Have you ever noticed that you’re keenly tuned in to the things in your world that mirror your own choices? There is a common human experience of noticing what is important to us reflected in our worlds. I’m sure there is a name for it, but I call it the Pregnant Phenomenon because that’s the first time it hit me. When I was pregnant, the whole world was pregnant. Where did all these pregnant women come from?? They were EVERYwhere, it’s like a conspiracy! Had they always been there? Here’s a more recent example of it. Now that I drive a used Honda CRV, I kid you not, I find myself sitting at stop lights entirely surrounded by CRVs. I had no idea. Clearly it is the most popular vehicle on the planet. Now, I doubt that there has been a run on CRV’s in the last month in my city. Nothing has really changed, only my noticing.
Such has been the growth of mercy in my life ever since I decided to stand for it. A year ago when I got a vanity plate for my previous used car, the one before the CRV (We really go through used cars. Is it me?) ( Yes.) It was a screaming yellow VW Beetle and it really needed a name tag. Really. Some cars are just asking for it.
But what did I want my car to say? I decided on +MERCY, hoping that the idea of adding mercy to someone’s life, day, or brief moment in traffic, was nice and it might make someone smile. It could even cause an increase of patience or a gentler thought to be produced. And it would be fun. But I was also asking God to teach me mercy, so, far from being a statement that I know a lot about mercy, my vanity plate is a prayer.
What happened next as I drove +MERCY around was that my noticing of cars like mine increased. Then my noticing of yellow ones, and who was driving them became a fascination. Sometimes VW Beetle drivers wave to each other – it was delightful. Perfect strangers who drive the same car, deciding to greet on the road. Fabulous. My noticing was growing because this little personal adjective I’d taken on (she drives a Bug) mattered to me. But this crazy other awareness was also rising because of the vanity plate.
I was noticing mercy. Mercy came a’knockin’. And I learned I was not merciful.
It started with people holding signs at stop lights. They were everywhere. I’m not ashamed to say I was unprepared for it. I had to make some decisions. Certainly a person driving a mercy billboard should have something on hand to give to the guy holding the cardboard sign that, if I glanced at it, read, “This is AWKWARD for me too. Single father of 3, will work for food”. So I began carrying small things to give away. Water bottles with a gift card attached. And when I gave them, I felt worse instead of better, but I told myself it was not about me. Ignoring them was worse.
I feel the need to add that for several years now, as part of my work, I get to love on people, pray with people, and create opportunities that get folks in touch with God and each other. But, still, I am very much on a steep and tense journey to love people in day-changing hope-renewing ways. There’s a lot more to being merciful than how we treat the man on the street. And since I’m not dead (just terminal, like you) I have every reason to hope that I will get better at it. Whether in my work or parked next to you at a stoplight.
Jen Hatmaker (whose books are wonderous invitations to man-up and move away from the average American normal and toward the heart of real love and mercy) said in a teaching once that at first it is very awkward to care about the poor. That feeling of awkwardness is prickly, foolish, and juvenile at the beginning, but if you can get over yourself, you’ll never regret the gain. It’s awkward for them too, as the man at the stoplight reminds me on a regular basis.
Several years ago in Rwanda, and more recently in Nicaragua I have seen the forgotten fringe and they are much nicer than we are. I’ve been welcomed into humble dirt-floor homes and fed tea and bread. On more than one occasion, I’ve been prayed FOR by these families, while I sat speechless. And on the plane ride home, feeling like an astronaut returning to earth, I have vowed to be forever changed. But mercy is not forged with vows. Vows are urgent intentions made in a moment. Mercy is a pathway. A ladder from self to other. A merciful heart, unless one is gifted with one by God (and he does do that, which is very cool) , increases with the softening of days of noticing and refusing not to notice.
The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
the LORD gives light to the eyes of both.
Father of all mercy, thank you for letting me see a little more clearly out of these eyes that are so clouded with my own scarcity. Fill my cup as I fill other cups. I recognize that means that as I withhold, you may withhold. God, forbid it.