Friday, November 2, 2012


I've been thinking about all the different admonitions and accompanying promises in the Sermon on the Mount.  One that has always been a "favorite" of mine, or at least something I try to keep in mind, is the Lord's declaration that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy".

There are lots of good reasons to judge other people--lots of bad behavior to accurately condemn or be irritated at, lots of habits to point out that we (legitimately) think they need to change.  Human beings are wonderful, but also have bundles of faults and mistakes.  Its easy to focus on those things.

But I've always cherished that promise, essentially,  that "if you're forgiving of and patience with others in their flaws and poor decisions, I'll be merciful to you about yours".  Those who extend grace to others will receive it from the Lord for themselves.  What a comfort.

I have my strengths, but heaven knows I've got my struggles.  I'm condescending when I'm annoyed and self-righteous when I'm angry.  I'm lazy and self-indulgent when I'm tired.  I'm viciously passive aggressive when I'm hurt.  I sometimes will thoughtlessly spout off some thought, only considering afterward how it might affect/sound to those around me.  I'm nicer to every one else than I am to my husband (I mean, I think I'm pretty nice to him most of the time, but I probably spend more time trying to "fix" him than I rightly should).  And that's just to name a few.  I am grateful for the many people in my life who are willing to focus on the things they love about me and overlook the things that may (rightly) drive them nuts.  I'm grateful for the fact that I am sure I am the recipient of the grace of others more frequently than my flawed-self even realizes.

In bearing that in mind, I try really hard to see the good in others.  I think that too often we approach relationships with the idea that "whatever a small hammer won't fix, a bigger hammer surely will".  Even if people genuinely need to change, you will be better at helping them to do that by focusing on building up their strengths (or strengthening their desire to do and be better by openly acknowledging and expressing appreciate for their good qualities) than you will by drilling away at their flaws and mistakes.

I'm a big believer in the power of positive reinforcement, for individual progress and for the relationships between individuals.  I'm a big proponent of extending to someone the biggest benefit of any doubt.  There are times when we are prompted to address a specific problem with an individual who falls under our stewardship, and there are times when someone knows that something is amiss but doesn't know what and seeks our input, but in those moments it is essential to remember that when the Lord says we will have to "reprove with sharpness" at times, he is speaking of clarity, not harshness of tone or method.  We spend so much time trying to make people understand how we feel and why we see things the way we do, when in reality we probably ought to be spending twice as much time trying to understand why others feel the way they do, why they see things the way they do.  We ought to extend to them the grace we hope for for ourselves.

I know that's what inspires me, motivates me, and pushes me to be better.  When I have realized my mistakes and am feeling terrible about where I've failed, the Lord doesn't double down and say, "That's right, you should be sorry!" even though I nearly always should know better.  No, he quietly whispers, "I love you.  You are of infinite worth. I made you, I love you, and I know you can become more than what you are at this moment. Nevertheless, I accept you just as you are at this moment.  Keep trying.  We'll get there together--I'll help."  I am so grateful for that reassuring love, so grateful for that kind patience, that I want to be better.

Most people will react to us the same way if we extend to them that Christlike grace--yes, I see your flaws, but I love you, I see all the good that is in you, and together we'll work on becoming better.  If you express your love to people--often, sincerely, and openly--and express your respect and gratitude for all the good things they are and do, they will want to be better--generally speaking people want to live up to the gracious opinions others have of them, they want to pay back in kind the love and kindness extended to them.  Grace, and mercy, are not just about forgiveness for the big things.  They're about patient, enduring love from day to day in all the little things.  Its not about just letting that little snippy comment from your spouse go, but in letting it go and then finding a way to comfort them--maybe that snippy comment was born of a hard day at work or a personal challenge or just plain old fatigue.  Its not about just enduring that one family member's annoying behavior, its about finding ways to serve them, to refocus yourself on their strengths.

The Lord is more readily able to be merciful to us when we extend mercy to others, because that continual behavior of faith shows him an obedient, understanding child;  he can see in that merciful disposition a soft heart and loving spirit.  He can see that this is not a child who needs harsh discipline and fire and brimstone to learn, but a child that is meek and anxious to learn.

It is by grace we are saved, after all we can do, and so it ought to be that most of what we do is done in an attitude of grace.  Justice is necessary, good, and eternal.  Without it, chaos would reign and all life would be miserable.  But for all the merits of eternal justice, in the end it is mercy that wins us the freedom of our souls.  The Divine sacrifice that made that mercy possible should be always on our minds as we interact with other children of God and navigate our relationships.  We would be unwise to, flawed and indebted souls such as we are, exact harsh judgments upon those around us.  It is the Lord who has paid that price for them, it is to him they owe that debt.  If the prophet can write offense after offense the people have committed against God and then, speaking on the Lord's behalf, write "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still," then far be it from me to stay my hand of service, affection and love for much smaller, much more petty offenses.  I owe a debt far too large to then be harsh to my own debtors.  Ultimately, we are all in debt to one great benefactor, and I need his mercy as much as anyone.  Thankfully, he gives it quite freely.  

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