Growing up I had the naïve belief that Christ called his followers to only associate with those who also believed He was their Lord and Savior.
As expected this belief affected the way I viewed non-believers and even how I judged other Christians. I will admit that there were times when I distanced myself from fellow believers because of the mistakes they had made. This was not because I believed I was perfect, but I feared that their doubt or troubles would somehow affect me. Some could say I was playing it safe, but what I was really doing was saving my own skin. This was a selfish and prideful belief that God challenged when I entered college.
At UCLA I joined a Christian organization called Cru, and began participating in a ministry they had established called Safe Rides. This program sought to meet the needs of female students who had to walk long distances home, late at night, after frat parties.
It was on these long nights of service that Christ began to open my heart to show mercy.
Every Thursday night for three years I spoke and interacted with people who were lost, and yet for the first time in my life I was able to see their value and beauty.
Christ was revealing to me what he saw: broken hearts in fear and in search for love and acceptance.
On one night, a young woman enters the car for a ride home and I strike up a conversation with her. She begins to share her frustration with going to frat parties, detailing her disdain for getting dressed up in clothes that did not accurately portray who she really was and how she felt violated when some of the men at these parties came onto her. As I continue to listen intently to her frustration, she begins to describe a man who that evening had grabbed and kissed her without her permission and, with that final admission, she begins to cry.
In that moment, my heart breaks for her and I feel her pain and her desire to be admired, but also respected.
All she wants is to feel genuinely loved and cared for. I go out on a limb and ask if I can pray for her and to my surprise she agrees. So I climb into the backseat, take her shaking hands into mine, and pray that God would comfort her and lavish his love and mercy upon her. Slowly, my words steady her cries and we exchange phone numbers, in the hope that she will join me for a Cru weekly meeting or church service.
Days later I am not disappointed when she does not respond to my texts or calls, as I thought I would be. Instead, I rest in the victory of that one small moment of mercy. A moment where this young woman knew that she was not being judged, but rather she experienced a glimpse of Christ’s love and mercy.
I must tell you that not every Thursday night was like the one I’ve just shared with you. The truth is my mercy was ignited by this experience, but it was truly tested by the times when people yelled or threw things at us while we served them. It was tested in those wee hours of the night, cleaning vomit from my car, and carrying the weight of their pain up three flights of stairs until they were safely tucked into bed. These are the times when it would have been so easy to judge these people, but Christ was working in my heart and growing my love and agony for their pain, which was so evident in their search for something—something that partying, sex, and alcohol could not provide.
Our motto at Safe Rides was that we truly believed that if Christ were here on earth, He would be serving people in the same exact way. Just as He said,
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13
I am so grateful for these lessons in showing mercy which God has taught me, especially now as I serve as a high school English teacher. There are so many days when showing my students mercy is more challenging than I would ever have believed. Yet, Christ has grown my heart in compassion and when I think of my students, every single one, even those that have called me names under their breath, or those who bully their peers, I smile. I smile because all they are looking for is that same genuine love and acceptance. When I show them mercy, when begin each new day, when I laugh at their jokes and join in their trials and pain, those are the moments when my students are able to experience Christ’s love and mercy.
Showing mercy requires sacrifice and humility, it asks us to lay down our own pride and offense for the benefit of another. Ultimately, Christ is the perfect example of mercy when he took the weight of our sins on the cross for us all.
Therefore, I urge you with these words of our Lord,
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
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