Posts tagged: choices

Justice or Mercy?

B hat bordered





Last week we considered Mercy’s two meanings:

  • to be compassionate and forgiving to someone
  • and to provide help to those in need.


In discussion of the first meaning, one reader asked, “When is it time for mercy, and when should I stand firm?” In answering, I’m keeping in mind three concepts:


  • Jesus admonishes us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
  • We must set limits to protect ourselves and others from people who feel no remorse when they take advantage of us.
  • If in authority, we must teach others about responsible behavior.

I read a quote lately something to the effect of “Forgive the unrepentant and accept the unoffered apology.” It seems whenever I try to write about forgiveness, a beloved member of my family has been deeply hurt and so I truly struggle with my subject matter. The temptation for me is to not even try to forgive people who show no regret for what they’ve done.

That’s certainly the easier path; if they aren’t sorry, why struggle to forgive them? Because a lack of forgiveness grows into bitterness and harms our mood, our nature, and our very souls. We forgive the unrepentant, in part, to keep them from having negative influence over us. In addition, our own pardon depends on how we have pardoned. In the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We must work through our hurt in order to be ready to reconcile if the offender ever does apologize and ask for forgiveness. For more on  Steps to Forgiveness , click this link.

Consider the story of the Prodigal Son, who after demanding his inheritance squanders it on immoral living. When the money is gone and he is hungry, he realizes the error of his ways and returns repentantly to his father.  This story could also be called the Merciful Father. He has been watching daily for his son to return and, when he sees him in the distance, the father runs to his son with open arms and even sets a feast to celebrate his return. Obviously this man had done the hard work of forgiveness long before his son reappeared.

The son was sorry, the father forgave him, and showing him mercy, celebrated his return. But notice, when the son left, the father didn’t search for his son and drag him back, only to have the son leave again. The father’s mercy and forgiveness were ready and waiting for when the son had learned his lesson. I think of push-over parents who never quite enforce the threatened or natural consequences for their children’s disobedience. These parents are not being merciful. In fact, in their desire to be always the “happy, friendly, cool parents” they are keeping their children from learning the lessons of growing up responsibly. They are not merciful, they are selfish. They don’t want to feel those temporary emotions of their child’s anger, and instead forgo an opportunity to teach the child a valuable life lesson. 

In short, within our relationships, we must work to forgive time after time. However, mercy is not the same as leniency and our children must learn lessons from their mistakes. Those lessons are our responsibility to teach them. No matter how many times they make mistakes, we must continue to love them and be ready to run to them with open arms. People whom we are not in authority over are also deserving of our ready forgiveness and unending love, and in some cases we’ve built a strong enough relationship that they might be open to learning from us. But if not, and if that person continues to be harmful to us or our loved ones, we must set boundaries for acceptable behavior and sometimes limit contact with them. However, we should never “cut a person off” permanently.

We do the work of forgiving them in hope that in the future we can reconcile. A person who hurts us or others repeatedly must sometimes be loved from afar. This might mean putting a child in time out and then discussing why before they return to play. It means avoiding someone who is destructive in their treatment of our family until they show through their actions and words that they understand the extent of the damage they caused to such depth that it will keep them from ever wanting to repeat their behavior.

In serious situations, this realization may require counseling or spiritual growth to accomplish. (As may our attempt at forgiveness.) An abuser must realize how he or she makes the abused feel. An unfaithful spouse must acknowledge and know the hurt he or she caused, to such a profound depth that the very idea of hurting a person they love that way becomes unbearable.

There is a time for mercy and a time for justice. Where would our society be if a court always granted leniency to criminals? Our parole boards exist to make this choice carefully. A serial murderer requires the full extent of justice to protect our society. Sometimes the balance between justice and mercy is obvious. But in those times when it isn’t, when we aren’t sure which direction to lean, let’s err on the side of mercy tempering justice’s demands.

We must ask ourselves, what is in the long-term best interest of the person to whom we consider granting mercy? Because a child needs to learn responsibility, the long-term merciful choice is to enforce consequences, so they become well equipped to deal with the adult world. If an adult has learned a lesson and is truly repentant, mercy rather than punishment is due. If he or she is unrepentant, justice and discipline may bring the transgressor to realization of better ways.

An element of Justice exists in Mercy which keeps an unscrupulous person from being allowed to continue bad behavior without consequence. Mercy is not a warm fuzzy emotion that accepts any behavior. It is hard-won forgiveness (sometimes a daily decision) and a reaching out to someone who understands their mistake and is determined not to repeat it.

Betty Arrigotti


Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)
  When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)






Finding Our Passion, Finding Our Gift

Quick review time. We’ve discussed a few of Alan Loy McGinnis’ Rules for Building Self- Confidence from his book, Confidence: How to Succeed at Being Yourself.

    • Focus on your potential instead of your limitations
    • Replace self-criticism with regular, positive self-talk.
    • Replace fear of failure with pictures of yourself functioning successfully and happily.
    • Refuse to allow rejection to keep you from taking the initiative with people.

Today let’s focus on McGinnis’ advice to “Find something you like to do and do well, then do it over and over.”

Please don’t stop reading even if you are well along in your career or family life and feel like you’ve followed your passion and are set for life. God keeps calling us to move closer to him, or to improve this world, even when we can look back on our accomplishments with well-earned pride.

 Discover your gift/passion/calling.

Some people know from childhood what their passion in life, or particular gift, is. Others of us would be delighted to follow a passion if we could figure out what that passion is or what gifts we have. We want to use the gifts God gave us to build his kingdom in this world and create more meaning to our lives, but we wonder what does God want us to do, exactly?

