I read recently about a woman brought before a judge on drug charges, a woman who'd been given chances before and promptly screwed them up. This time, she promised the judge, things would be different and she proceeded to outline her plan to ensure it was. Finally, she said to him something along the lines of, I know I don't deserve another chance. But I'm begging you to show me mercy not justice.
The judge chose mercy, putting the woman (who became author of Harley Loco, a memoir about her drug-addled days) in a rehab facility instead of jail. It was a pretty radical thing the judge did. The criminal justice system isn't really in the mercy business.
Our larger culture isn't so big on mercy either. Mercy is weakness. It's letting people off the hook. It's co-dependence.
Justice is giving people what they deserve. It's punishment. An eye for an eye. Or, at the very least, locking someone away so we can feel "safe".
And when we've been betrayed? That thirst for justice seems unquenchable. We're Shakespearean, raising our fists to the heavens and demanding justice for our pain. "He will pay for this!" we vow. Or perhaps we imagine the revenge affair we'll engage in, just as soon as we can get up from the fetal position on the bathroom floor where we lay soaked in our own tears. We'll hurt him just as he's hurt us.
In the early days post-betrayal, our mindset is generally more about justice than mercy.
Thing is, justice is damn near impossible. I'm just not sure there's a pound of flesh (metaphorically speaking. Put down the carving knives, ladies) that will satisfy us. No matter what we do in order to exact so-called justice, it will never un-do what he did. It will never heal the hurt. It will never mend our heart.
What's left in our toolbox? Well, there's mercy, that pitiful runner-up to justice.
It's hard to even consider. Especially with the cries for blood we hear from those around us. "Once a cheater, always a cheater," they say. "Don't let him do this to you," they say. "Kick him to the curb," they say. In other words, serve him up some cold-hard justice.
Mercy? That's for doormats.
While justice is about closing your heart, mercy is about opening it up.
It can be terrifying to even think about. Your heart has been stomped on. It needs protection. It needs armour and weapons.
I don't think so.
Or rather, I think you need for protect your heart from abuse. From continued deception. From someone who refuses to acknowledge how great a gift your heart is.
But to those who come to you stripped down, marinating in shame at what they've done? Who know that they deserve justice but are asking, instead, for mercy?
Let me ask you: How many times have you been on the receiving end of undeserved grace?
If, even once, you've screwed up and faced eyes soft with love instead of cold with judgement, you've known mercy. My kids have shown me mercy more times than I can count. My mother, guilt-ridden over her years of addiction, asked for my mercy and got it. She repaid it to me a thousand-fold, every time I blamed her for some failing of mine.
I'm slowly learning, after a misspent youth of shame-inducing acts, to grant myself mercy. To silence the voice that sneers at me as undeserving of kindness and grace. Who judges myself most harshly of all.
Mercy, for all its bad press, is powerful stuff.
Powerful enough to change everything.