The Joy of Clemency

People talk a lot about getting revenge. “Living well is the best revenge” is an oft-quoted literary expression, said wryly to conquer cynicism or to acknowledge the devil most don’t think exists.  People may not go all the way to revenge but they do talk about getting over past hurts.  They talk wistfully about being “resentment”- free.

There is a famous restaurant conversation, which goes like this.  Waiter approaches table.  You are eating a good meal slowly.  The waiter asks if you are still working on this.  You assure him that you were never working on this.  You were always delighting in this.  At a dollar a forkful, why wouldn’t you?

The get-over-resentment conversation is like this, too.  “I am really working on getting over my past hurts.”  When we have to work too hard on getting over resentments, or beyond revenge, we miss the boat. It is easier than you think.  There is a delight in showing clemency.  It is the delight God shows in forgiving us.  It is fun.  It is spacious.  It is generous.  It is slow, not pushed. Nor is it pushy.  When you speak to that waiter, you speak with a smile in your voice.

I’ll never know why attachment to resentment or revenge is so strong in us.  It does not delight us and it does self-punish.   As Lillian Daniel said to me just recently, resentment is drinking rat poison and hoping the rat dies.  Why would anyone do that?  Especially when the joy of clemency is ours to give and to receive.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

Jesus, you who showed us the path beyond revenge and resentment, teach us to delight in clemency, for those who murder, those who abuse, those who steal, those who work at their meals, those who rush us–and help us to do so in large and small ways.  Amen.

– by Donna Schaper, from StillSpeaking


“Compassion is expressed in gentleness. When I think of the persons I know who model for me the depths of the spiritual life, I am struck by their gentleness … They are gentle because they have honestly faced the struggles given to them and have learned the hard way that personal survival is not the point. Their caring is gentle because their self-aggrandizement is no longer at stake. There is nothing in it for them. Their vulnerability has been stretched to clear-eyed sensitivity to others and truly selfless love.” — John E. Biersdorf (from Healing of Purpose: God’s Call to Discipleship)

I found this quote in Sojourners Verse & Voice email today. It spoke to me, probably because I know someone like this–one who is gentle, kind, is exuberant as he shows God’s love in everything and to all, is encouraging and uplifting, and truly is an example of what it means to live like Jesus.

I want to be like that. I’ve got a long way to go, but that’s the kind of person I want to become. God help me.