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A few years back I had a strange morning. A morning in which the backhand of criticism and the forehand of encouragement both took their shots. In a matter of minutes I was presented with two scenarios, I am either a poor example of protection and security over my children, or a rich one.
I was literally greeted at my door by a stranger who chastised me for allowing my children to play "unsupervised" in the street. I thanked him without defense and called my children inside for lunch. My hands were shaking with the rage I felt upon this incident.
I did not defend myself to him, but I will here.
I checked on them, I instructed them, I knew where they were, I prayed over them and I live on the end of a dead end street. My children do not have a back yard to play in, so I occasionally allowed them to play out front where there was minimal traffic and ample room for them drive their little car around.
I did question it. I did wonder if my entire street of neighbors were looking out their windows wondering what sort of mother would allow her young boys to play in the street while she is inside clipping coupons. I did not take it lightly, but I did not allow it to burrow under my skin either.
Moments later, mercy showed up. Within about 10 minutes of that incident my phone rang. It was the librarian from Owen's school calling to thank me for a note I had sent, calling attention to the content of a book Owen had brought home from school. It wasn't a big deal, just an innocent oversight in which a new age, American Indian spiritualist philosophy was disguised in the context of a children's story. It said "Disney" on the cover and showed a couple happy cartoon bears smiling at each other. A common mistake and I wanted them to know because I knew they would want to know. I trust Owen's school like that. The librarian on the phone talked for about 10 minutes, while Ivan and Aron ate their lunch. She brought mercy to me, in her heartfelt thanks and approval of my involvement in my child's well being.
How interesting, I thought. How oddly contradictory these circumstances are. To be presented with opinions and to have the opportunity to choose what I believe about myself in such an obvious forum made me smile a bit. Maybe, I thought, I should be taking notes here. These things don't happen like this every day.
This morning it became even clearer to me as I read from Psalms 13:3-6
"Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me."
These words were especially emphasized to me, "I have trusted in Your mercy." I hadn't thought of the words of encouragement I received that day as "mercy" but isn't that what they were?
Mercy, then, is something to trust in, to have faith in, to rely on. Mercy is more than compassion, it is a benevolent understanding from the God who knows my best and worst. It is a gift of His grace as He chooses to treat me with tenderness that only righteous motives deserve. I wrote in my journal:
"To be humbled by a fool is no humility at all, it is a mockery of truth. To be encouraged by the righteous is a blessed embrace. A brick in the ever strengthened wall of character God is building in us, and a clearer identification of God's great intent to enrich His Kingdom."
Then I read these words in Psalm 43. They are a beautiful reminder that when criticism is valid and correction is necessary, God will be the judge and His judgment will come in a way that will build up, not humiliate.
"Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise You,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God."
I looked up a few more Scriptures on mercy, as the thought of His mercy being something so strong and trustworthy was digesting in me. I wanted a New Testament confirmation of it's value.
I found 1 Timothy 1:16 "However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life."
Paul was explaining to Timothy how ignorant and completely wrong he had been and how God did not judge him by destroying him, rather, He was shown mercy. It was not a hard core display of God's righteous strength that was used to show the great power of Christ. No, indeed it was the gentle encouragement of mercy that showed His loving restraint and patience. This, Paul explained, is a pattern for those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
Again in 1 Peter we see mercy's role in eternal life. I Peter 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,"
From these words I gained a little more perspective on my experience with criticism. Taking a look at the messages and the messengers, it is easy to recognize the judgment that is unproductive against the mercy that produces hope and life.
As I was about to close up my concordance my eyes fell on the reference "Ps 23.6." I didn't have to read on to know what those words meant. "surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life..." Yes, I thought, mercy followed.
We do not have to waste our time punching holes in the arguments and opinions of fools. These are shallow judgments with no life in them. When we are accosted by these critics and their lifeless words, we can smile, look away and wait with confidence. We can trust that whatever judgment is thrown our way it will be soon overshadowed. If we wait for it, if we look for it, if we trust Him to bring it to our hearts, mercy will follow and with it a greater hope and deeper understanding of His great love and the eternal life He is bestowing on us daily.
The next time the co-worker belittles, the teenager rolls his eyes, the friend carelessly speaks and the acquaintance unconsciously corrects, do not argue with foolishness. Instead, smile and look over their shoulder for truth to come your way in the form of goodness and mercy. They are promised to follow you all the days of your life.
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