So lately, that famous Biblical character named David has been the hot topic of discussion in and around my circles of community. You know, the kid who took out a giant mean dude with a single rock to the forehead. That kid later became a great King who did lots of great things but also became distracted enough to mess around with someone else’s wife, produce a baby from that screw up and then have the woman’s husband killed in battle just to make sure it never came back to bite him. And yet, this is the same guy that God Himself, the great I AM, Alpha and Omega, Author and Finisher of our faith (you get the point) made a point to call “a man after my own heart.” Huh?
Yesterday, the topic at hand was revenge and Wes used another illustration from David’s life. This time, David (pre-King) was on the lam, running from a bad King Saul who was trying to kill him and keep him from taking the throne. In one moment, David had the perfect opportunity to off Saul but in this instance David chose mercy over revenge. It’s an awesome story. Wes went on to make some great points about revenge and why it’s never a good idea. (Listen here.)
To take it a bit further, I’d like to suggest that revenge is even more insidious than we imagine and that even the most peace-loving self-awarest (I know, not a real word) among us still struggles with it because our culture is one that often celebrates a subtle form of revenge masked as “success.” Stay with me. It’s super sticky (or slippery) because subtlety is, by it’s very nature, a bit dodgy and we must examine closely to understand. The lines are blurry and faint, easily escaping the eyes of our soul. It takes excruciating self-dissection so we usually opt for quippy motivational one-liners to help us settle our scores and stop the bleeding. According to Brené Brown, research proves that the mind seeks clarity over ambiguity and whatever it takes to get us past the hump of uncomfortability (before anyone else notices), is welcome relief with minimal effort required.
So, when a close friend (cough) shared recently that she’d been hurt by a decision someone had made that totally rained on her parade, she had no idea her feet were firmly planted on either side of that fuzzy line of revenge/mercy. Her natural response was to summon the internal cheerleader that would keep from sliding straight down the rabbit hole of depression and resentment, taking all of her demons with her. “You go, girl!” Don’t let the bastards get you down, girl! Hey, the best revenge is S-U-C-C-E-S-S!”
What if the bastards weren’t really out to get me?
What if the bastards weren’t really bastards at all?
What if the success I desire was never meant to be mine?
What if I there was a real gift in this failure/setback?
What if the thing I was meant to have is already mine?
How can I see the greater good in this deviation from my original plan?
Hear me now and believe me later: Never would I suggest that that the courageous pursuit of a dream is wrong. Achieving a goal through perseverance can be a great triumph of the human spirit, and the joy of such an accomplishment can be a true gift. But if you choose to see that as the highest gift and believe that anything or anyone who keeps you from it is hurting you, then let me rain on your parade. In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero suggests that one real marker of spiritual transformation is living with a greater detachment to all the “things” we possess (including people). We are to love and enjoy them with gratitude, but also with the awareness that they are not our lives. And it’s often not until they are removed by God that we realize how attached we are to them. I can tell you from vast experience, that’s always a real sucker-punch moment. Buzz kill, at it's finest.
Back to revenge. I’m convinced that mercy trumps it. If we are able to let go willingly, we do less damage to ourselves (and the thing) because we are holding it loosely. We’ve left it intact if we ever get it back and if we never see it again, we don’t mind. It’s in this process that a greater gift is always given, as layers of our false self are shed, and that true self that is Christ in us and through us, begins to emerge.
Mercy begets mercy. And if you happen to run into my friend, please share this story with her. I think she needs it. Wink.