Friday, August 15, 2014

Mercy or Justice?



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.
And yet...
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.
Doesn't it?
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.

23 comments:

  1. Wow. Powerful post Elle. And once again, perfect timing. You have a gift and I for one and so thankful for you!

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    1. This is a wonderful post. No one could have said it better. God gives us mercy instead of justice. My hold life I pray for the love or mercy of God instead of justice. This is the one thing that has stayed with me through my hard times. Vengeance is not ours but God's. Our trials can do two things for us they will either make us bitter or better. It's our choice we have to make it. I chose better. One day this week I read a post that brought me to my knees laughing. It was about vengeance or getting even. We need to always remember that orange is certainly not the new black. I really liked that. So true. Sometimes you would love to just protect the world from them breathing the good oxygen they are taking up. And then you stop and pray for em and ask God to take over. That you can't go it alone and just knowing that Jesus died for this person that has hurt us just like he did me and everyone else in the world. This changes everything. I told my husband that I wanted to forgive him for what he did to me so just may be he could see the love Jesus in his life and make a change from the inside out. He needs it so badly. God can only forgive us as we can forgive others.

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  2. It's interesting that forgiveness is the thing that is probably talked about most in society and religion yet maybe the hardest thing to do. Betrayal cannot be undone and the thought that it might happen again is always central to the relationship even if forgiveness has been in theory given. Another way to look at it is can you uncrack an egg? Some say that you can forgive only after you get through the stages of grief. Trying to skip steps and go straight to forgiveness doesn't really help does it? Anger is part of the process but you can't stay there forever. Much like eating a whole bag of M&M, you eventually just get sick of feeling anger, sadness, and want to move on. Mercy certainly is healthier than revenge but Can it work without therapy?

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    1. i don't know how it all works, i just know for me i've had to go through all the steps. I had to wade through all the shit. I had to face every crazy emotion and insane thought. Skipping any other steps just seems to whittle away at our self worth. xo and self worth is deeply tied to mercy and forgiveness.

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  3. I love this. I'm a big believer in mercy. I wasn't always, I drew hard lines and didn't understand the metamorphosis of change and growth. But then I was gifted mercy for my biggest and smallest mistakes. Mercy is beauty. And I believe that no one holds the key to our second chances at life. No one can give us a second chance, we take them. because i believe the second chance is always there, it's always in front of us waiting to be taken. And so I hope that all who suffer can reach out and take their second chance. Hope is never lost.

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  4. When I first found out about 1 of my husbands affairs (d day was early August 2013), he kept asking me if he should worry about a revenge affair. This is apparently pretty common. I kept telling him no. I guess that sets me apart from him (being a man) as well as many women. I told him my self esteem doesn't need that. I know I can walk into a bar & get some guy to sleep with me. I don't want that.

    The truth is I have thought about it, almost from day 1. But what I thought to myself was that wouldn't be revenge. One of my books said revenge affairs are worse, because they are done to hurt ur spouse whereas their affairs were not meant to hurt us. Nice way to think about it if u want to work on ur marriage.

    But the way I thought about it was that's not revenge, because he won't feel what I feel. Making him feel what I feel would be for me to wait 20 years so that he thinks everything is a ok as I did & then have an affair.

    But honestly, who can or wants to carry a grudge for 20 years?

    Sam

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  5. Hello Elle, Sam, and EMS. I always enjoy reading what you have to say:) This post really got me thinking. The ow in our case is a habitual liar and quite frankly a con artist. After I discovered my husbands affair with her, it took me about 2 months to use my brain...it was swimming in utter confusion. I first had to come to terms with how toxic she is. You see she was my close friend and his "friend" and coworker. Once I realized that she indeed is an extremely messed up person who really only knows how to use people for her own gain...i could start making rational decisions. Was I angry at her and my husband? Hell yes! I made the decision to show mercy to myself and protect myself and in turn my husband. Luckily he was agreeable and mostly followed my lead. We agreed to cut all ties from this woman, which meant him leaving his job and us leaving our church and pretty much all of our friends. (very entangled situation) I said nothing to everyone one we knew, except for the ow who called me when my husband turned in his resignation letter...btw she was his boss. She said that she understood it was too hard for me to stay around her, to which I replied, "no it is that you and my husband should never have a relationship again in any capacity." He agreed with me on that and even commented on how he no longer "ran into her all the time" at work after that. I made the decision to extend mercy to her and my husband in order to protect my own interests... I did not have to hear an avalanche of bull shit from her and she did not get the opportunity to throw my husband under the bus. My husband is very remorseful and in some ways has received some justice for his behavior. He was out of work for several months and had to take a menial labor job until he could find one in his field. He has told me that he ruined the truth for a lie. So glad that he realizes that now. Does the ow deserve justice? Yes I think so, she suffered zero consequences for her behavior. However, her life is a consequence I guess...she is a sad hurting person, who goes around hurting others. So that is my take on grace. The real person you are showing grace when you extend mercy to others is yourself! Jen

