Mercy for Yourself

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Sooner or later, we all say or do things that are utterly, abysmally, and unforgivably stupid. Here's why we need to extend ourselves a little grace.

Most people have a merciless expectation of themselves; they vow never to do or say anything outrageously stupid. Most of us learn the hard way that this is absolutely impossible - at least this has always been impossible for me.

I ran into an acquaintance I had not seen for some time, and after a few seconds of greetings, I asked, “Well, how’s your wife?”

“Wonderful, I suspect,” he replied softly. “She’s in heaven where she has been for six months.” 

What does one do at such a moment? Suicide is an option, of course. Just drop to your knees right in front of the offended party and open your veins. Keep repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry,” as he watches you go on to be with his wife, where presumably you can spend eternity apologizing to her.

Or you can just add yet another memory to the ever growing file of things you’ve done to make yourself feel like a donkey. Everyone has such a list. We try to forget the list. Suppression works in spurts, but sooner or later one of these painful memories will force itself onto the screen of our mental computer, reminding us of how utterly, abysmally, unforgivably stupid we are.  That one incident (and remember, there’s a file full) was sufficient to prove it.

There’s only one cure: cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself. This is the mercy of mirth. Those who do not learn to laugh at themselves are doomed to merciless self-condemnation. A sense of humor insulates us against the blows of life. And a sense of humor is not knowing what’s funny, it’s knowing what’s funny about you. 

One year, at our annual youth convention, a wonderful kid named Ian showed five hundred dreadfully serious-about-themselves teens how to laugh at life’s tragedies. Ian, who was born with only one leg, wore a sophisticated but strange-looking prosthesis. The first time I saw him in shorts, I knew that this handsome, calm young man was not at all insecure about his leg. But when he put the leg on backwards in the boys’ dorm and ran with the artificial foot facing to the rear, he brought the house down. Suddenly Ian plunged to the floor, grabbing the “ankle” of the prosthetic device as he howled in pain.

“I sprained my ankle!” he cried in agony. “Help me up, please. I sprained my ankle.”

Two boys tenderly lifted him to his feet as he winced at the painful sprain. Only when he winked did we realize that, of course, a person cannot sprain an artificial ankle! It nearly caused a riot of relieved laughter.

The really sad people in life are merciless with themselves, demanding mistake-free, idiot-proof, physically, mentally and spiritually perfect living. We mortals must mentally and spiritually perfect living. We mortals must have mercy. Psalm 103:14 says that God “knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” If God can remember that, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we cut ourselves some slack and learn to laugh at our failures and foul-ups along the way? Have a little mercy on yourself.

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