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The Unexpected Face of Mercy

There was a season in life when my prayers included asking God to hold me—physically. I wanted to feel arms around me, keeping me safe and helping me not feel lonely in the nighttime hours, once the day quieted and the distractions faded with the sun.

I am a creature of habit, and most nights my routine was the same: read, turn off my lamp, pray, feel alone, pray again, wait, resign and eventually float off to a restless sleep. My twin-sized bed was as big as the ocean, and I was lost in the middle of it. Even in Tennessee’s summer heat, I rolled myself into as many blankets as I could stand so I would feel something—anything—surrounding me.

My prayers were not answered in the way I wanted, and I never understood why.

One of my jobs as an author includes editing books other authors write. A woman telling her story through loneliness wrote one of these books. I initially sympathized with common moments in her narrative, but I began to resent the differences. Someone gave her several years of salary up front so she could begin her writing and speaking ministry; at my lowest, I had 99 cents in my checking account and was balancing a full-time job in addition to writing and speaking.

As I read through the retelling of God’s provision for her, I allowed His provision for me to be covered with envy-green paint. At the end of one of her chapters, I read how she felt God physically wrap her up in His arms as she would settle into bed each night. He held her as she went to sleep. I slammed my laptop closed in frustration. That was my prayer! Why did You give it to her? Why not me?

To say I floundered in self-pity is an understatement. After a particularly frustrating evening, a friend sat with me in my pile of bills and confusion and tears. With a defeated voice, I told her I wondered where God’s grace was in everything I was experiencing. I wanted respite in every imaginable way and thought God was holding back His mercy from me.

In hindsight, that simple correlation was my problem. I equated mercy with relief.

In her wisdom, my friend asked me one simple question: “Do you want relief? Or do you want to be whole?”

In the moment, I wanted relief. Desperately. However, over the last couple years, I can see how God’s withholding of emotional reprieve has been the most profound mercy I could have ever asked for.

Once I realized this new manifestation of mercy, my prayers changed. I began to ask God to show me His mercy, and it showed up in unanticipated ways. When my heart was broken and I asked God for mercy, His reply was, “This is My mercy.” When I was overwhelmed and exhausted and asked God for mercy, His reply didn’t change: “This is My mercy.” One sleepless night in May, I asked for mercy and rest. “Your sleeplessness is My mercy tonight.”

Mercy has many faces, and I only knew one: the one that soothed bruised hearts and broken spirits.

That mercy lives and breathes relief, but it’s not always the mercy we most need or the mercy that will do what’s most important: reveal Christ’s love and glory to the world.

Mercy brings both comfort and pain. Sometimes mercy surrounds us with silence, leaving us feeling forgotten and rejected. This mercy is the most difficult to accept, but I’ve learned it’s also the most imperative to transformation.

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ajackson@churchleaders.com'
Anne Marie Miller (formerly Jackson) is a writer, speaker, and social change activist who lives in Orange County, California. She also holds the position of Storyteller at Visioneering Studios Architecture.