Written by Rev. Becky Brown
Our mom’s bible study has just begun for the Fall, and we are reading Anne Lamott’s book, the namesake of this post. We have just begun to unpack what mercy means, and where to find mercy in this world. Lamott writes,
“Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.”
I think we can all agree that, if we look at mercy this way, it is extremely difficult to practice. Mercy like this doesn’t come naturally for us. We quite often want people to get what they deserve. We want justice for people who do wrong and harm others. Considering forgiving people who are, in our minds, unforgivable is completely bonkers. In the process of teaching our children right from wrong, how to choose kindness over selfishness, we continue to set up a black and white world where fairness is the goal. It simply isn’t fair to offer radical kindness to those that bully us, harm those we care about, or who frankly don’t make good choices. Yet, when we let go of the judgment within us, we can see a glimpse of God’s mercy that was present to begin with. God is all about radical kindness and offering undeserved mercy to all of God’s children. That’s God’s nature.
As a child, I grew up believing that if I did everything I was supposed to do, worked hard, was quiet and did everything perfectly, then I would get everything I wanted. I thought my goodness would earn me privileges and recognition, and that’s what I longed for. My world was rocked when I auditioned for the big solo in my elementary music class in 4th grade. I considered myself a good singer, and one of the best in the class. The solo was actually a duet, and the best boy singer in the class was definitely Daniel, my boyfriend (or my current flame), and I knew he would earn the boys part. The audition process for the girls was whittled down to 2 girls. Myself and my close friend Lois. I was certain I would get the part. I mean, it was “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, and everyone knew I had a crush on Daniel. It was a shoe in. Plus, Lois wasn’t as strong of a singer. She was pitchy, and her voice was airy. I was DEVASTATED when our music teacher chose Lois. What? Are you kidding me? It just wasn’t fair! I immediately began fuming, couldn’t understand, and started plotting against both my friend and my music teacher. My plan was to make them as miserable as they had made me. This was the first time I remember seeking vengeance on someone else (what wasn’t my brother, I mean, come on.) I was certain this would make me feel better and would tip the scales back into balance.
I am sure our music teacher saw something in Lois that I didn’t see. Maybe she wanted to elevate Lois, because she saw her struggling in ways I never saw. Maybe she needed the recognition that I so desperately craved. I will never understand it, and even as I relive this memory, I’m feeling anger rise up within me. Life isn’t fair, and the gospel never makes the promise that it will be. Terrible things happen. Hurricanes form in the Atlantic and threaten the coastline of 2 states, and many inland. There are “unlovable” people out there who are in need of mercy and compassion. Sometimes it takes us waking up out of our self-righteous dream to the reality of the merciful God that loves us anyway, and always gives us another chance.
Ann Lamott says,
“Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves – our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice. It includes everything out there that just makes us sick and makes us want to turn away, the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”
Looking back on it all, I suppose I should have responded differently to the rejection of the duet that just happened to be my favorite song in 4th grade. I needed to let myself off the hook and recognize the loss of the duet was okay. I needed to confess my arrogance and accept things for what they were. I should have congratulated my friend for her achievement and shouldn’t have allowed that moment to put a wedge in our friendship. I wish someone would have told me to say, “Hallelujah Anyway!”