Over the last several years, I’ve pretty much had a “word of the year” choose me. It’s a ritual I didn’t set out to create, but one that continues to show itself to me. It’s actually kind of weird.
I’ve never sat down and thought, “What will this year’s word be?” In fact, when I read of other people choosing a defining word of the year, well, honestly…I thought it was kind of silly.
Yet here I am.
This year was no different. With my focus on grace for 2016…and then seeing last year unfold (or…unravel?), the tap on my shoulder was distinct and firm: mercy.
I need mercy. We need mercy.
Sometimes there can be confusion over the difference between grace and mercy, but I’ve always understood it as such: grace is receiving the good that you do not deserve…and mercy is not receiving the bad that you do deserve (or consequence or justice—however you want to word it).
2017 needs us to focus on both the giving and receiving of mercy.
First, let’s talk giving.
It feels of late that there are a lot of folks aiming for others to “get what they deserve.” A sense of injustice is palpable pretty much everywhere you turn. Many people feel that what is happening in various aspects of the world simply isn’t right. And I am one of them. The wariness—and weariness—I feel in my heart as we enter a new “era” is very real.
I won’t get into specifics here…if you feel something isn’t right, you know what it is. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, you know what it is. If you see changes that need to be made, you know what they are.
To me, the challenge of my word for 2017 is balancing mercy with action. I don’t think the tap I felt on my shoulder for this word was another way of saying “do nothing in the face of injustice.” Oh, no. That would be a totally shitty way to deal with the problems that have been laid out before us.
No…it is the giving of mercy in the process of working toward better days.
In fact, I think that giving mercy is step one. For me, a part of giving mercy means having compassion. It is having an understanding of the “why” on your way to the “what.”
Yet it’s much easier to offer mercy to a 3-year-old who’s broken your favorite work of art than it is to offer mercy to an adult who is calling another human being an “ape.”
That’s the hard part. That’s where I need to check my inner Ralphie whose response to bully boy Farkus I can relate to all too well:
Yes, I may have watched A Christmas Story once or twice of 12 times over the holidays. And if you’re familiar with the movie…who actually does offer mercy? The mom. Even though she’s ready, willing, and able to stick a bar of soap into her kid’s mouth for swearing, she doesn’t lower the boom when it comes to Ralphie socking Farkus. Though it is unspoken, we know that she somehow understands that what happened came from a place of hurt—and that the mercy she gives him is not a license to go around knocking other kids bloody.
I think a lot of the crap that’s flying around our world right now is coming from hurt and fear that we just can’t ignore. That we have been ignoring…and it’s taken a toll.
Please know that this is not my saying that we need to give Bashar al-Assad compassion as he bombs hospitals and children. Sometimes things are too dark to be understood or given mercy. At least that’s my take on it.
The bottom line is that there is headway to be made if we stop pointing the finger of contempt and instead try to exhale, understand, and realize that deep down, we are more alike than different.
Then we can battle on to create a world where we all have a fair shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And while issues and injustices on a grand scale are certainly worthy of our care and attention, it is perhaps the personal mercies that can create the most dramatic impact on our lives.
The personal slights and attacks are often ones that dig deeper into our sense of injustice. After all, we know our own hurts best. It’s human nature. But what would happen if we offered mercy instead of seeking our pound of flesh?
While an “I’m sorry” goes a long way toward healing a wound, I believe mercy can do the same—just from a different direction. And since healing is good no matter which direction it comes from, mercy can be a powerful medicine.
Now let’s take a quick minute to think about receiving mercy, too.
It’s not always easy. Pride can stand in the way. But just like free ice cream, if it’s offered to you, you should probably take it before it starts to melt. And remember, true mercy is coming from a good place: empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. If it’s feeling like condescension, then…it’s not really mercy.
Perhaps the hardest mercies to accept are those we need to give to ourselves. When I’m treating myself like my own personal Farkus, I try to look at myself as though I was another actual person. It’s amazing how much kinder I’m willing to be to that “other” person than I am to my inside me. That in and of itself is something I need to offer myself mercy for!
Thank goodness I have a whole year—a lifetime, really—to work on getting stronger at all the aspects of mercy. I need it.
And though I’ve focused here on earthly mercies, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the original Mercy Giver…and model. I’m eternally grateful for the mercy given to me. Every day. Every. Single. Day.