The three year old sighed exasperatedly and said, “Oh mercy!” as she walked through the kitchen. Sticking magnets to the wooden kitchen drawers had not worked out as she planned, and she was now on to something more productive. I smirked at her burdened tone. Life is so hard when you’re three. Then, I realized, ashamedly, that she had learned that expression, the sigh and the exclamation, from me. That’s my token phrase of vexation…and my plea, I think.
Why do I say it? Mercy? It’s a kind of reminder, I think, to help me to remember to be patient, forgiving, accepting in moments of frustration. It also keeps me from saying things that would be inappropriate for little ears to hear.
I had a teacher in high school who claimed that mercy was her ‘gifting’. I disagreed. She was preferential, manipulative, and hypocritical. I did not learn merciful traits from her. But she did cause me to begin to wonder what mercy looked like. I think it was more like the teacher who understood someone’s phobia of public speaking and let him turn in a written report instead. Or the coach who didn’t ream out his players when they lost dreadfully to a more affluent school than ours. Or the teacher who bought a winter coat for a child whose mother wouldn’t even realize her son needed one. Or even the student who began a shoe collection for families who lived in landfills in other countries. Yeah, those were merciful actions.
I try not to get impatient at stoplights when the car ahead of me won’t go…maybe it’s a mom looking for that all important pacifier. Or waiting for her child to sit correctly in the car seat before she will drive. When a driver zooms past me on the road, I say a little prayer for their safety…maybe they are taking their child to the ER. Or they’ve just gotten a call about their own parents’ health. When that coworker will not shut up in the meeting, I try to realize that she just needs affirmation and remind myself to say something nice to her when I can.
I don’t want to enable negative behaviors in people’s lives. But I also don’t know their whole stories. If they heard my snarky comments, saw me recklessly driving, watched me lose my temper, I would hope that rather than gossip or judge, they would just say a little prayer for me and plead, “Oh mercy!”