Editor's note: This is excerpted from "Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When It Lets You Down," the new book from TC contributor Caryn Rivadeneira.
My husband will tell you that I show too much mercy to our kids. And I do. I’m a terrible, inconsistent disciplinarian, and I’m a little too merciful when I see sweet faces saying, “I’m sorry.” While showing mercy in the short term might look reasonable, allowing our kids to grow up sans consequences is not merciful. It’s horrible. For them. And for society in general.
Establishing rules and enacting consequences for when rules are broken or establishing boundaries over which no one should cross is another facet of love - of others and ourselves. It is mercy. Allowing anyone to be abused or walked on is not merciful, even to the abuser. So I’m always careful when I talk about our need to show mercy, lest it be misunderstood as a call to endure mistreatment.
Instead, living mercy frees us from thinking we need to be the judge and jury on everything. It stops “get a job” from huffing through our brains as a woman with the “Homeless and Hungry” sign walks toward us at the stoplight. Mercy stops our eyes from rolling and our tongues from tsk-tsking that mom as her kids run wild around the store. Mercy means we don’t grumble back at our crabby neighbor.
Mercy compels us to be kind, to be fair, to give, to help, to befriend, to talk to, to listen, to bring a meal, to serve, to reach out, to hold, to do whatever we’re called to do without rolling our eyes in judgment. Mercy lets us see the planks in our own eyes even as we notice the sawdust in others’.
Mercy knows life is hard and that everybody has problems. Mercy knows that most people just need to be cut some slack. Mercy gives breaks. Mercy offers chances and opportunities. Mercy walks around with a smile on her face and a hand ready to help.
Mercy stops us from criticizing and judging and lashing out at people who disagree with us. Mercy listens to those who think differently, feel differently and (gasp!) vote differently. Mercy smiles at those who annoy us. Mercy looks for the other side of the story. Mercy doesn’t see as the world sees, but as Jesus does.
Mercy doesn’t berate her husband because he’s late - again. Mercy doesn’t snap at her kids because she’s tired and they’ve got too much energy. Mercy doesn’t leave mean notes on the windshields of cars of moms who park in the fire lane at her kids’ school. (Although I’m pretty sure mercy calls the police department and has them leave their own little yellow notes. My kids are in that building, after all!)
And mercy shows herself again and again and again - which is the hardest part of mercy. It’s easy to show mercy once. Twice, even. But again and again? To that person who makes you nuts? To that person who just won’t get a job? Who won’t get help? Who won’t go to rehab? Who won’t say she’s sorry?
Mercy keeps on showing up for all of them too. Because we need to draw boundaries and allow consequences, mercy may only show itself in the way we think about or look at another person or situation. But even that kind of mercy makes all the difference. It may be too dangerous for mercy to drag a lost, wandering bull back to his farm, but seeing him as lost and scared rather than mean and wild changes everything about his rescue.