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  6. Did I need to read this the day you posted it! Thanks. There is no justice in any of this. It can't undo what has been done and certainly will not take away the hurt and loss of trust. What I realize is that my husband will, for the rest of his life, know that he put our marriage and our relationship in jeopardy and he has to live with that knowledge. He will forever be making it up to me. If I were in his shoes, I don't know if I could do what he is doing- being honest (finally), not running away from me when I get angry, learning how to pay attention to me again, and realizing that had he only paid as much attention to me over those 6-8 years as he did her, we would have had something truly special (like we do now). He feels remorseful, sorry, knows he treated me badly, and has said he feels like a failure. And while I'm actually glad when I see him like this because it tells me he does love me, what terrible things to carry around in your soul forever. I hope I can continue to practice mercy (even when there are days I sure wish there could be justice). You have great insight, Elle. I sure appreciate all the help you give us.

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    1. Mercy. My new favorite word.
      I have been pining for justice but that isn't something I have control over. But I'd like to believe there is karma. Continued acts of selfishness, ego and blindness to others are repayed in the scheme of things. But again, not something I want to worry about for him or her. I am trying to keep my karma healthy and commit to living my own life with integrity, mercy, and love. Not easy though but boy is it hard. I am sooo hurt and angry. I fantasize that when I see her I would punch her in the face or spit at her. Not sure if I could keep myself from doing that if I did run into her. But I think her karma (and her carelessness with other people's lives) served up far worse when her child was seriously and permanently injured by her stupidity.

      But yeah, mercy....

      Thanks for letting this be the place where I can spew out the rage and hate, Elle to make room for the better me.

      -MBS

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    2. I thought about karma after I posted. I believe that is what's happening to my husband now- the yin and yang are balancing out. I continue to hope I can remember to be merciful in what I say and do, to apologize and ask for his forgiveness when I need to, and to be compassionate. Some days, that's very hard, and I think to myself, "You made your bed..." (or on nastier days, "Karma's a bitch, ain't it?"). And while I acknowledge his sorrow and remorse, I also know he has to work a lot of this out himself and make peace with himself. I truly believe he has the harder task. His self-esteem is zero, he may be entering a depression, and he needs my love and support to get through this, just like I need his. So I will keep working toward mercy- it's the right thing to do in my case.

      -55

      PS- I think this forum helps me WAAAY more than my counseling sessions. I'm so glad it's here to help me process all my feelings and issues.

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  7. Today is 9 mos. past D-Day for me. I spent the past 3 days in what has become standard behavior for me it seems: a lot of yelling at him, a lot of whys and how could yous, and lots of crying. For me the days before the anniv.date each month are the worst. I have only wanted justice and have said so to him over and over. I didn't feel he should "get away with it" and just be forgiven and loved again. I wanted him to suffer as I have and hurt. It didn't seem appropriate that he should feel anything but guilt and remorse. And I wanted to constantly remind him of how much harm he did and how much he hurt me.
    I don't know why but last night, I felt a little lighter. Somehow the dark cloud I've been living under seemed less ominous and not so much of a burden. And today too I feel a change in me. I still don't feel like I can forgive and certainly can't ever forget, but today I don't have that strong need to condemn him or want to lash out. I am even softer with myself! Not as critical of my imperfect body when I looked in the mirror. I feel more compassion for everything it seems. Yes I still hurt like crazy and can get myself red with anger if I think long enough about it; but perhaps grace (or mercy?) is beginning to soften me and open my heart. I hope I have taken a giant step in the lifelong journey of healing.
    This site and all of you who share it have been a necessary part of my life since D-Day. I wish you all goodness.
    J.

