Driving Towards MercySeptember 10th, 2012
I was seventeen years old, pulling my car out of the drive way. A high school girl friend’s car was parked to the right of my own and slightly behind. I was not thinking about what I was doing… and I bet you can all tell where this is going…
A few minutes later, I was walking into the house, trembling, searching out my father. I had to come clean about the crime of damaging not one, but two cars sitting in his driveway. My father is a good man, never cruel, but he always expects us to do our best. When I and my siblings were growing up, he praised us when we worked hard, and he let us know his disappointment when we did not. Needless to say, this was not one of the most treasured moments of my life as a teenager.
After completing a description of the event to my father, I lowered my head in shame before him and waited in silence for the worst. What came? Silence. Then, I looked up to see the slightest curl of a smile on the corner of his lips. “You know,” he started. “I wrecked my father’s car once when I was a teenager, and he forgave me without a second thought. This time, I am going to do the same and take care of this for you.” Warmth rushed over my body. I was absolved. No grounding. No rebuke. No weight of shame to carry on my shoulders. Just mercy.
Now, I know that plenty of parents of teenagers would disagree with my father’s decision here. Some lesson of punishment, some payment could have taught me responsibility for my actions. But in this case, I think the lesson of mercy had a far more profound impact upon me. This act of forgiveness did not really originate from my father, or his father or his. It originated from the Father of all fathers, and He invites the rest of us both to see and partake in it. Nowadays, I joke with my wife about the day Michael will ruin a car or two and need the same dose of forgiveness of his own.
But the truth is that it can sometimes be easier to be merciful in these larger circumstances. They seem to come equipped with these giant neon signs that say, “God is challenging you to mercy!” Instead, it is those daily circumstances that are likely to fly under the radar. If you really think about it, you know what they are: things like tracking mud in the house, leaving the gas tank on empty, or forgetting to keep a small promise. By all means, such indiscretions should be mentioned to the guilty party, particularly to the repeat offenders like me. But there is a way to bring it to their attention that says, I love you and I want to you to be better as much for your sake as for my own. Then, there is that other approach that says, I am going to hold a grudge on this for a while because I have the right.
Early on in our marriage, I think Hollie and I would often hold little grudges for a few days here and there. The result? The other one of us just couldn’t wait for our next chance to get to hold a grudge. But somehow along the way, by the grace of God, we are learning that the alternative, getting chances to give mercy and receive it are way better!
Photo credit: Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son”, public domain