So he says, "have you ever thought about the fact that we say that we love pizza or we love chocolate and then we say 'I love you' to each other?" Um, no, I had not thought about that. He continues, "so do I feel the same about you as I do about pizza?" Well, darlin', I'm really hoping that isn't the case, but I know that I love you even more than chocolate (at least I thought so at the time). Thought-provoking though it was, that was not my most satisfying conversation ever.
Fast-forward about fourteen years. That boyfriend is long gone and I haven't really thought much about the loving pizza vs. the girlfriend conversation in awhile. Then ten days ago I wrote a blog post about showing mercy. Immediately following that, the verse Micah 6:8 started popping up EVERYWHERE. If you didn't see it, then you weren't paying much attention because it was all over the place. In blogs. On websites. On plaques, coasters, and ornaments.
Just so you won't have to go look it up, here is what it says:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Aha! There is that word "love" again. Seriously, He doesn't just want me to show mercy, He wants me to LOVE it. Now, I know that I love receiving mercy, but I am having an inkling that isn't where we are going with this. Drat. This induces another whole round of pondering. And the old boyfriend's questions came back to me.
So what does Micah mean when he says that God wants me to love mercy? And what does love mean anymore? I realize that the languages the Bible was written in often had different words for different aspects of the same emotion. But I can't read those languages and I imagine that God doesn't want me to use learning ancient Hebrew as a stalling tactic here.
I googled (still can't believe that is a verb now) the words "I love" to see what would come up. Just skimming through a few pages gave me some very interesting results. Evidently people love Bees (some computer game), charts, New York, sushi, the 80’s, farmers, vinyl, cats, and freebies. There was even a Bud Light commercial a few years ago where one man tells another "I love you, man!" in the hopes of receiving a beer. And when he comes away beer-less, he cries out, "Where's the love, man?" Oh, his kingdom for a beer! Where is the love, indeed?
And just to add a little more confusion, what is mercy? There doesn't seem to be as much over-use of this word in our culture, so I'm going to go with Webster's definition on this one: "lenient or compassionate treatment; compassionate treatment of those in distress". Well, okay then.
This is all very fascinating, but it doesn't bring me any closer to understanding what God wants me to do here. So I think about what mercy has looked like for me recently.
A few months ago while my Mom was dying (even though we didn't realize it at the time), our family had some very intense moments together. For those of you who don't know us, I need to tell you that for years our family was like a bundle of incendiary devices held together by a putty called Mom. We were all pretty sure that the whole thing would explode if anything happened to her. Looking back, I see it was God's mercy that kept us all together.
During that six weeks of Mom's illness, our nerves were stretched taut. Tempers could flare pretty easily. I would answer the doctor's questions while Daddy was still trying to figure out what she said (he has massive hearing loss), and BAM! his temper would flare and he would snap at me. Daddy would be needy and keep interrupting my sister while she was trying to work on her job search (which was a requirement of receiving unemployment benefits), and BAM! her temper would flare and she would stomp out of the room. Daddy would belittle my efforts to help and BAM! my temper would flare and I would end up yelling at my innocent husband.
Not coincidentally, during this same time, God had my dear, dear friend Amy standing next to me saying, "show mercy". She wanted me to show mercy in every intense, hurtful, scary moment. That meant keeping my mouth shut, being a peacemaker, and letting go of my anger (which was a huge monster of its own). I was unwilling at first, but I finally started trying as much as possible to show mercy because it seemed like a better idea than anything I had come up with. I'm surprised that Micah 6:8 didn't show up embroidered on guest towels somewhere during that period, but I guess God wanted to wait till we piled on some other "show mercy" situations before He popped me with that. I am grateful for His mercy upon us and for Amy's encouragement during this time. However, showing mercy didn't teach me how to love it. I knew what the mercy action looked like in most of the family situations, but I had not found some deep affectionate bond for mercy.
So over the past three months since Mom passed away, we have been practicing showing mercy to each other. The family unit hasn't disintegrated without Mom. Again, I love receiving the mercy, but I don't love giving it so much.
Yesterday, a friend of mine called to tell me that her mother and her ex-boyfriend had both committed suicide on the last weekend of April (not together, just during the same time). She happened to be the one who found her mother's body. My friend lives several hours away from me so we rarely see each other, but we had interacted on Facebook since then and she had never mentioned anything. I was stunned to the core and could feel it physically. I was praying hard for her while still trying to listen to whatever she wanted to say. This isn't the closest that suicide has touched my life, but I still haven't developed some amazing wisdom on what to say at these times, so I just listened. She told me that her mother had struggled with mental illness for over 10 years and that her mother's friends had not been very understanding, compassionate, or just plain polite about it. And then she said, "But you know what? All of those people that were mean to Mom while she was ill? They came to the funeral and I hugged each of them. I just think God wants me to be nice like that." To show mercy. To give compassion where none has been given. I can tell you that my friend did not love mercy at that point, but she knew that it was what God wanted. I was amazed that at a time like that she had the presence of mind to think about showing mercy to others.
And so even beyond the quilt squares and doilies with Micah 6:8 on them, I was spurred on to wonder what does it mean to LOVE mercy? Now, my dear friend, you are probably thinking to yourself, "I've been grinding through this blog post hoping to get to your point of what it means to love mercy. Get to it already." Well, I think I am going to have to disappoint you. I haven't figured it out at all.
I'm hoping that if I continue to show mercy as much as possible (through the strength God gives me), that I will start to learn what it really means to love mercy. And please believe me when I say that I want to know. I want to know in my heart what it feels like to love mercy. That long-ago conversation with my boyfriend has at least helped me understand that I do love mercy more than pizza and more than chocolate even. I might even get some hand-knitted finger warmers with Micah 6:8 on them as a reminder. Or maybe they'll say, "Where's the love, man?"