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    1. J,
      That's the thing about grace/mercy (same thing, if you ask me): It softens the heart toward ourselves too. As you're noticing, when we offer grace to those who've hurt us, we loosen the expectations of perfection toward ourselves.
      You're right in that it doesn't stop the hurt, but perhaps it allows a sliver of light in.
      Notice these moments of grace. Acknowledge your ability to just lean into them without being swallowed by pain. Slowly you'll be able to let go of the need for justice and appreciate the ease with which we offer mercy.
      I think it is a giant step toward healing. Be prepared for steps backward...but knowing that you can make this leap makes future leaps more likely.

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  8. I took a big step backwards today, and who did it hurt? Me. After 15 hours of hanging on to this "thing" which is really not important, and way in the past. Reading this, I think I can show myself some mercy and my husband also gets his by default...next time he will get it on purpose. :)

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  9. I am about 9 months out from Dday and while my current behavior probably feels more like mercy/grace to my husband (since it is an improvement over my anger) I would classify it as indifferent or annoyed. I either don't care one way or the other if he is attending a function with me or home for dinner. I don't really care if he calls or not during the day. I am annoyed by his advances or when he comments positively on my appearance. I said I'd give it a year and while the raging anger has subsided, I don't know if my indifference is an improvement or not. Shouldn't I care? Did anyone else experience this? Is it just a stage of the "process"?

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    1. This isn't mercy...it's the plain of lethal flatness or the "dead zone". It's numbing. Sometimes it passes on its own but in my experience, I had to fight my way back toward feeling something. I tried EMDR, which struck me as bizarre but actually worked. You could also try more traditional therapy. The fact that you're annoyed strikes me as more passive-aggressive and makes me think that the anger is still there, it's just underground.
      So yes, I think you should care. Yes, I think it is part of the process. But I also think it's something you should work toward getting past. Nobody wants a marriage in which you simply co-exist.

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    2. Thanks, Elle. I agree that no one wants a marriage in which they simply co-exist. I am in a holding pattern and I am unsure how to break out. Our marriage counselor "graduated" us from therapy after about 4 months and no one else knows about the situation. I spend a lot of time pretending things are fine (with other people) and have apparently taken on the "fake it until you make it" mantra. I have friends and family that I trust but no one that I would trust with this situation. I feel locked in self-pity and I would say that my behavior being passive-aggressive is probably an accurate assessment. Thank you for listening and for giving honest feedback.

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    3. I too am feeling that same way. I don't really care some days if he calls or texts me. I don't really care if he goes places with me. Most days lately I don't even want to be in the same room with him. I have withdrawn emotionally from him. He has noticed it and commented on it and asked if he can help me, but I really feel like he can't. I think it's all me. I'm 5 months out and now that I think the dust has settled so to speak, everything has been revealed, I'm afraid this is my body telling me that it's over. That I won't be able to get past this. I said I would give it a year and I'm trying. I still love him. I know that, but I feel this anger towards him now that I think could be contributing to the way I'm feeling. At first all my anger was directed at the OW, I think all that has shifted to him. I think too that in a passive aggressive way this is my way of hurting him??? I don't know. I just feel indifferent or annoyed most of the time. At the beginning when it all first came out, I was so determined to "get back what was mine" and I saw him as a victim of this woman too. Now I feel like this is all on him. He did this to me. He broke my soul and I will never be the same. And that angers me!! How dare he think he could do these things to me? I do want my marriage to work, and he is really trying to do everything right. I just am wondering if my current feelings mean that I really don't care anymore deep down. I too was wondering if this was part of the process and if other people have experienced it.

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    4. Not caring is not the same as mercy. Quite the contrary. Mercy is caring so much that it hurts but also knowing that the only way through this is forgiveness -- of him but also of ourselves.
      Your anger is legitimate. But behind anger is hurt or fear, probably both. You're in pain and terrified that you'll have to experience this again.
      Let yourself feel the anger recognizing that it's masking a deeper hurt and fear. Let yourself feel that too. It won't sweep you away. You'll simply feel it...and then the day will come when it will dissipate and in its place will be an acceptance, even a tiny one. We can't unring a bell. But we can move forward.

