At the end of an off-the-charts exhausting day, one that began with a parking ticket, included mishaps galore and wall hangings crashing to the floor, questions I couldn’t answer and tasks I couldn’t accomplish, I was not far from home tonight when I spied in my rearview mirror the flashing of blue lights, signaling I should pull over.
It wasn’t just blue lights I saw. I saw my insurance going up, a bill to pay. I saw another 10 minute delay before I could fall into my apartment and take off my heels. I saw another way to be disappointed in myself, another reason to feel like I can’t keep it together.
I pulled over, rolled down the window, rested my head against the headrest, and waited. He came around the side of the car and I just looked at him. I couldn’t be clever or cute or cool. Maybe my day was written on my face; I’m not sure, but he kindly, humorously chastised me and sent me on my way.
Mercy. The rest of the way home that word rolled around in my head. I had simply been let off, not because of anything I had done or because I deserved it. Someone else had made a choice about how to treat me, and I, with my head leaned back wearily, had passively accepted that treatment.
I would have accepted anything at that point, but that magnanimity came as a shock. I was powerless. I was too broken down to try to muscle my way to a particular outcome. Someone else chose for me, and the choice they made was mercy.
The last few years have been one long meditation on mercy – how deeply I believe in it, how I can show it to others, how God can show it to others. Never have I considered how it could be shown to me. As I walked down the hill from my car to the apartment tonight, I prayed from my gut that someday I would be shown deeper mercy. I have done worse than traffic violations.
If I hadn’t been so weak, would I have been able to accept the gift? Would I have tried to control the situation and manipulated my way into a less gracious outcome? Is our weakness the only place we find the strength to let ourselves be swallowed up in forgiveness?
The receiving often sems so much harder than the giving. The connection between the two remeins a wonderful and holy mystery.
An 8-year-old in my Sunday School class gave the greatest explanation of justice, mercy, and grace I’ve ever heard:
“It’s like when you’re speeding, and you get pulled over:
If the policeman gives you a ticket, that’s justice.
If he lets you go with a warning, that’s mercy.
If he gives you a jelly donut, that’s grace.”