Whac-A-Mole: Mental Edition

I’m not a people person. I have trouble saying the right thing in the best of times, so I am really at a loss when a person is upset or going through difficulty. My personal strengths are learning and problem solving, not showing sympathy. I don’t like this about myself. I excel at my job, but I must be a lousy friend. I don’t suppose that I am the person anyone would seek out in a time of personal difficulty. But trials in life are inevitable, so it is bound to happen that someone would get stuck facing life’s adversity with me.

Over the past few weeks, I have gone from self-centered-life-as-usual, to trying to help a loved-one whose life had been turned upside-down. It seems fitting to apologize that I am such a crummy companion. The problem solver wants to have an answer that I can offer to ease the pain. The communicator in me wants to be able to contribute something helpful, but all I can say is, “I’m sorry.” As each week goes by, tiredness causes selfishness and depression to pull on me. In my heart I know that giving in to wallow in the selfish world of depression would make me useless to help anyone. It is only God who allows me to be kind and patient. I cannot overcome the pull of depression without Jesus Christ in my heart.

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8

This week, I found myself asking, “What does it mean to love mercy.” It is funny how learning Scripture in song form can cause the words to become devoid of meaning. I know what Micah 6:8 says, but reading it in context gave it a weight of meaning that I never got from the song. I also found that the punctuation informs the interpretation. The semi-colon after “He has told you. . .what is good” informs that what comes after is related, but not directly linked. It is not, “He has shown (or told) you what is good and what He requires of you.” Rather, “He has shown you what is good,” and the new, related thought, is “and what does the LORD require of you [?] but [ie. except or only] to do justice and to love mercy. . .”

The ESV Bible uses the word kindness instead of mercy in this verse, with a note that it could also be translated steadfast love. I am not a Hebrew or Old Testament scholar, so I do not know which term is the best translation. But I found upon reflection, that I like the juxtaposition of justice and mercy. God is both perfectly just and also compassionate and gracious to offenders. So we are also called to be just in our dealings and yet show love to others regardless of what we think they deserve. It is a picture of godliness: our application of justice should be full of forgiveness and not concerned with fairness.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:4-7

God is teaching me to love, and the side-effect is seeing my own selfishness. I am realizing how the human heart regards itself as the only person truly deserving of love and mercy. I suppose this is where humility enters the equation. A person must learn that God is at the center of things and not herself. Anyone who believes man is inherently good has never undertaken any honest self-evaluation. The more I try to do what is good and right, the more I struggle with these voices inside telling me that I deserve better and shouldn’t have to do what I am doing for someone else. Meanwhile, I say that I love, but rarely am I required to make any sacrifices for those I love. It is a test, of sorts, when the time comes that I am finally required to sacrifice my own desires and preferences, in order to show love. I am sure that I have failed more times than I can remember.

I am in a situation where it is clear that I need to put someone else’s needs first. In the beginning, I didn’t hesitate. But over time, I had to start fighting those voices of selfishness. It is like playing Whac-A-Mole. As with most games, your skills improve with practice; my reflexes are improving to whack down the selfish thoughts faster. I still can’t help but pray, “God help the person who needs me in times of trial!” God has been gracious to me, and He has given me the patience and joy to, for a short while, attend to someone’s else’s needs above my own. I suppose that if one loves mercy and kindness, she will find joy in bestowing it. Praise God that He gives us joy in obedience! And I know that in time, I can become a better friend than I am. I just need to keep practicing.

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