On this fourth day into contemplating turning 50, desperately resisting the compulsion to take the easy route and apply the term angst (though it is likely more akin to ambivalence—but, more on that later), I am drawn to consider mercy. A recent entry to a blog I follow reviewed Anne Lamott’s book, Hallelujah Anyway, with a beautiful hand and great wisdom, but mostly leaving Lamott’s words to speak for themselves. She calls mercy “radical kindness” and it occurs to me that kindness is the last thing I give myself when I begin the long spiral down the chute of “what ifs” and “too old now fors.”
I resist the good-natured counsel I often hear to “be gentle” with myself and to call it “grace” without any sense of doing something about it. How can I be kind to myself, radically or no, and not get stuck binge-watching Netflix with cumin corn chips and a whiskey sour? Lamott, with her severe honesty is instructive here:
“[Mercy] includes everything out there that just makes us sick and makes us want to turn away, the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer . . . .”
It is this “and doing goodness anyway” that supports everything that I have preached or written about, how I instruct my children and counsel others, but often forget myself. When I find that I am so weary of trying to make things right in this world, to do justice and motivate others to do the same, but keep hitting walls . . . over, and over, and over, and over . . . and 50 years in . . .
Do goodness anyway, Nicole. Of course. And there is such power in realizing that doing goodness, practicing mercy, is a spiritual act. Doing goodness, practicing mercy is the oxygen that sustains the life of one who lives in the reality of the Kingdom of God—on earth as it is in heaven.
“Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.”
Yes. And this brings me back to the words I put on the opening picture. The first piece, forgiveness – with mercy, inextricable – is the first step. Must be the first step. Forgiving those who crushed (knowingly or no) and forgiving myself for grasping too tightly, or for giving up (way) too easily. Because, do I want this or do I want to be right? And with Lamott “Well, can I get back to you on that?”
“I want to want this softening, this surrender, this happiness. Can I get a partial credit for that? The problem is, I love to be, and so often am, right. It’s mood-altering, and it covers up a multitude of sins… I know justice and believing that you’re right depend on cold theological and legal arguments where frequently there is no oxygen, but honestly I don’t mind this. I learned to live in thin air as a small child.”
How does she know me so well? But, yes. I do want this surrender, to practice mercy and breathe the oxygen of goodness, and be the fragrance of that rose still more fragrant when crushed under that heal. Because the kingdom of God is a community, a gathering of people just as fragile and prone to being crushed – and crushing each other. But if I choose to do goodness anyway, you might choose goodness – even when I may crush you (Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy). And behavioral science shows that behavior is contagious. So, perhaps you might commit with me to do goodness anyway – today? Just today. Because, like God, mercy is timeless – even for those who are (nearly) 50.