Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
Where do you turn when the chips are down? To a bowl of chips? To a friend? To a book or movie or online game? Most of us have comfort blankets. Things we automatically grab onto when we feel miserable. The problem is that false comfort is no comfort at all. So what’s the real deal like? What is mercy like and why aren’t we choosing to choose it?
When I was a little girl, I had a comfort blanket. In my case it was literally a blanket from the cot I used to sleep in when I was a baby. Imaginatively, I called it Beddy.
Beddy was essential at bedtime. This nasty, yellowing ripped piece of fabric with a knot in one corner had a comforting smell and texture that was all it took for me to calm down and feel soothed.
You may not have had a beddy, but you probably had a bear, or a rabbit, or an old scrap of blanket that you attached to and carried you through some of the tricky transitional times of childhood.
“Most of us have our comfort blankets."
As a grown up, we turn not so much to literal comfort blankets as virtual comfort blankets. So let me ask again, where do you turn when the chips are down? Most of us have our comfort blankets. Things we automatically grab onto when we feel miserable. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction to pain, or fear, or weariness.
Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with watching a movie or phoning a friend when things get tough, but things can get tricky when they take the place of the one who wants to offer you genuine comfort. So what does the real deal look like?
"I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Exodus 33:19 NIV)
When Moses asked to see God’s glory in Exodus 33, he got to witness the revealed nature of God walking past him. One of the first qualities God showed him was his mercy.
The Hebrew word he uses for mercy is ‘racham.’ The root meaning of the word racham is ‘womb.’ God’s mercy for us is like that of a mother. Racham is also translated as cherishing, soothing, a gentle emotion, softness, to have tender affection. God’s mercy has a wonderfully soothing, calming effect that would knock the paltry effects of the most beloved comfort blanket into the middle of next week. This is the comfort that God has for us; this is what is on offer for us to encounter, just as Moses encountered it.
So why do we so rarely reach out for his mothering-mercy and instead turn on the TV or break open a bottle of wine?
“The good news is that God has infinite time and mercy for us.”
Because we still sometimes think like orphans. Orphans have to fend for themselves and soothe their own wounds. We’re not used to having a mother who wants to be called on every minute of the night and day and who always has compassion and mercy for us. Even with the best will in the world, our mothers have finite resources of energy and compassion. Let’s take a moment here and forgive our mother for being human and not responding to us always as we would have liked.
The good news is that God has infinite time and mercy for us. In the New Testament we see Jesus responding to those who call out for him in desperate need:
"As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27 NIV)
"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” (Matthew 15.22 NIV)
In these verses when they call out for mercy – the Greek word used is ‘eleeo’ which means ‘help for the wretched’
“The trick when we’re scared or sad is not to sink into the bog of doom and gloom, but to yell out to God for help.”
In life, we sometimes find ourselves in tough spots. We really are desperate and in trouble and needy – there’s just no way around it. Denying it isn’t going to help. King David in the Psalms spent quite a while spelling out just exactly how miserable and wretched he was. But then – and this is the important bit – he cried out to God for mercy.
The trick when we’re scared or sad is not to sink into the bog of doom and gloom, but to yell out to God for help. We have a choice – we can turn to God in our hour of need and receive true comfort and soothing, or we can turn to false comfort and wallow in self-pity.
We can learn a thing or two from those blind men. They could have sat at the back of the crowd sullenly feeling sorry for themselves and kept quiet. But instead they annoyed everyone by shouting their heads off: “JESUS HAVE MERCY ON ME”. Jesus responded and they received their sight.
“Self-pity is the counterfeit of mercy.”
Choosing to feel sorry for yourself in a difficult situation may seem harmless…but it’s a very slippery slope. And the slope leads down Victim Avenue to the dead-end of Orphan. Self-pity is the counterfeit of mercy. God’s mercy soothes and comforts. Self-pity is a very cheap substitute that feels good for a moment, but is actually no consolation or help.
Your choices are very powerful. Whatever spirit you choose to commune with will affect your identity and how you see yourself. Communing with self-pity may seem harmless and give you a temporary feel-good factor, but you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of harm by going that route.
Here is where Holy Spirit helps us:
"The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15 NIV)
In the moment where fear threatens to take us down, we yell out for mercy. We cry out for our Daddy to help us.
“This isn’t a polite request for help or an affectionate shout out to Papa God; this is a kneejerk yelp.”
The word used here for ‘cry out’ is Krazo - to croak
1. of the cry of a raven
2. hence, to cry out, cry aloud, vociferate, to cry or pray for vengeance
This isn’t a polite request for help or an affectionate shout out to Papa God; this is a kneejerk yelp. It’s the kid who sees a huge scary dog running towards it and instinctively yells DAAAAAD!
When we know that we’re his kids and something threatens us, we don’t run for the closest comfort blanket. We call his name, and his soothing mercy is there for us.
So let’s put our beddies to bed once and for all, and choose to believe we are sons and daughters even – especially – when we feel wretched and miserable and in need. In those moments, let’s cry out for his mercy and not commune with feeble substitutes.
Father, forgive me for choosing false comforts over you.
Father forgive me for choosing self-pity instead of your mercy.
Forgive me for allowing that orphan thinking to sneak in, that tells me I’m all alone in my misery and I have to take care of myself.
I forgive my mother and father for every time they failed to show me your heart of mercy and comfort in my time of need. I repent for judging them.
Reveal to my heart the truth that you are my perfect parent who is ready to comfort me, to soothe me, to mother and father me.
Holy Spirit teach me to cry out Daddy every time I feel wretched, or scared.
Today I choose to let go of false comforts and self-pity and receive your true mercy. Thank you.
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