Sunday, January 26, 2020

Weekly Inspiration: Rediscovering Mercy

The source of this week's inspiration comes from a slim memoir by famed author Anne Lamott called Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy (my review at the link). I read it in November for one of my book groups (though I ended up not feeling well enough to go to the discussion). I was glad for the opportunity to read it because I have always enjoyed Lamott's writing--I've read several of her memoirs about being a mother and one of her novels--and a good friend gave me a signed copy of this book a few years ago.

Anne Lamott is an acquired taste, and from what I heard later, not everyone in my book group enjoyed this memoir. It is a bit meandering and has a stream-of-consciousness style and a brand of outspoken, brutal honesty that is Lamott's trademark but perhaps not everyone's cup of tea. However, our group leader told me that they had a great discussion about the book, which doesn't surprise me. My own copy--less than 200 short pages--is filled with Post-It Note tabs!

So, I thought I'd share a few of these quotes with you. Lamott provides her own musings but also draws from a wide variety of religions and inspirational quotes from all kinds of people. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book about mercy: grace and kindness and forgiveness. I don't know about you, but I could sure use more of that in my life. And I know that I am hanging onto resentments--especially about the way certain family members have treated me since becoming ill--that are hurting me at least as much (probably more) as others.

Here are some quotes from Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy that really spoke to me and made me think:
"But let's say we believe that mercy and forgiveness are in fact foundational, innate, what we are grown from and can build on: also that they are hard to access because of these traumas and fears. What if we know that forgiveness and mercy are what heal and restore and define us, that they actually are the fragrance of the rose leaves on the heel that crushes it? So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative's heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son--she doesn't even know she needs my mercy. She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child. Horribly, she is perfectly fine. I'm the one who needs mercy--my mercy."

I love Lamott's honesty and her willingness to admit to nasty thoughts and feelings so that we can, too. I could have written this passage (though not nearly so eloquently!), and every time I read it, it hits home anew.

Here, she writes more about the nature of mercy:
"Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten. Charge it to our heads and not our hearts, as the elders in black churches have long said."

She digs into the concept more deeply here:
"As Father Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return. It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.

Kindness toward others and radical kindness toward ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?"

I just love that last line! Again, she is not afraid to be honest about her shortcomings and flaws, and in doing so, she gives permission to the reader to also be honest. This passage also succinctly explains the challenge between knowing what's right and doing what's right.

She continues on that theme here:
"There should be an app, with a checklist or map. But, no, the way out takes admitting that you're wrong and sorry. No, no, anything but that. Forgiving people makes you weak. Push them away! Lewis Smedes said, "To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." But I can't launch forgiveness of my own volition, from my air-traffic-controller mind."

And I loved this brief statement:
"People say that expectations are resentments under construction ..."

I often joke that the key to pleasant family gatherings is low expectations ... and now I know why!

Lamott doesn't just describe the problems; she also talks about how to move toward mercy and grace, always admitting that it's not easy:
"Mercy means that we no longer constantly judge everybody's large and tiny failures, foolish hearts, dubious convictions, and inevitable bad behavior. We will never do this perfectly, but how do we do it better? How do we mostly hold people we've encountered with the understanding of a wise, caring mother who has seen it all, knows that we all struggle, knows that on the inside we're as vulnerable as a colony of rabbits?"

Finally, in the last chapter, she sums things up, leaving the reader with some inspiration for moving forward:
"Forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment. You open the drawer that was shut and you take out the precious treasures that you hid there so long ago, and, with them, the person who marvels at tadpoles, who pulls for people to come clean and then have a second chance, who aches and intervenes for those being bullied, forgives the evil brothers and unforgivable you."

This post ended up being much longer than I'd planned, but there is just so much thoughtfulness and wisdom in this little book. That was only a fraction of the quotes that I had flagged, and I am finding that every time I come back to this book and re-read some of these, I like it even more. I needed this book and this inspiration, both the acceptance that this is hard stuff to do and the encouragement that the hard work is worth it, not just for others but also to give myself more peace and kindness and mercy.

I think feeling mistreated and resentful kind of comes with the territory when you're chronically ill. There will always be people in your life who don't get it, who don't understand your challenges or even who think you are exaggerating or making up your illness (as if!), and we need to find a way to deal with the hurt and resentment those people leave behind because it is harming us. Anne Lamott has given us a lot to think about, and I know I will be re-reading this book in the future.

Let me know what you think of these quotes and concepts and ideas. Have you struggled with mercy and forgiveness in your own life?

Listen to a sampleof the audio book here, read by the author, and/or download it from Audible (that link--and the one below--also works for the print, large print, or e-book).


Lisa M. Alioto said...

THere are so many great nuggets of inspiration here. I like the though of mercy being "radical kindness" Thanks for sharing!

alizabeth.leake said...

This is quite beautiful. Thank you for gathering such great lines from a book that seems filled with goodness.

Sue Jackson said...

I liked that, too! She always has a great way of looking at things with an honest & realistic perspective.

Glad you enjoyed these, too.

Sue Jackson said...

You're welcome! I enjoyed sharing some of my favorite quotes - glad you found it inspirational, too!

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

I am reorganizing my church's library. I purchased a bunch of Anne Lamott books. I hope I didn't buy books people won't like. All of her books that I have read I liked, but I haven't read this one.

Sue Jackson said...

I really like her books, too, Anne! And so do some of my friends (and clearly, lots of other people, given her popularity). I just meant that her brutal honesty and stream-of-consciousness writing isn't everyone's cup of tea :) I'm sure they will be an excellent addition to your church library!