And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8There are goals I want to accomplish in my life, and to achieve them, I need to exercise discipline and work hard. Day after day, year after year, those things go undone -- from getting fit or finishing my novel to cleaning out the garage or learning to grow my own vegetables.
The pattern that describes my failure is consistent. First, I get motivated, either by hope or by despair: You can do it! Or, will you ever do it? Then I dive in. My desk is soon piled with books on weight training or character development or getting organized or composting. Before too long I become bored with it, or tired. It's new, so it's hard. I want the destination without the trials of the journey.
The way I discipline -- or fail to discipline -- myself is exactly the same as the way I discipline -- or fail to discipline -- my kids. I cannot teach what I do not know.
Every word of advice on disciplining children begins with the admonition to be consistent. I am not, not with my kids, not with myself. I vacillate between extremes of justice and mercy.
There is a dynamic between them, justice and mercy -- the angry, jealous God and the God of forgiveness and loving-kindness. Mercy softens justice. Justice keeps mercy honest. Justice provides boundaries, which keep me and others safe. Mercy keeps the bounds of justice from becoming a prison.
Justice looks like anger. It strives to be righteous anger, but -- careful! -- or it will spill over into judgment and condemnation. Mercy looks like love, but, untempered, it becomes coddling pity.
Too much mercy or too much justice, and I turn you or myself into an object. Mercy can make me an object of pity; justice, of condemnation. I condemn myself and feel sorry for myself, and those movements become a self-perpetuating cycle. It's a way of keeping me stuck, spinning my wheels. I can't move forward toward a goal. I can't do hard things if judgment is the goad and pity the balm for the wound it inflicts.
But justice and mercy, rightly balanced, could become the drive-train for accomplishing the goals I want to achieve.
I wonder if the fulcrum of balance is in walking "humbly with your God." Is it not pride that unsteadies the wheel and drives me into the ground instead of forward? I want to be or to do right, and I want you to, not because it's right, but because it looks good. My kids will have better grades. I'll be a size 8. The driver, the one who wields the goad, isn't setting the goal out of a love of righteousness, but out of pride.
And what about mercy? Pity is the reaction to the goad. Overreaction begets overreaction. Now on the other side, I show you excessive mercy as a way of elevating myself. If I am your judge, I am lording over you. Likewise, if I have the power to pardon you, to remove your natural burden of responsibility, I must be superior to you. I am the subject, and you are the object. In some sense, I'm playing god.
Justice and mercy held in creative tension, respects "you" as subject. You retain your autonomy. I trust you to act, even as I hold you accountable and hold you in love. Even when "you" are me.
I am ready to become the subject of my own life, not the author-god, not the audience, but the protagonist, the actor. I want to do the hard things.