I have been pulling out thorns, stick tights and nursing cuts and scrapes. I spent the past couple of weeks in a briar patch. Tangled up in old resentments, anger, and feeling sorry for myself, I had worked myself into a wadded mat of prickly brambles.
A briar patch with twisting vines, which cut or trip or cling at every turn, may be a good place to begin lent. In some respects, we, like Br’er Rabbit, are born and bred in the briar patch of human existence. I, however, did not find it as comfortable, as my cousin, Brother Rabbit. I felt trapped and wanted to break free of the barbed burden of myself.
My pride and arrogance coiled around one ankle. My entitlement and envy looped in a thorny noose around my throat. And soul smothering self pity sat on my chest like a heavy stone.
I could not seem to untangle myself. All my efforts only bound me more tightly. And, to tell the truth, I do not think I really wanted to get free. An insidious part of me seemed to enjoy how awful I was feeling. At the same time, another voice was asking, when I was willing to listen, “How happy do you want to be?” as if my happiness was somehow up to my simple consent and my willingness to receive what I desired.
Finally at my wits end and the end of my own strength, I prayed – not for God to fix the things that had me trapped, not for God to turn the briar patch into a luxury hotel, not for God to give me insights, knowledge, or explanations, but for mercy. I asked for God’s mercy – unmerited, undeserving, unearned mercy.
I, sick of myself, surrendered and stopped defending, justifying myself, and arguing with imagined foes. I came to my knees and asked for mercy.
And mercy was given
falling softly like a gentle rain.
Later that same day I discovered I had been set free from the briar patch. The heavy weight of myself was gone. I was no longer chaffing and pulling out splinters.
And the word, mercy,
sounded sweet in my ears,
like birdsong, unbidden and blest.
Perhaps there is no better prayer than to simply commend ourselves, others, and the whole world to the redeeming mercy of him who died and rose for us. According to Balthasar Fischer, this ancient prayer means more than “Help us!” It means: “Take all of us with you on your journey through death to life.”
The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice