OK, here's another analogy of grace.
When I was a young child -- I believe about 5 or 6 years old -- we moved from our inner-city Rochester, NY apartment to the suburb of Greece. Our parents had completely packed and cleaned out the apartment, and we were literally on the verge of leaving. My parents apparently needed to pick up some food and other supplies before we left, and since their errand wasn't going to take longer than 10-15 minutes, they decided to leave me and my little brother Mark alone at the apartment.
Somehow I was not aware of the fact that they were just running an errand and were going to be right back. Either they told me, and I wasn't paying attention, or they figured the errand would be short and so they didn't need to tell me.
But in my 5- or 6-year-old mind, I knew we were moving to a new house. And so when one minute I was playing quietly with my brother, and the next I looked up and realized we were all alone, I simply assumed that my parents had decided to make the move without us, abandoning us at the apartment. I started wailing, and when I started wailing, my little brother started wailing too.
At that point, I realized it was just me and my little bro, and I needed to take care of him. And I'd remembered hearing somewhere that in case of an emergency, you can dial zero on the phone and the operator can help. So that's what I did. I picked up the phone and dialed zero, and I was in the process of explaining (through my tears) that my little brother and I had been abandoned by our parents, when my parents arrived through the door with a sack full of groceries.
I still have a perfect picture in my mind of me standing there on my tip toes (the wall phone was a bit of a reach for me), sobbing to some strange female voice on the other end of the line; and then the rush of relief and joy when I heard the door click open and saw my parents' faces.
In that moment of aloneness, which couldn't have been more than a few minutes, to me it had felt like we had been abandoned for good. Of course it wasn't true! Even as I was dialing emergency assistance, parents were rushing home to reassure us.
The grace of God can be like that. When we are without it, it can feel like we've been abandoned forever. We can feel utterly low and alone and lost. But if we just wait, we will feel it again, and in abundance. And when God's grace, as communicated by the loving, peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit, is upon us, we feel whole and complete and as if nothing ever lacked. When we have the Spirit, we realize that even when we felt alone, we never truly were alone. We realize that the pain we experienced in the preceding night actually had a redemptive purpose; we can even be grateful for the pain. I think that ability of the Spirit to heal and transform past pain into present understanding and joy is what is meant in the Book of Revelation when says that in the end, after every trial and tribulation, God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes (7:17).
The ability to wait in patience is, I think, the definition of hope. Hope is resting in our knowledge of God's perfect love for us -- even when we don't or can't feel that love. There have been times in my life when I've been able to rely mostly on love, times when my greatest source of strength has been my faith. Lately, it seems, I've had to rely more on hope, probably the least understood of Paul's cardinal virtues. I'm glad it's there.