I recently read an excellent book by a good friend of mine, Dmitri Bilgere, called Gateways to God. The book is about how to more fully experience God’s love and mercy in our everyday lives. I love the book because it is practical, and gives specific steps and exercises to try.
This book hit close to home for me because experiencing God’s grace and mercy in my daily life is something I have struggled with a lot. I love the idea of grace, and intellectually affirm the importance of God’s grace in my life. But if I’m honest, my day-to-day experience of God is often dominated by anxiety and guilt, unless I am perfect and meet all the standards I have set for myself. I try really hard to do this (which is exhausting), but I often miss the mark. And then it’s back to the anxiety and guilt.
In one section of the book that was especially poignant to me, Dmitri talks about the idea of a mercy exception. The idea is that even if there are many areas of our lives in which we experience God’s grace and mercy, there might be one area that we just can’t let grace in. Dmitri writes that it often involves something to do with sexuality, or our bodies. Maybe it has to do with a secret, or an addiction. In other areas of our lives, we let God’s grace in, but in that one area… we don’t. And it kills us.
For me, my mercy exceptions have to do with how I look, intimate relationships, and sexuality. I was overweight as a kid, and struggled over the years to feel good about my body. I carry around a lot of anxiety about intimate relationships, and then judge myself harshly for struggling. And as an unmarried person, I struggle to figure out how to honor God with my sexuality.
This idea of a mercy exception reminds me of the passage in the Bible in which Paul talks about the thorn in his flesh. Three times he asks God to remove it. And for some reason, God doesn’t. Instead, God says that His grace is sufficient for Paul.
When I was younger, I got frustrated that Paul doesn’t tell us what the thorn in his flesh was. I wanted to know! But today, I love it that Paul doesn’t specify what the thorn was, because by leaving it unknown, we can all relate to it. We each have our thorn, the thing in our lives that we’re trying to work out, or figure out, or get better at. But we’re still struggling. And it’s in that place, that mercy exception, where God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
I’m not there yet. When I struggle, sometimes it feels like I’m turning to a God who is harsh, disappointed, and angry. Sometimes it seems like the way I engage with God makes me feel worse about myself. But I don’t think that’s the true God. The true God has grace and mercy for me in all areas of my life, even in my mercy exception.
Discussion: What is the one area of your life that you feel is a mercy exception?