The author on her back porch

You Need a Mercy Muscle For Forgiveness

I thought I was a merciful person and a good forgiver, but I’m not. There are people in my family that I’m not truly forgiving because I have a weak mercy muscle. I use it selectively when it should be a reflex. If you’ve got a good mercy muscle, you forgive people with empathy, compassion and acceptance. This is what mercy requires.

My book club just read Anne LaMott’s Halleluiah Anyway, Rediscovering Mercy. This is when I discovered I wasn’t a good forgiver. Before I read her book, I thought forgiveness was a simple act and that I was an ace forgiver. My simple routine mirrored confession in the Catholic church. Tell the priest what you did, say your Hail Marys, and get on with the day. Problem solved. If I took a minute to consciously forgive someone, I did my job. I even had an air of superiority around my forgiving abilities because I thought I was so good at it, but I was only doing half the job. Now I know that true forgiveness is more complex. It requires mercy too, and you need a mercy muscle to be good at it.

At our book club gathering, we had a long and heartfelt discussion about mercy and forgiveness. One woman knows how to forgive like a pro. She’s tunneled through layers of treacherous emotional history and practiced and practiced. Her forgiveness is filled with mercy. She even wrote a book about it. Another, a psychologist, relies on logic and a three-step approach to forgiveness that she uses in her practice. She also has a mercy reflex.

After reading and thinking and freaking out, I know what to do, but it’s going to take some mercy muscle-building, courage, and humility. I’m forgiving really big things. I’m not sure I have it in me. The problem is I’m afraid to practice deep-down forgiveness because it’s a form of love and surrender. How do you prepare yourself for the possibility of rejection and feelings of humiliation? How do you accept that the person you forgive may not change the behavior that hurt you?

This whole thing is driving me crazy. Forgiveness with mercy is an Olympic exercise. I just bought my workout clothes. After all the spinning in my head, I decided that no one can let you down if you’re brave enough to love them as they are and expect nothing in return.