“kindness or mildness shown to an enemy or an offender; kind feeling, sympathy or compassion for those in trouble.” Scott Foresman Advanced Dictionary
When one grows up seemingly perfect, mercy is a word that is distant, unfamiliar, foreign. A simple, unobtrusive word that, on the surface, appears to have no real meaning or substance. After all, how many times are we called on to show an act of mercy in our lifetime? Isn’t it really an abstract idea that we loosely toss around? I know as a child, my transgressions were considered rather minute – simple infractions, mistakes to own up to and forget. In my youth, I may have called someone an ugly name, joined in with the classroom laughter of the humiliation of another child. I can even remember a time or two that I was absolutely hateful to my sister, as siblings tend to be, especially when required to share a room not big enough for one. I never said or did anything serious, though, that required me to seek redemption from another human being. As a child, that is.
As a teenager, being the “good” girl, the “good” student, the “good” dependable friend cultivated in me a holier-than-thou attitude. I would climb upon my pedestal of self-righteousness while condemning all of my other compadres who continued to wallow and sink into the consequential pool of their poor choices. My friends who drank, smoked, skipped school, cursed like a sailor, and failed a class or two were silently sentenced, deemed corrupt by me, the one who always made the right decisions. Although spotted with imperfections, I was a model of what was good. As a teenager, of course.
Adulthood is a funny thing. Just about the time you think that you’ve got it made, that you finally know all of the answers, or at least have gained access to the answer key, life throws you a curve ball and you duck the wrong way, providing you with a scar that will be visible forever. It may fade over time, but the smooth, tender skin is no longer there. There in its stead is uneven, marred skin, pulled taut – a gnawing, unremitting reminder of the mistake that you made which can never be undone. If getting through adolescence unscathed was supposed to be a feat then certainly becoming an adult should be quite effortless. As an adult, you chart your own path. You’re accountable to no one but yourself. Seeing how many people I knew fail at it, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to be the perfect adult: Go to work on time. Pay your bills. Make dinner every night. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t hit your kids. Allow your children to make decisions for themselves in order to learn responsibility (and yes, let them attend unsupervised parties because they will make the right decision). Be an understanding parent; a loyal and faithful wife. Being a spouse and parent should be a piece of cake. It’s not hard, anyone can do it. Common sense, right?
In retrospect, being an adolescent was the easiest thing in the world. Being an adult, expected to consciously make the right choices day in and day out has proven to be an up-hill battle; the light at the end of the tunnel that you can never seem to reach; a hard, difficult work-in-progress that never seems to make any progress at all. The mistakes I’ve made as an adult have been deep and life-altering, especially for those that I have overtly involved. How often have I wished to go back in time and erase those parts, undo those “things” I have said and done as a knowing adult, which is why the very idea of mercy strikes a chord with me. As I awake each morning, I can forgive myself for my past transgressions and face the day because those that I have deeply hurt have shown forgiveness in a way that, in the real world, should just not be. And that is why “mercy” is miraculous. You have no right to it. You can’t ask for it, pay for it, expect it or even bargain for it – it is a forgiveness that is given from the heart from one who surely has deserved the right not to give it in the first place.
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