When things feel hopeless ... try mercy
Originally printed in the Christian Science Sentinel
There was a time when I was bitter and cynical - disappointed about unfulfilled hopes. As a child, I had no tools for expressing my frustration about the repressive atmosphere in my home. I derived comfort from the regularity of activities like homework and succeeded academically. For a while, practicing the piano also provided comfort. But the time came when I couldn't figure out how to practice on my own and didn't have the emotional strength to concentrate on the demands of the music. So I completely stopped practicing between lessons. Even though I'd been identified as musically gifted, I quickly fell behind my musical peers. As an adult, I was bogged down by disappointment. Still, I sensed that there was a better way to think and to live.
I searched. One Sunday morning it came to me to go to church. The words of the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy - the sermon - practically lifted me out of my seat! I learned that a Weekly Bible Lesson was available, and I began to study it earnestly. As I studied it, I was able to concentrate better, and the quality of my thought improved. I learned to rethink the present and the past, and to be more forgiving.
I learned the simple but grand fact that God is perfect and good, and that I am God's reflection. Believing and acting on this truth, my self-esteem grew, and I became more alert. I started to feel God's mercy. It occurred to me that being able to forgive people was a great privilege for me. Also, instead of feeling guilt and shame about my mistakes, I wanted to learn how to correct both the mistakes and what caused them.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7). It's interesting that in the process of being merciful, we're blessed with mercy. We can begin our own cycles of mercy.
Perhaps you're not in the mood to recognize mercy when you see it. Or maybe you don't think there has been any at all. But maybe you'd be willing to look for ways in which people are often kind to one another: A driver smilingly waves another car into the line of traffic from a closed lane. A stranger finds a lost wallet filled with money and turns it in. Did you read about the owner of the Malden Mills factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts? In 1995, Aaron Feuerstein continued to pay his employees during the time it took to rebuild his factory after it burned to the ground.
As I began to think more clearly and to view my past in a different light, it dawned on me that the piano lessons I'd had were an example of God's mercy. Realizing my limited musical experience, and sensitive to the personal and family turmoil that made it difficult for me to practice, my teacher taught me at a snail's pace. She was patient, gentle, and kind - she never spoke a harsh word to me. The music she painstakingly taught me over many years had become my college audition pieces, and I played them at my audition for the University of Redlands. I was accepted into its fine music school. Although I left graduate school after just one semester to begin a search for emotional stability, I had always kept my hand in music. About 20 years later, I began to teach in music schools and to perform solo piano repertoire.
Perhaps you're feeling overwhelmed by the trouble you're in, and can't imagine thinking about - or acting on - spiritual ideas. But you can begin the process gently, by finding within yourself enough hope that you can help someone else by being merciful to them.
I've learned there are ways to be merciful while waiting patiently. For example, think before speaking. Give the other person lots of second chances. Be the driver who lets someone into your lane. Stop blaming others. If it's necessary to correct someone, do it privately. Learn not to react to another person's behavior. Think about helping other people creatively. The list is endless.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor