A blessing that almost all of us can offer, in almost all situations, is the blessing of mercy.
What exactly is mercy?
Mercy resembles kindness, compassion, and other good things. However, mercy is a special sort of kindness.
In reading through various definitions to find something more precise, I think what is unique about mercy is leniency — giving more than your someone may deserve at times, considering his past history or his current lack of appreciation.
How do I give mercy to my someone?
In conversation, mercy is present when you overlook harsh words or irritated replies, remembering that words don’t always come out right when we are under stress.
When pitching in with an act of service, mercy happens when you allow your someone to be late, to forget, to cancel plans — even when you have gone to great trouble. Mercy is also there as you navigate through impossible expectations and select a nonjudgmental reply — “Which one of those tasks would you prefer we tackle while I’m here today?”
When bringing a little gift, mercy can mean accepting your someone may not be as appreciative or courteous as she could be. Sending a gift with a note that no thank-you is required is a concrete demonstration of mercy.
And when we run out of energy, mercy happens when we’re wiling to try again another day.
Why is mercy difficult?
Navigating a difficult situation can bolster our resolve and energize us to pitch in. After all, difficult circumstances are often clearly outside anyone’s current control. Blessings seem deserved.
Mercy is not vital when we are stepping into a situation we find easy to understand.
When reaching out to others, however, the actual experience is often complex.
- Some difficulties are invisible — there is no cast on the arm to signal exactly what’s wrong.
- Sometimes the situation doesn’t make sense to us — the news reports tell us there are plenty of jobs available or friends we know have gotten over the divorce faster than this.
- Sometimes it seems that our someone is contributing to the difficulties. Behavior can seem disorganized, time-consuming, lacking in follow-through or even etiquette.
Mercy happens when it is not at all clear why our someone can’t do better… and we bless them anyway.
How can I gain a new perspective?
Rather than simply gritting our teeth and enduring, it can be freeing to uncover the mercy within ourselves. Mercy often emerges after we let go of our own viewpoint, however logical or experienced or well-thought-out. Then we are freed up to see things in new ways.
There are at least three ways we can initiate new perspectives and enhance an attitude of mercy within ourselves.
(1) We can prepare in advance to choose a new perspective. After examining our past experiences and considering our future goals in the area of blessing others, we can ask ourselves questions.
- Have I been seeing the bigger picture? Can I back away from my detailed concerns and take in the bigger picture? What was my original goal? Wasn’t I going to simply offer a blessing, rather than to move into my someone’s life and fix them?
- How can I lean in closer? Can I honor the unique view beneath the shadow of someone else’s difficulties? Might my own decisions be different if I were on medications, without an income, or simply sitting alone with too much time on my hands?
Efforts to think through blessings in advance can allow us to choose a perspective that matches our original goals.
(2) We can review our expectations. Have I been expecting certain results? Can I let go and choose to offer a blessing without requiring much at all in return? Or, is this an instance when I need to back out of a particular form of blessing, perhaps choosing a less personal way to reach out?
To encourage ourselves, we can remember that blessings may not meet obvious or tangible needs. Instead, finding out what we can say, what we can do, or what we can bring to someone who is struggling might have a more subtle impact…
- allowing him to save his energy for later,
- removing a few obstacles so she can recover her balance,
- bringing a little mental space to breathe,
- adding a ray of sunshine (even if it may not be noticed right away).
If our expectations match our goals, then we may discover mercy, or leniency.
(3) Sometimes the best way to learn is to watch someone else. When I pay attention, sometimes another person is modeling a new way that I could look at a situation.
There was a couple at a church I went to who often ended up sitting in front of me. The wife seemed cold when I greeted her, and some weeks she would totally ignore my extended hand. I developed assumptions about her, most of which focused on me (she doesn’t like me, she isn’t kind to me…).
Then there came a day I ended up sitting nearby and another woman caught my eye as she leaned around and mouthed words to the husband: “Not a good day?” The husband almost imperceptibly shook his head.
In those four words, my perspective changed: Not a good day. The pieces of the puzzle came together. Now my heart went out to his wife, and I felt self-centered to have assumed she was treating me unkindly. I never knew whether the woman’s challenges were physical or emotional, but I do know that she was struggling, and I was blessed to witness another woman extending mercy.
Mercy makes the load lighter for both of us.
Blog #10, COMMENT BELOW: Do you have a story about extending mercy and later being glad you were able to do that? Or, have you received mercy that has blessed you?