Reviving Social Grace

Reviving Social Grace

The Beauty of Living for Others

by Mandy Saeler | July 28, 2019

The humid August air hung close around me as I ducked under the attic eaves, peering to the left and right. The storage bins scuffed on the wood floor as I pulled them out into the open space in search of a tucked away treasure. The glow of a nearby lightbulb illuminated the hushed darkness as my memory stirred, attempting to retrace where I’d placed “it.” 

Though I can no longer remember what exactly I was searching for in the attic of my childhood home on that hot summer day — or if I ever managed to find “it” — what I do clearly remember is the unexpected treasure that I happened upon in the midst of my rummaging. 

As I peered under lids and pushed the bins back into their places, a small collection of trinkets stowed off to the side caught me eye — noting a few old hardback books in the mix, intrigue quickly led me to investigate. My eyes scanned the collection of items as I took one of the books into my hands — nearly two inches of yellowed pages were nestled within a blue linen cover, making it a hefty old volume. Silver foil lettering danced across the spine and a slight gasp of surprise escaped me as I took in the title: Etiquette by none other than Emily Post.

My attic-search came to a halt as I cracked open the cover of this “Blue Book of Social Usage.” Like the nostalgic scent that wafts from the pages of an old book, a sense of wonderment alighted within me as I perused the antiquated notions of social grace from a bygone era… 

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The Heart of Social Grace

Although much of Emily Post’s writing is long-outdated, there are measures of good common sense, taste, and tact that easily translate in our modern day. For instance, her practical instruction for dinner table behavior in a restaurant (be sure to appreciate the dry humor here): “Cosmetics and food do not go together … to sit and daub at the face in a little mirror for any length of time cannot fail to impress any onlooker with the blemishes this face must have to need such drastic repair!” You and I must admit — she raises a valid point here! (And a humorous one at that!)

Rather than viewing social grace as rigid obedience to “rules,” what if we pondered the questions that Emily Post challenged her readers with nearly 100 years ago: “‘Does it help to make life pleasanter? Does it make the social machinery run more smoothly? Does it add to beauty? Is it essential to the code of good taste or to ethics?’ If it serves any of these purposes, it is […] to be cherished; but if it serves no helpful purpose it is certainly not worth taking very seriously.”

Though dear old Emily Post, along with her thoughts on social grace, have long been stowed away in the attics of our minds and often labeled as “aloof and out of touch” — the true heart of social grace and its cultivation within our lives should not be. And while it isn’t likely that you or I will ever have occasion to reference Emily Post’s elaborations on “Dressing for the Opera” and “A Lady Keeps Her Gloves On,” may we be careful to not dispose of what is good (social grace) while disposing of that which is outdated (opera apparel and everyday gloves). 

The essence of cultivating social grace is evergreen, especially for the follower of Christ.

Rooted in Love

Through all the varying nuances of “social grace” from one generation, culture, and sensibility to the next — the true heart of social grace is love. It begins with love, is cultivated by love, and is carried out in love. Without this foundation of love — even if we are doing all the “right” things — we will only be like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1 ESV).

The heart of true social grace is rooted in love — humble, kind, Christlike love. 

It genuinely cares for others — because He does. (See Matthew 6:26 and 1 Peter 5:7.) 

And it means becoming a self-forgetful messenger of Christ’s love to those around us — because it is both what His life on earth demonstrated and what He desires to demonstrate through our lives. (See 1 John 4:19–21.)

Most of us bear some semblance of social grace in our lives, simply because it’s what’s done — a “thanks so much” to the grocery store clerk, a tip for the barista, and a smiling wave to the neighbor. As we traverse this topic of social grace, it is my hope that our motive and desire in cultivating social grace in our lives would shift from doing so because it’s what’s done … to doing so because it’s what love does.

Graceful Selflessness

Though the times of Emily Post have passed, social grace is still a relevant topic in our modern day. Finding practical suggestions and tips for refining our social performance are easily accessible, whether it be in the context of our personal lives, various social outlets, or the workplace.

Podcasts, blogs, books, and other resources are continuously touching on this topic afresh, teaching us how to engage with people, express interest in others, give meaningful feedback, invest into their lives, and a host of other recommendations for winsome and gracious social interaction.

