Merciful but Firm!

by Ned Wicker

It’s always interesting to me to hear reactions from people when asked about their attitudes towards others dealing with addiction.

The responses range from the extremely negative, to the few who display unconditional positive regard and understanding. What fascinates me is our ability to separate what we want for ourselves and what we want for other people.

If I do wrong, I want mercy. If somebody else does wrong, I want justice.

Be honest, isn’t that true? If I run afoul with the law, I get an attorney and hopefully he’ll get me off. The fact that I am guilty doesn’t enter into it, because I am only concerned about minimizing the inconvenience to my life. If my son or daughter gets into trouble, there I am to protect them and ease the blow. Better yet, if I can blame somebody else, that’s all the better. But, if it’s somebody else that gets into trouble, oh boy, throw the book at them.

The idea of mercy is difficult, because it’s hard to understand in the context of consequences. If someone I love, a family member, is struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse or addiction, my first inclination is to protect my own emotional health, or enable their addiction by denying it. After all it’s a problem they have to overcome.

But addiction is a family disease and therefore their addiction is my addiction. If I sweep the issue under the rug, I am contributing to the perpetuation of the disease. If I get angry or in some way alienate the other person, I likewise contribute to the feeding of the disease. I say this because as a teen I could not deal with my mother’s drinking.

It was her problem and being the pristine example of love and compassion, I knew it was all about me and how her health issues were affecting my life. Her disease was a family disease, only we chose not to recognize our role in a sad story.

Mercy does not instruct us to avoid the problem, or give the addict a pass. Appeasement is not a good strategy. Mercy calls us to action, to face the problem and accept our own responsibilities, all the while holding tight to the one who is struggling.

Mercy says we reach out and take an outward focus, regardless of the possibility of person pain. It’s not their problem, it’s our problem and together we will walk on this path.

Imagine yourself up atop a hill, looking down on a valley where a battle wages. You can see all of the players and it’s sort of like playing chess. If you were in the middle of the fight, it would be difficult at best to see the entire picture. But with a higher perspective on the conflict below, you can see the solution.

Your loved one is in that battle and can’t see a clear cut way to victory. In the thick of the battle, in the moment, I have compassion for the addict. I want to comfort, to soothe to somehow make it better. But the second step says a “power greater than ourselves” can intervene and provide the way out.

Therefore, we need to look to the top of the hill. The addict can’t necessarily see that, as addiction is myopic and will not allow it, or at least doesn’t want it.

Family members become the tools of God’s mercy to the addict by allowing themselves to be moved by the master chess player. In the New Testament, Matthew 5:7 states, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

To be merciful to someone, we must first come to grips with our own frailty, understanding that the human condition is universal and that we are all, in some way or another, broken. In my youth I did not understand this and therefore I cut my mother off emotionally.

It’s is that brokenness that both facilitates our connection to God, or in quite the opposite direction, causes us to turn away from Him and find our own solution to life’s turbulence.

On the one hand, knowing that I am broken, knowing that I am seriously flawed, I can, through the grace of God, accept that brokenness in others and journey with them.

On the other hand, if I am blinded from the truth of my own frailty, if I deny the problems, I have cut myself off from the care of God, and therefore deny myself the solution. I am left to find my own way, or worse yet, the one I love is cut off.

The Apostle Paul talked of his “thorn in the flesh,” that part of his human condition that reminded him of God’s sovereignty. He understood that in his own weakness, the strength of God could carry the day. If we know that we are all in the human condition and need the mercy of God, as we understand Him, and that He is our strength, we can have greater impact on the one we love because we can be merciful, while allowing God to direct the recovery process.

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