by Jonathan Coe
Over the years I’ve become convinced that gratitude is a spiritual discipline just like prayer, Scripture study, fasting, or partaking in the sacraments. Gratitude has many dimensions but one definition could be “a meditation on God’s mercy in our lives.” Sometimes when I want to meditate on God’s mercy, I focus on sins God has delivered me from and sins that I could have very easily fallen into but didn’t because of his grace. I would liken this to the psalmist talking about the “cords of death that entangled me.” These sins did not threaten my physical life but they would’ve, if not repented of or embraced, threatened my spiritual life eventually.
For example, in my early and mid–20s, I had a fault that is typical of this age group in Christendom: possessing much zeal without knowledge with definite strains of legalism and self–righteousness. There’s a reason some pastors and priests have joked that a new, on–fire Christian should be locked up for five years first before turning them loose on both the church and the secular world. The wedding between religion and pride is a lethal combination: it keeps others from entering the kingdom of God.
Later on as a middle–aged man, I went through a divorce. People use the words “painful divorce” and I want to ask, “Is there any other kind?” It’s redundant like saying “wet water.” You can’t believe it’s happening; weren’t we supposed to spend the rest of our lives together? If your the rejected spouse, you feel additional pain and it’s easy to try to medicate in the evenings with an extra adult beverage. I did just that but you wake up in the morning saying, “This really isn’t helping, is it?” But, thank God his name is Mercy and a person even as weak as me moves on from such foolishness.
Then I think of the sins–“cords of death”– I could’ve fallen into but didn’t because of his mercy. Just observing other men is enough grist for the mill for this meditation: men who placed achievement and money far above relationships and have suffered divorce, alienation from their kids, and friendlessness later in life because of such idolatry; men who have fallen into various addictions: chemical dependency, sexual addictions, gambling, etc.; men who got offended at God because the script they had written for their lives did not happen and either are now not serving Christ or are mired in mediocrity. I know myself and how weak I am and just how easily these cords of death could’ve become my reality: “Except for the grace of God there go I.” Such meditations cultivate gratitude and gratitude is the source of happiness and happiness and joy adorn the gospel.
Writer Marian Friedrichs has an excellent definition of mercy: “Mercy is love that bends down, grabs hold, and lifts up. In other words, when a soul is crushed under some weight–usually guilt, oppression, or weakness–mercy is the arm of love that scoops that soul off the ground, embraces it, kisses it, dusts it off, dries its tears, and sets it on its feet again.” One of the hallmarks of mercy is that it is undeserved for the recipients. Doesn’t the above definition sound like Christ on the cross?
Mercy is not an emotion or a feeling or a theory or a principle; mercy is an action. Being able to write a 300 page doctoral dissertation on the theological attribute of mercy will do us no good if our lives don’t have concrete manifestations. God has called all of us to be Signposts of Mercy. Taking the above definition by Friedrichs as a launching pad, we are called to be like the Good Samaritan. This doesn’t necessarily mean being involved in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter though that is a noble calling; what it does mean is letting the Holy Spirit make us acutely aware of people in our lives who need the mercy of God, whether their need is physical or spiritual or both. Perhaps this should be our rule of thumb: the more undeserving, the better.
If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is available at this link: