I am one of those people who isn’t afraid to ask the tough question. I love to get people thinking about opposing viewpoints or scenarios. When these are thoughtful civil discussions, we can begin to see that the alternative perspective has merit. We can begin to incorporate those perspectives into our own and realize a change in ourselves.
I was asked the other day to think about the things that matter to me the most, the things I am passionate about, and those things that bring me joy. I am at a crossroads and seeking how to hear God in new ways and to uncover where he is leading me next. My mind went from what I do and what brings me joy to what really gets under my skin that I have been ignoring out of a fear that I will once again be rejected for what God is putting on my heart. So here I go with phase one of my journey of discovering where God and I will be walking next.
What Gets My Goat
– or those issues I see around me in a church setting, in religious discussion, and inflicted upon people I love and care about. They break down into four key issues of imparity or inequality. Race/immigration, age, gender, and marital status. Places where I have seen, and in some cases experienced, discrimination against someone because they are from outside my culture, older or younger, male, female, part of the LGBTQ community, and unmarried persons–be that never married, widowed, or especially divorced. I have walked through all of these areas as a senior citizen, a mother and friend, and as someone married, divorced, and widowed. I have sat with people living through the pain inflicted upon them by people at work, so-called well-intentioned friends, and religious communities. Unfortunately, their stories are painful and seldom filled with the love and joy that Jesus wished for us and commanded us to offer. The “church” can do better – we can love better, we can stand stronger as allies, we can follow Jesus and enter into places that seem so unholy and care better.
I can do better.
The Single Walk is not always an easy one. It is frequently more difficult for people who have been in long-standing relationships who now find themselves walking alone. Singles struggle to find a new way to fit into community, especially religious community, following the end of a life with a partner.
Some of us are single because the person we planned to spend all our years with has died or left us. The singleness that comes from the death of our partner can leave us in un-imagined pain and grief. A divorce, or end of a committed partnership, can do the same for many; even when we might agree with the decision to terminate the relationship. We go from two to one. We are no longer part of the “couples community” and we aren’t quite ready to function as a single person. This is especially true for the widow/widower who may remain married in their heart.
It has taken me a long time to have a friendship with God. We were more the ‘casual acquaintance’ type for many years. Oh sure, we had our moments of closeness when I cried out in despair for help, not fully expecting to receive any help. And there were those ‘ah ha’ moments on spiritual retreats when I got all caught up in emotions of the worship and the message.
Real friendship was another thing. I still remember walking to communion one Sunday as the band played a song about Jesus being my friend and I realized that I didn’t feel that way. It broke my heart that others could know him that way but I didn’t. I mean I have been a Christian all my life so how could I not feel Jesus was my friend? Friendship implies a close relationship, a sharing of secrets, a deliberate presence in each other’s lives, and time spent together through all the good and bad times.
Wasn’t that Jesus?
Singleness can be defined as simply “living without a spouse.” We are single for many different reason—some by choice and some through circumstances. One thing I have found to be true with many of the singles I have spoken with, is that single does not have to mean lonely or that we are living without purpose. Just because we do not have a spouse or partner does not mean that we have to be trolling the bars looking for love or sitting home alone with nothing to do.
We come to our singleness from many pathways. We are the young who have yet to meet that first true lasting love of our life. We are the never-marrieds who are desperately hoping that God will provide a mate for us. We are the divorced, weather by our choice or by someone else’s actions. We are the widowed who love our spouses and are content that we had that “one great love.” And some of us are single by choice—the ones who have dedicated their lives in service to others with no strings attached.
Holding on to our resentments does less to the person we are angry with and more to hurt ourselves. Learning to release the person who offended us from our hate list may take real effort on our part, especially if they have been on the list for some time. Did you know that resentment is just another word for jealous? Did you know that mercy is the greatest gift you can offer another and yourself at the same time?
Offering mercy may take a deliberate effort on your part. It means offering forgiveness and meaning it. It means treating the other person with God’s love when your love isn’t there. It means being kind and treating the other person with understanding that we too are not perfect and we may have some responsibility for the situation. It means being compassionate when they hurt instead of laughing. And it does mean celebrating when good things come their way, even when we would like to think the good fortune should be ours. Mercy is sincere—it can’t be faked because above all, mercy means that we pray for all things God would have in their lives. We especially pray that they know the Lord and are transformed by his love and mercy. We ask that we too are transformed as we pray for them.
My daughter is one the greatest examples of a mercy-giver that I know. Even as a teenager she could find a way to forgive or overlook a person’s misdeeds toward her. She always seems to take the high road in relationships and give it one—or seven times seven— more chances. I have seen her rekindle relationships that I would never have gone back to and I have seen her grow more as she let go of her resentment. I have seen the freedom that comes from her mercy. She is the kid whose friends turned away from her when she wouldn’t go down the path they were heading, and still she managed to re-establish friendships with some of those people years later because she was willing to let the past be in the past. Like many young women, she has been hurt in relationships, and yet she has found a way to forgive and accept rich friendships on new terms. She has even shown her old mom mercy from time to time, understanding that I make mistakes and sometimes my problems have caused rather uncomfortable circumstances for us. She keeps moving forward and she inspires me to be all those things Jesus told us to be. She is one of the best examples I have of living a life in the image of Jesus.
As we ask for God’s mercy when we are in distress or have acted in a way that does not honor him, let us ask that he show us to whom we need to extend the same kind of mercy. We ask that he change our hearts and save us from carrying a burning coal that eats through our own heart. We ask for all things good for those we resent or envy and that we can be happy for their success. We ask to see them as God does, knowing he loves them. We ask that he inspire us to get on a path that takes us forward and frees us of the burden of disdain we carry.
Do you have a way you approach others with mercy? Do you have a success story of a time you gave or received mercy? I would love to hear your story. Please share it in the comments below.
“Turn to me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and in deep distress.” Psalm 25:16