for the prayer. As a Spiritual Director, I invite my directees to create a pattern of prayer in their lives that allows for an awareness that this change is happening.

  • Ponder

In letting our minds ruminate through our lives we become more aware of the graces as they appear . This is one reason that the Examen prayer is so important. The Examen gives us a frame to explore our hardness and resistances. The Examen allows us the freedom to ponder anywhere!

Give it time and look around inside of yourself. When we are softened and opened, we have the flexibility to ruminate on things looking around to see what has been laid out for us in our inner and outer life. Pondering begins the receiving of the graces God has for us.

In this pondering, list what makes you grateful. What are you thankful for? List the small things and the big things. The gratitude allows the pondering to widen and deepen.

  •  Receive

Invite your heart to open to receive the graces that God has given to you. Sometimes we block these graces for various reasons. Commonly, we feel as though we are not worthy of the graces that God gives us. Remind yourself that the voices of worthlessness are not the voice of God. They are the voice of the false spirit. 

Both St. Augustine and St. Ignatius say something in their writings like work like all is depended on you,  but pray like it’s all depended on God. As modern people I find that too often we get lost in the first part of this statement and forget the second all together. It’s hard to RECEIVE when we are living stuck in the belief that it’s a dog eat dog world and we have to fight for what we want and need!

We cannot earn grace. It is freely given. The posture of humility is required to receive. I find myself actively quieting my fight so that I can receive.

  • Review

Review your prayer and your life. This is the great benefit of St. Ignatius’ Examen prayer. The Examen gives us a method to notice the graces offered to us and to receive the grace in our lives. Consider including this practice in your life. 

I invite you to pause, to ponder, to reflect, and to review this week.  Open your hands and soften your heart.

If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need. Instead, you shall freely open your hand and generously lend what suffices to meet that need. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Go Deeper?

  • Pray with an audio guide through the Examen here.
  • For prayer resources for young people, including an Examen for young people, visit Stephanie’s resource page here.
  • Do you need an evening of hope? A reminder that you CAN anchor your life in God’s firm foundation and INCREASE YOUR HOPE, even in the midst of steady, shifting winds? Join me for Living Anchored in Shifting Winds: A Live Virtual Evening of Reflection with Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat Center, Tuesday, September 29, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm (Central Time).

Photo by Issac Quesada on Unsplash.


Stephanie Clouatre Davis graduated from Loyola University New Orleans. Stephanie speaks to adults and teens around the nation at parishes, high schools, and dioceses in various venues including retreats and conferences. With humor, joy, and stories, Stephanie not only fully engages her audiences but also inspires them to challenge themselves and build a stronger relationship with God. She lives in Covington, Louisiana with her husband Michael and two girls Emma and Abby.

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1 Comment

  1. Liz

    Thank you for the reminders Stephanie.


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