What do we want most from others for ourselves? I think it’s mercy…
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
I am human and I make mistakes. A lot of them. Not being God and, therefore, not being perfect, I am bound to have flaws, to get things wrong, and to do things that I wish I wouldn’t do. Sometimes, as I am responding to my loved one, I will hear the words coming out of my mouth and wish them back just as they hit the air. My words can be mean – petty, spiteful, downright cruel. And in that moment, with my murderous speech hanging between the two of us, my heart drops down into the pit of my stomach and I hold my breath, begging silently for mercy.
It’s not often that the dagger slashes of my tongue are received with warmth and kindness – okay, not ever. My loved one feels the pain, I hurt her, I hurt him, and the love they feel for me gets locked down inside of them and they harden with anger, putting up their defenses, whipping out weapons of their own. Often, in the deadly speechlessness of their heavy, raging sigh, arrows shoot out their eyes and I feel myself cowering. But I don’t cower. I don’t apologize or try to console or make it up somehow. I just want – need – to be forgiven. More than anything I want to be spared the wrath of vengeance I have spurred.
Yet… What do I do when someone is mean to me? What do I do when someone’s rash words cause me pain or, worse, when someone’s willful act of cruelty slices through me? I’ll tell you what I do – I give it right back. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and I well believe it. Though, to be fair and clear, I have inherited from my father a violence of temper unmatched by my mother’s in tamed and deep-seated force. Please don’t misunderstand me – my family is not physically violent in any way. I thank God there is no abuse of that kind in my home. Even if, however, our angry responses don’t rise to the level of abuse, physical or verbal, we still find ways to seriously hurt each other. The only thing that saves us from dysfunction and despair is the depth of our love – not only for each other, but also for ourselves. We know how to be cruel, but we also know how to be merciful.
To “love thy neighbor as thyself” is to follow the golden rule by treating one’s fellow human beings the way that one wants to be treated oneself. If we want to be forgiven by our loved ones when we say or do things to hurt them, then we should be ready to forgive them when they hurt us. We react and respond too often out of anger, frustration and irritation. We let our fears get the best of us and we irrationally take it out on the people who love us the most. We are sorry when we do this, sometimes right away, sometimes several days later, and sometimes not until our loved ones show us the harm that we have done. We bump against and batter each other, causing damage. Efforts to minimize the friction and to repair the breaks and dents are good. But, really, sometimes a person can be so hurt by another’s willful act of cruelty that only God can repair the damage. My friend, who has suffered from every kind of abuse, once told me that there are some wounds that only God’s love can heal.
It’s God’s healing love that we truly want more than anything. We want that divide between flawed humanity and perfect divinity to be bound up so that we may know wholeness. To be who we are created to be, we cannot wallow in worldliness, we cannot inflict each other – and so inflict ourselves – with vengeance and destruction and violent dominance. We must look past pain to the source of all joy. Every tongue lashing is the scourging agony of a whipped back. Every act of selfishness is the piercing of a crown of thorns. Every cruel twist is a spike driven through the flesh. God knows.
To stand one’s ground in the face of cruelty is not an act of unkindness. To let the mean one know the pain that the meanness is causing is the right and kind thing to do. But, what is one’s ground? Is it vengeance? Is it to give back as good as one gets? Or is one’s ground love? When my loved one meets my cruel words with silence and a look that tells me how wrong I was, I feel more penitence than I do when my unkindness is met with matching rage. There’s something within me that will not allow me to learn or grow or improve under force and aggression. That something is the divine image in which I am created. That something is my soul. I was created by God with the gift of free will. I was created by God to reflect divinity into the world. Not to reflect my own self, my offended pride, my insulted ego – but divinity, I am made to reflect God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of the Infinite Eternal One and I will love myself as He loves me. I will love my God-given ability to love, I will love my God-given capacity to forgive, I will love the gift of healing that God has given me. And then, and only then, will I love, forgive, and heal. I am not the Lord. I shall not lord myself over anyone. I shall receive, rather, the Lordship of God deep in my heart and through my whole being, becoming the person that the LORD created me to be. Merciful. Merciful is God, giving me perfect love when I do not deserve it. And merciful am I created to be.
To forgive is to not forget that another person is capable of cruelty, but, rather, to remember that I am likewise capable. To forgive is not to condone the hurtful behavior of another person, but, rather, to foster love and healing behavior within me – and so the world. To forgive is to receive and share God.