When We’re Stingy with Mercy: Hope for Parents that Fall Short

My oldest misses the mark and I am stingy. Stingy with the mercy that delivered me. In that moment, I’m a miser of the lovingkindness and longsuffering that rescued me. She’s looking at me with eyes so sorry for how she messed up, so heartfelt from her nine-year-old heart. And I, weary of the wear and tear, the sibling scrape, the endless words that bite, I take her sweet open heart in my hand and I’m tough on it. Instead of sweeping it close with that mercy that triumphs – the loving-kindness that reaches beyond all our failings – I find myself moving in to further magnify the fault lines. I give her the “should have’s,” with my disappointment making its mark.

My own gaping fault lines surface here.

And later, in the darkness I lay awake, spilling tears with silent prayers, grieving the discrepancy between my heart and mouth. My actions and words a thin display of my convictions. Why am I still so stingy with mercy? Still penny-pinching with patience? The chasm between my theology and my actions breaks my heart at times and I find myself in a flurry to cover it, to bridge it, to somehow close the expanse.

Encountering Mercy when I am Unmerciful

And then He comes. He comes in mercy to the one who has amnesia when it’s time to show mercy – the one who reverts to tightfistedness instead of extravagance. I’m grieving that I didn’t pull her close and flood her with tender delight, and He pulls me close and does just that. To me. He floods me with mercy.

And He gives revelation here. He reminds me of His lofty Throne and His lowly manger and the gap He closed between them. The Holy One dwelt among us, amidst our weak and fragile estate, and lived without the slightest breach between radiant, shining glory and every word He spoke and action He lived. All was pure and without any shadows of sin. In Him is that single door and bridge between God and man – that One Person in which there is no gap or discrepancy.

And my tears change in seeing Him. Mercy does that to the heart. It turns the salty sting of self-remorse into tears of the sweet surprise of forgiveness. It removes the burden of performance by the free gift of grace. It moves the eyes and the focus. Off of my gaps and my missing the mark and onto to the One who is Himself the closer of all my gaps. The One who bowed so low as to make Himself the bridge that bends over the waters of my failures and weakness and unbelief. The One who covers me.[framed_box]This too is part of the transforming process. Encountering mercy when I am unmerciful. Discovering His gentleness with me when I have handled another’s heart without tenderness. Things go even deeper here. And He knew they would.

It’s to the merciful that He shows mercy, but He knows it’s through the encounter with His mercy that one becomes such (Matt. 5:7). He knows that only as I linger long in the covering of Mercy Himself will I be changed. This process of transformation is about His zeal to utterly refashion me from stingy to extravagant, that I would become one not just touched by mercy, but revolutionized – until it flows freely whenever tested, whenever I’m in the position to offer it to another.

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He knows that over time this scandalous kindness toward me will not only transform me, it will make me great in love and mercy towards many (2 Sam. 22:36; Ps. 18:35). In the end, mercy will triumph (James 2:13). Thus, He comes to me when I’m cringing over taking her apology and tweaking it because it didn’t go far enough, and He breaks in – not with disappointment and scolding – but with shining, radiant mercy. The kind that buckles my knees and brings surprised tears of joy.

The Perhaps of His Mercy

And then there’s that perhaps of God – that mysterious perhaps beneath the covering that envelops me as a parent. It’s that perhaps that she will encounter His lovingkindness more greatly here – here where He’s flooded me with His mercy in the very moment of my failure to show it. The mysterious perhaps that my gaps will not be her pitfalls but her windows. That she will peer just a little more clearly and more deeply into the mercy that reaches to the skies because I found myself not capable, but broken, not a professional but a novice at tender-mercies (Ps. 36:5). And perhaps, in turn, she will know all the more deeply His gentleness toward her.

And it will make her great – truly great – in mercy and love (Ps. 18:35).

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