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  10. Anonymous~ we are both at the same time frame of the journey (my DDay 11/21) and I am just now experiencing some grace/mercy. I know exactly what you mean about advances and compliments....I process them as fake & trying too hard and I really don't welcome this (yet). I also gave myself a year to see how I feel as I knew that my feelings along the way have been way too intense to make any important decisions. I know my feelings for him have definitely changed but I don't want to throw away 20 years and do not want to go thru another divorce (this is both our 2nd marriage). So I am just trying to be with this newly found grace and be gentler with myself which is very important. I know I have been hard on me during this: as in, if I had been better he wouldn't have gone looking. You know the thing we do best: blame ourselves if something goes wrong! I think indifference comes from fear of trusting again. Trusting that he is genuine, putting yourself back out there to get hurt again, etc. I know that is an issue for me....and I know I still feel unsure that he really is attracted to me and values this marriage. Time is what we need to heal and trust. I know how important it is that I receive this grace and accept it as it will soften me. I cannot learn to trust or love him if I am boiling in anger. The times I feel that rage coming on, I have to do the trick of mentally holding up a stop sign or getting a broom to sweep the feelings away and replace with pleasantries.
    Lots of work!! But I have learned that I do not want to spend my life cloaked in anger. I hope this helps in some way. Take good care.
    J.

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    1. J- Thanks for your insight! I agree that the indifference is probably a symptom of fear and a way to protect myself from being hurt again. If I don't care, it can't hurt me (right?) but I also realize on an intellectual level that if I don't care things won't be repaired in a healthy way. Sometimes I wish this had happened before we had children because my situation would have been a lot easier. Every time I think of leaving, I am forced to play out in my mind exactly what that looks like for the kids and while I know they would survive it would mean selling the house/moving/tons of changes and it makes me so sad for them. My husband is adamant that he wants to work it out but I also process everything he says as fake and trying too hard. I don't blame you on not wanting to divorce a 2nd time and toss out 20 years. I have about half of that invested but he has almost as long invested in lying (even though the affair was more recent) and I don't know how someone who has lied for so long would even know how to recognize the truth so I feel really trapped by my perspective that he may be incapable of telling the truth.

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    2. If lying has become a way of life for your husband, then he needs counselling to learn another way. He needs accountability -- someone who will call him on his lies, even little ones. It's the only way you can have some measure of trust in him. I would argue the lying is the biggest problem, not the affair itself.
      And I completely hear you re. children. Leaving when children are impacted is not so simple, especially with a spouse who wants to rebuild the marriage. Nonetheless, it's your choice. Kids are resilient and an amiable divorce does far less harm to them.
      If, however, you choose to stay, then give it everything you've got. Insist that he get help for himself but give him that space to show you that he can become a better husband. My husband was also a habitual liar. Stupid little things like lying to people about why he was late to a party. It was a lifelong thing, the result of parents who were forever looking for him to mess up so he began lying to protect himself from their disapproval. It becomes habitual. He's changed a lot though I still call him on things (our children do, too, telling him flat-out when he's massaging the truth).

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  11. How interesting. I am 8 months out as of yesterday. Miracle number one is that I did not remember it as an anniversary. But we also were "graduated" from therapy because all was going really well! But the moment that happened, something felt terribly wrong. A few day later, he drank, (he has not had a drink since d day) and although he did not get blitzed, he drank and lied about it, when I asked him point blank more than once. It took him a few days to come clean because he wanted to figure out why he did it. I spun into a small depression and 'I don't care' phase for about a week. The worst I have felt in a long time, which is odd since I never thought I would ever be ok again 8 months ago. I have been more than OK I have been pretty damn good for the last few months. But the therapy was not long enough, so we are going back at least monthly, because right now I guess, i feel only accountable to someone else, not my partner, , and my guess is, judging by his behavior, my husband feels the same . We have not learned enough yet. Or at least I haven't. But I am not giving up not yet.

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    1. So it's a good news/bad news situation. Kudos to you for recognizing just how far you've gone (in a fairly short period of time!). And kudos to your husband for at least wanting to parse out why he did what he did. Is he in any sort of recovery program for his drinking? Does he have an accountability partner or some such?
      I think you're wise to go back into counselling. There are clearly some untapped issues. But I think it's also important to note that you weathered this pretty well.

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