Etiquette or Divine Influence?
Heart to Heart

Through the years I have been asked by different homeschoolers to teach etiquette classes. Frankly, these requests always make me chuckle because I feel totally inept for such a task, especially when I think of myself sloshing around in my rubber boots as I am mucking out the horse manure, or yelling “Yee ha!” at the top of my lungs as I happily sail through the woods on our four wheeler, or when I practically run Jon over as I race around the house without consideration that my menopausal state has drastically impaired my depth of perception; thus, I continually run into furniture and sadly, people, too. Of course our 900 square foot living space filled with 5 people, large furniture, and two cats may also have something to do with my mishaps, but nevertheless, I often laugh at my ungraceful calamities. And besides, I don’t even know what a fish fork looks like. How could anyone even think that I would be qualified to teach an etiquette class?

      Fortunately, my gracefulness or lack thereof is not what they are reflecting upon, but my graciousness, so they tell me. What exactly does that mean? Well, I had to look it up in our dictionary. And what I found is that gracious means “favorable; kind; friendly; benevolent; merciful; disposed to forgive offenses and impart unmerited blessings; virtuous; good; graceful; becoming.” However, the final definition truly defines where graciousness comes from: “proceeding from divine grace.” And what is divine grace but “the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from Him. It is divine influence.” Wherefore, it cannot be taught or truly emulated, but naturally comes about when we once die to ourselves and become reconciled with God. When it is truly not “I who live, but Christ who lives within me” (Gal. 2:20), then and only then can we truly see man and all of God’s creatures, including ourselves, as God sees them—“and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 2:25). It is loving people as He loves them, dying to self to serve others as He did, and always looking at Him and His creation with deep gratitude because of what He did.      How grateful I am to my Lord who gave His life up for me, precious in His sight only because He had mercy upon my wicked heart. It is His Divine grace and that alone that makes me valuable. My value is not based on anything I have done or on anything I will accomplish in the future because all my gifts come from God, not from myself. I truly adore the Father who first loved me; therefore, I am free to love others and serve them because it was God who personally formed them in their mother’s womb just as He did me, and because it pleases my Father who loves me. This is why I am free to rejoice over, take great pleasure in, and freely compliment others on themselves and their accomplishments. It is not something I endeavor to do; it is not for show or to manipulate and not something learned, but an outward manifestation of the inner presence of His divine influence, His holy presence in my life.      I freely admire and appreciate people because they are God’s. No matter where I am or who I am with or who I pass along the way, I tell absolute strangers how much I appreciate their kindness, their smile, their pretty dress, their lovely children, their nice yard…. I ask people about themselves and about what they do or about what they are doing at the present. I open doors for them, pick up things they drop, help them with their bundles, encourage their downcast spirits, pray with them, and of course smile to all I pass because of the joy His presence brings me. It cannot be held in or forced out; it just naturally flows forth because it is His lovingkindness, not mine, for “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).      To tell our children to be kind to others without letting them know that only through God can they be kind is teaching them a counterfeit graciousness. We have all seen that superficial civility, and I am certain that is not what we want in our children. We want that genuine graciousness that we admire in other Christians who possess genuine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruit of His divine presence and influence in their lives. It cannot be taught or imparted by any but God the giver. It is that light from His Holy Spirit that touches all men to the tips of their very souls.      Does that mean that we should not teach our children etiquette or manners? Really, what is etiquette anyway? Well, etiquette is a French word, which means “ticket.” It is “primarily, an account of ceremonies. Hence in present usage, forms of ceremony or decorum, the forms which are observed towards particular persons, or in particular places, especially in courts, levees, and on public occasions.” Ah yes, those pompous Frenchies. Notice that it is forms of ceremony to particular persons in particular places. Is this what we want? I personally do not care if my children know what a fish fork looks like, and I do not want my children to know how to properly eat a snail because snails are not something I want them to eat anyway. To me that is all superficial fluff, a veneer, not from the wellspring of the heart. Nor do I want them to show special favor to certain persons because of their wealth or position. I want my children to be children of God who love their Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind and who love their neighbor as themselves—every neighbor, everywhere. I believe that when they seek God’s kingdom first, all things will be added unto them, including graciousness.      Manners means “deportment; carriage; behavior; conduct; course of life; in a moral sense. Ceremonious behavior; civility; decent and respectful deportment.” South says, “Shall we, in our applications to the great God, take that to be religion, which the common reason of mankind will not allow to be manners?” We can only conduct ourselves in a moral way if we possess God’s presence in our lives. Furthermore, all respect for mankind comes from the Creator Himself because “even the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10). This is how we must present it to our children so that they understand that only through the Holy Spirit’s presence can they truly become lovely both in God’s eyes and in ours.      A silk purse cannot be made out of a sow’s ear, nor is a mannerly person without God a lovely sight. For God is the author and creator of all decency, kindness, respect, and love. Jesus is the truth that shall set men free to give freely to all men. When men die to self, they too will naturally give to others first. They will naturally seek others out to tell them how much they are appreciated. They will not be the least bit concerned about themselves and every bit concerned about others. They will not become enamored with anyone, but will respect all men equally, as their Father who is not a respecter of persons. This is instructing our children in the ways of the Lord, not in the ways of the world. Etiquette or Divine influence? I will choose Divine influence every time! Y