Friday, July 17, 2009

Mercy - The Early Edition

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Psalm 90.14

We Need Mercy

A friend recently told me about a former colleague of his, a type A-plus-plus, whose standards of professionalism were—literally—unforgiving. “She said to everybody she worked with: ‘You get one chance to screw up with me. I don’t suffer fools and incompetents.’” As a result, no one stayed with her very long; either they quit, finagled transfers, or got fired. It took little time for her superiors to see beyond the efficiency and intelligence, noticing she didn’t command staff loyalty. This troubled them. So my friend (who’d lasted only two months before volunteering to relocate) got a call from the senior boss, who was curious about why her retention rate was so low. He repeated her line about not suffering fools and incompetents. “Interesting,” the boss said. And the legend goes he hung up the phone, called the merciless manager in, accused her of foolish incompetence, and informed her that her presence would no longer be suffered at the firm.

We all know cautionary tales like this, proving the inverse of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5.7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” If there’s one thing each of us needs, it’s mercy. Without showing mercy, however, we can’t expect—let alone believe—mercy will be shown to us. But I’ll go even one better. We need to wake to mercy, to greet each new day knowing we’re forgiven and starting with a clean a slate. “Each day has enough trouble of its own,” Jesus says (Matthew 6.34) Carrying yesterday’s problems into today—slights we can forgive, mistakes we can overlook, resentments we can set aside—only adds to the troubles we’re destined to deal with today. So in order to obtain mercies we’ll need tomorrow, it seems wise to extend mercies to others today. In other words, the principle of mercy depends on our staying one step ahead—doing all we can to forgive and love now to receive mercy and love later.

Controlling Our Tempers

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city,” Proverbs 16.32 advises. We’ve come up with a number of ways to spin untrammeled anger and wrath—“brutal honesty,” “openness,” "evening the score," "preempting hurts," and “not suppressing our feelings.” Call it what you will, if controlling our tempers is such an onerous task we’d rather drive around the block to justify not doing it, we need to examine our priorities. Whenever I lash out at you, what you’ve done to anger me ceases to matter; I now have a bigger problem. I’m squandering mercy I’ll need tomorrow by not showing you mercy you need today.

In Psalm 4, David endures merciless ridicule and opposition. Yet in the fourth verse he says: “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” That’s when we control our tempers and set the stage for mercy—the night before a new day. We clear our hearts so we’ll rest easily and rise to fresh thoughts and potential. Lamentations 3 reminds us, it’s because of God’s love that we’re not consumed; His mercies never come to an end. “They are new every morning,” verse 23 says. It’s not a question of new mercies being provided each day; they’re there. It’s an issue of having overextended ourselves the previous day until we can’t afford to experience the morning mercies.

Singing for Joy

The King James Version of Psalm 90.14 reads, “O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” A joyful life begins each day with God's mercy—His unsolicited forgiveness, tolerance, and understanding. And we emulate this immeasurable gift all day long by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. The early edition of mercy, which gets delivered every morning, makes the evening news fairly predictable. Harms take aim at us, yet there’s no harm done, because we forgive as we go. Disappointments cloud the sky, yet because we understand everyone fails just as we fail, the sun never fails to appear by day’s end. Judgments and prejudices are leveled at us, yet we stand tall, unshaken, and proud, because we tolerate differences in others—including their differences with us, justified or not. So we spend our all of our days singing for joy. We clear our hearts of anger and resentment as we lay down each night. And we rise to new mercies every morning. It’s a great way to live!
Each sunrise brings new mercies; we can experience them in all their splendor by not carrying yesterday's grievances into today.

(Tomorrow: Loved)


genevieve said...

This is something that has helped me not to let others negativity affect my day. I do pray for them. The big thing is not take it home with me.

Maybe that person had a bad day at home, too. The best piece of advice I ever received was on my wedding day 29 years ago. Pastor say 'don't go to sleep if you are angry with your spouse'. This has kept me from a bitter spirit and regrets.

Tim said...

Such wise advice, Genevieve. Walt and I practice the same discipline. Sometimes we can be so displeased with each other it's not altogether true we love each other at that moment. But we learned it's often more important to love US--our relationship--than to love him and me individually. And then, when the new day dawns with new mercy, the individual love and respect return with it.

God's mercy toward each of us is so great and so utterly amazing, we're cheating ourselves when we don't offer the same unsolicited, bottomless mercy to those around us. And you're absolutely right: when we extend mercy to those attempting to negatively affect us, their pessimism and prejudice fall away. They don't come home with us; they don't stick.

It's ever a delight to hear from you, Genevieve. Your compassion and understanding are lights for us all.

Be blessed always,

Anonymous said...

"Whenever I lash out at you, what you’ve done to anger me ceases to matter; I now have a bigger problem. I’m squandering mercy I’ll need tomorrow by not showing you mercy you need today."

I had to write this down. It's stuck to my monitor right now in the hopes that it will also get stuck in my head and eventually my heart!

Thanks Tim!

Tim said...

Jake, it's another of those easy-to-understand, tough-to-do things, I think. A lot of times we get so angry with someone we don't stop to realize the toll our anger takes on us. He/she's moved on, but we're still stewing, some of us for years at a time. We're robbing ourselves of the joy and harmony we want from life.

I know this from past experience. And now, as I look back, how I wish I could have back all the hours and days I spent so foolishly!

I'm always grateful and delighted to hear from you, my friend. Be blessed and happy!