Mercy: forgiving with another’s well-being in mind. Letting something pass without condemnation. Like many virtuous qualities, I often find it easier to define by its absence, by what it looks like when I fail to practice it, which I all too often do.
I fail to be merciful when I cling to what I think is owed: a price that should be paid, a lesson that should be learned, an apology or explanation or restoration that I deserve.
The mercy of God is rooted in goodness and omnipotence. Mine is rooted in trust, that if mercy is good enough for God it is good enough for me. This trust gives me the courage to let go of how I think the world should work, to forgive and to be gentle.
Why is mercy on my mind? Because we are about to need it. Stores and restaurants are closing, companies are laying people off, the economy is shutting down in an attempt to stave off the coronavirus. Many of us may soon not have access to the time, freedom, or resources that others believe we owe them.
A business owner paying employees through a slow time, a ticket holder not demanding a refund for a cancelled performance, a diner giving an enormous tip, cities halting evictions, legal systems suspending cash bail, agencies delaying loan payments – these are all small acts of letting go of what we think we are owed. Many of them are feasible. Many of them could be increased. Many of them will be revealed to be things we should have been doing all along.
Many of them are only possible if someone else lets go in turn – the landlord with the business owner, the bank with the landlord. If we all keep holding on to what we think we are owed (and often, for those at the very top, what they believe they deserve is simply “more”), there will be no window for mercy.
Everything is about to go topsy-turvy, and the more expectations and entitlements we can shed, the better. Work and pray for just, loving forgiveness in every level of society so that we can have an avalanche of goodness, a cascade of mercy. Something is about to come down on us, regardless, so let’s do what we can to dilute the deluge with virtue.