However, taking a closer look at the driving motivation of this modern version of “social grace” is revealing. Oftentimes, self-interest and personal gain are at the core: winning favor, earning friends, building a following, gaining “likes” for a name or organization, advancing a platform to influence people, and even making money. This imitative variety of “social grace” that is bent to personal advantage is the opposite of the beautiful, selfless version of social grace that is to mark our lives as women of God. True social grace is selfless.

It is bent towards the benefit of others, having lost sight of oneself. (See Galatians 2:20 and 5:13.) 

And it walks in the footsteps of the One who washed dust from the feet of His friends — seeking to live as He did. (See John 13:1–5 and 1 Peter 2:21.) 

Selflessness is a vital aspect of our Christian life and conduct, and is only made possible through Christ. Unlike the messages that are common in our day, living with consideration for others is never to be about what we can gain, but what we can give

By faith, we can identify with His death and share in Paul’s declaration: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20, emphasis added). Through Jesus’ work on the Cross, we have been freed from preoccupation with self. And in our daily lives, this reality is revealed as we embrace the truth, deny ourselves, and follow in His steps.  

. . . 

True social grace is rooted in love that is demonstrated through selflessness. It places others before ourselves, treats others the way we would desire to be treated, and through it all — puts others at ease, by seeking to show proper care and consideration in any given situation. While social grace is demonstrated behaviorally, remember that Christ-inspired social grace flows from a love-flooded, yielded heart.

Dear sister, may we relish the fact that we have been purchased and set free by the given life of Christ … in order to live freely and fully for Him. May we use that freedom to  “…serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13 NIV), and may we be women whose lives are marked with beautiful, guileless social grace. 

Prayerfully Consider:

  • In my desire to grow in social grace, am I preoccupied with my own image?  If yes, even subtly, how do I overcome this?  See Galatians 2:20 and 5:13.
  • Am I leaning upon my behavior and ability to perform well as a means of being right with God?  Where does my righteousness come from?  See Romans 3:21–26 and Philippians 3:7–11.

Gain Perspective:

  • Define the heart and significance of social grace in biblical terms. Why is Christian character and conduct important? Where does it come from? What is its source? (Support your thoughts with Scripture.) 
  • What is God’s heart for those who are saved? What is God’s heart for those who are lost? (Support your thoughts with Scripture.) 
  • How will gaining an understanding of God’s heart for people (believers and unbelievers alike) influence the way I treat and interact with them? 

Prayerfully Seek:

  • Ask God to fill you with His love and heart for those around you — family members, friends, difficult people, and even strangers you come in contact with.
  • Prayerfully seek to gain God’s heart for believers and unbelievers alike. 
  • Consider the words of this poem — may they be a prayer upon your lips as you seek to grow in graceful living. 

Love Through Me
Love through me, Love of God;
Make me like Thy clear air
Through which, unhindered, colors pass
As though it were not there.
Powers of the love of God,
Depths of the heart Divine,
O Love that faileth not, break forth,
And flood this world of Thine.

Personally Cultivate:

CONSIDER: Are there nuances of your personality that need to be curbed in order to better love others? Ask yourself: Do I use my personality as an excuse to behave in a self-focused way? If so, what do I need to change and how will I practically begin making these changes?  

TODAY: Practice having eyes for others — at the drive through, in the parking lot, or in your neighborhood. Rather than being focused only on your own agenda, look someone in the eye and give a smiling greeting. If possible, take it a step further and ask them a question about themselves or their day. 

IN THE COMING DAYS: What is one practical way you can intentionally serve or bless a friend or loved one this week? Make a plan and follow through. 

IN THE COMING DAYS: Now that you’re warmed up, what is one practical way you can intentionally serve or bless someone you don’t know well this week? Make a plan and follow through. 

THIS WEEK: What is a personal preference that you can choose to deny this week for the purpose of blessing someone else? As you willingly lay aside your preference in love for someone else, consider how your action is saying, “I love you more than my preference (i.e. my schedule looking a certain way, my favorite brand of coffee, etc.).” As you lay your own preferences aside in love, is there a sense of joy that arises out of your sacrifice?