They may not have had their conversation in my presence if they’d read all the chapters of my story. But we’re new friends with shallow roots and although I try to live my life transparently, I don’t pull everything out of my closet for everyone to see, especially if we haven’t known each other for long.
Nothing they said was offensive or even mean-spirited and I think even had they known all of my story, they would still hold firm to their positions, although I think maybe they would use more question marks and periods and fewer exclamation points. My feelings weren’t hurt, nor do I think any less of them. They will probably never know how close to home their discussion hit for me.
Actually, I agreed with their conclusions. A few years ago, maybe I would have emphatically added my own chorus of “amens” to the discussion. They were talking in generalities about people they didn’t know who had made some very bad choices. But I know and love people who have made those very same decisions and are right this minute dealing with the consequences. I’ve also lived long enough to be daily aware of how much I depend on God’s mercy and forgiveness for my very being on this earth. I’m much more cognizant of how there, but for the grace of God, go I.
A few days before this conversation with my friends took place, I finally got around to watching Les Miserables. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about its central themes: redemption, forgiveness, justice, and mercy. For most of my life, I could identify with Inspector Javert. I’ve believed the guilty must be punished and held accountable for their wrongdoings. I spent a lot of time feeling disappointed because no one, including myself, could ever measure up to the standards I had set. I didn’t understand mercy until I felt like I had messed up so completely I was completely unworthy of it. Intellectually, I know I’ve never deserved mercy. Mercy, by its very nature, is undeserved. But I believed there was a point beyond which God could not forgive. I put limits on his love and mercy. Now I understand God is not good when I do what He says. God is good because He is God and God is good. God is not merciful because I deserve it. God is merciful because He is God and God is mercy. I am so grateful God doesn’t show mercy the way I do. Because of his lovingkindness to me, I’m becoming more aware of how much other people need His mercy, too.
We live in a world where with a few keystrokes and in a matter of seconds, people all over the world can know our opinion about anything we want to share. I’m sharing these thoughts of mine in a blog post so I’m as guilty as anyone else of adding my voice to the chorus of those who want to be heard. I just wonder if it’s become too easy to say what we think without thinking about the weight of our words. I have 1,007 Facebook “friends.” I can scroll through my “news” feed and read what many of them think about just about every popular topic of the day. But they aren’t all really all my “friends” and what they think about everything under the sun isn’t really “news.” We confuse our connectedness with relationship, but they aren’t the same. I read news stories and Twitter feeds and blogs and think I “know” these people, but I don’t. Not really. But somehow my lack of relationship doesn’t prevent me from labeling them as how I perceive them to be. I judge their actions and assign them worth according to who I think they are. It’s as if real people have been characters in my own little reality show.
We mean well, but sometimes we don’t even know what we don’t know. We think we have all of the facts, but sometimes we don’t get the whole story.
We are all flawed characters in His story. Our stories all come together in His. Maybe we can afford a little patience to those who may be in a different stage of character development than we are. For most of the people in our lives, we will only know pieces of their stories. For a very few, we may have access to chapters the rest of the world will not be allowed to read. But I promise you, everyone has a story.
Yes, wrong must be punished. Yes, decisions have consequences. Yes, we are all in need of love. And forgiveness. And mercy.
So what am I trying to say? I’m not sure I even know. I’ve been typing and deleting, trying to come to a neat and tidy conclusion but I can’t find one. I think maybe this post is a reminder to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” My friends’ conversation helped me see how even well-meaning words can sting when we don’t know the battles a person is fighting. It’s made me want to be more aware of what is unseen in the lives of the people I come in contact with everyday. I’m praying God will help me to love the way I’ve been loved and show mercy like God has shown mercy to me.
And I’ll keep living my part of His story….one page at a time.