Mercy is at the heart of what is means to be human. Living in a fallen world, we are most ourselves and most free when we are forgiving others.
Mercy requires that we allow our souls – namely, our intellect and will – to align and guide our emotions toward what is true, good, and beautiful. A raw expression of emotion, which is so popular in our society, will not free us or allow us to find peace. Mercy calls us to mature and quiet our emotions, allowing them to be expressed in positive and edifying ways.
Here are five steps that can help us in this process of mercy:
- Receive mercy. In order to give something, we first have to possess it. In our own lives, we have to seek mercy from God and from those around us. We have to be humble and ask for mercy when we have been offensive or hurtful. We have to patiently accept the forgiveness offered to us by others, especially if they need time to give it. In this first step, there is no room for pride, defensiveness, scrupulosity, or shame. We have to allow ourselves to have empty hands and to seek and receive mercy. We have to form a culture of forgiveness in our own hearts.
- Pray. When we forget a life of prayer, we are stuck in our own small world. We are disadvantaged in trying to find solutions or help beyond our own world or understanding. Prayer expands our horizons. It opens us up to new and fresh possibilities. It gives us diverse perspectives and a strength that we didn’t know we possessed. This second step allows our hearts to be broadened and to see the other person as true person, and not merely as offender. This step softens our hearts and allows us to do the unimaginable.
- Name the offense. Oftentimes when something difficult or insulting has happened, we try to forget it and move on. Such a reaction, however, does not help us in giving mercy. In our process to forgive, we have to name the offense. As we name an offense, it loses its edge and power over us. This is our third step and it can cause us a lot of discomfort, but it’s a necessary step and one that helps us to forgive and to be free.
- Speak words of mercy. A this point in the process of mercy, we name the person who has given the offense and we verbally say that we forgive them and we ask blessings upon them. This does not legitimize any hurt or harm that has been done to us. It does not minimize our pain. This is the act of a person who truly seeks to give mercy, which is allowing another person the freedom to change and become a better person. It forgives the debt owed to us and empowers the other person to become something better than what they were. We do this fourth step, even if our emotions are torn and we struggle to have peace in our hearts, because we see the freedom that comes with mercy.
- Order our Emotions. After giving mercy to our offender, we must name and expel any bad emotions from our own hearts. We have to be cautious of bitterness, pride, and anger. We have to avoid dialoguing with the darkness of the past and stay focused on the bright future ahead of us. We have to remind ourselves of the freedom and peace that we seek in our own lives and allow that desire to be our focus and inspiration.
These five steps are simple in their process, but difficult in their living out. Depending on the offense, they might be some of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. And yet, as we strive for mercy, these steps are necessary. As we pine to breath and thrive in freedom and peace, we have to follow and implement these five steps. The process will be difficult, but the rewards are worth it.