In her book, The Eighth Day of Creation: Discovering Your Gifts, Elizabeth O’Connor writes, “We ask to know the will of God without guessing that his will is written into our very beings. We perceive that will when we discern our gifts. Our obedience and surrender to God are in large part our obedience and surrender to our gifts.”

O’Connor believed, “A primary purpose of the Church is to help us discover and develop our gifts and in the face of our fears, to hold us accountable for them so that we can enter into the joy of creating.” She believed that parents bear the same responsibility to their children.

Questions to help us find our passion:

What would we do, if we could do anything? How would we spend our days if money and time were no object? Ok, after we all vacation somewhere without rain or snow, what then? Often our desires tell us what path we are invited to follow. I don’t mean the longing for material things, or the infatuation with a particular person. Rather, does some path stir our very souls?

Can we remember ever being so absorbed in concentration that we were unaware of time? When we were simply present to the moment and invigorated by the experience? For me that happens when I’m writing. Sometimes it’s a struggle, but occasionally the words flow from my soul to my fingers. Then I’m in the zone! I’m in the Holy Spirit. Do you have times like that? Did you a long time ago? What were you doing?

“What would we do if we knew we could not fail?” Not realistic you say? Failure is a very real possibility. In fact, failure is almost guaranteed. At first. That’s how we learn. From our mistakes. We learn by failing and then thinking and trying again. And the learning and trying IS the success. Not the end product. Mother Teresa says, “God doesn’t ask us to succeed. He asks us to be faithful.” O’Connor says, “When we do not allow ourselves the possibility of failure, the Spirit cannot work in us.”

What is the deepest wound of your life? Take a minute here to feel the pain again. I know we become very good at pushing the pain aside. We must, in order to go on with our lives. But feel it for just a minute now. Was it a miscarriage? A loved one’s death? Was it abuse? An illness? An abandonment? Can you feel the tears welling? That tightness just below your heart?

Maybe your passion will be found in protecting others from experiencing that same pain. Or from walking with others as they recover from that experience. Perhaps your passion will lead you back to school to learn to help others heal, either physically or emotionally. Maybe you’ll participate in a support group to encourage and demonstrate how far you can come after the trauma. I know you’ll find that helping others becomes amazingly therapeutic.


This week, let’s spend time in prayer or meditation, asking the Spirit to help us know our calling, but let’s listen to our dreams, too.

Don’t let fear win. Dare to be different. Each of us is unique, and when we try to imitate others, we lose what makes us special. O’Connor says, “We cannot listen and speak and work out of our own centers and at the same time give our attention to weighing whether or not others are approving of us.” Break away from other’s expectations and learn to evaluate criticism, if you pay it any mind at all. My grandma used to say, “Consider the source.”

Be faithful. Follow his leadings. Follow that glimmer that rose to your mind when I asked what you’d do if you knew you could not fail. Because that glimmer is probably the Holy Spirit who is enticing you. Encouraging you. Inviting you.

Be a little careful before talking about what you discover. Though it will be good in time to seek confirmation from others, for now, ponder these things in your heart. Hold them close and don’t subject your glimmer to the harsh logic of others’ opinions until it has grown from a spark to a glowing lantern.


Betty Arrigotti

Unfounded fear

            I wonder why we fear people who are different?

          Perhaps due to years of stranger danger caution from our parents. Maybe because our news media profit when they makes us worry. Or is it a survival instinct? I hope it isn’t only me, but I suspect it’s universal. I remember reading about a woman who travelled the world and invariably was welcomed but told that the people in the next town or across the border were less hospitable and she shouldn’t trust them.

            Whatever the reason, I’ve been afraid of visiting China for the 10 years my husband has been travelling there on business. Last month his itinerary was ideal for me to accompany him; I’d be able to spend time in several cities, including Beijing. He raised the incentive by arranging for us to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors that had intrigued me since I first read about them. I waivered in my reluctance.

            I reminded myself I experienced the same hesitance to visit Israel three years ago. Preparing for that trip, I imagined car bombs and terrorists waiting around every corner. Yet even when I joined a 4-person tour to Bethlehem, not realizing Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory, I was treated there with great welcome and hospitality.

            But China is a communist country. I’m a child of the Cold War and I remember it being big news when then-President Nixon travelled to China, an unheard of destination. I feared visiting a country that wasn’t known for respecting individual rights.

            Yet, my travel in Israel remains one of the highlights of my life and I had nearly let my fears keep me from that experience.

            I agreed to visit China, but I worried.

            So what did I experience? Without exception, everyone treated me with courtesy and respect. Men asked if they could take a picture of me with their wives. Women asked if I’d pose with their children. Teenagers stood to give me their seat on a subway, as they did for anyone my age or older. Tour guides politely asked me about my opinion of Obama, or which party I belonged to. Some shared their own worry that without a strong Russia, the USA’s dominance would endanger world balance.

            I can’t speak about China’s leaders or its politics. I only know that the everyday people are very much like our everyday people. They wait with smiles and hugs for their children to burst out of the building on the first day of school. They work hard to improve their families’ lives. They dance in the park when they hear music that suits them. They photograph what is unusual or beautiful. They carry iPods and cell phones and are frustrated by traffic jams and delayed flights. Both the church I attended and an acrobat show were full.

            Yes, their culture differs from ours, but in ways that seems minor, like the softness of voices, the use of parasols, the prevalence of bicycles, the acceptance of population density, or the challenge of living in a country of single-child families.

            I never felt endangered while in China (other than riding in a taxi) even when lost. My qualms were unfounded and I feel foolish to have waited so long to accept my good husband’s invitation to share his experience. I’ve been blessed once again by facing my fear. When will I learn to trust in God and never let fear direct my life?

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