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Grace, Mercy, and Cutting Yourself a Break When Things Go Wrong

Episode 14:  Show Notes

In today’s episode, we will be discussing grace and mercy, how to get and receive more of these in your life, and the importance of cutting yourself a break, all in the name of healthy living.  And as always, be sure to keep an ear open for Dr. Terri’s Health Tip & Challenge of the Week.

Grace & Mercy

If you’ve been listening awhile, you know I love to start our discussions with definitions so everyone is clear on what we’re talking about.  So, let’s start with grace.

1. Grace Defined

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary actually lists 8 definitions for grace.  But today we are going to focus just on one.  We’re going to be looking at an aspect of grace that is based in Christianity.  However, no worries if you’re not Christian, I believe that all people can choose to live a life based on grace.  And since there are a lot of Christians around, you may better understand where they are coming from when they use the term grace.

Grace is

a :  unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

b :  a virtue coming from God

c :  a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance

This definition forces us to look up some other words too.

What is regeneration?

It’s a type of renewal or revival.  Taking something that is in bad shape and making it new or bringing something near death back to life.

Here’s an example that might help you understand this better.  I am not known for having a green thumb and so I frequently find my plants near death.  But, with enough TLC (sometimes at the hands of someone besides myself) nearly dead plants can come back to life.

What is sanctification?

The state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion.  Being sanctified means being free from sin and set apart for a sacred purpose.

So, essentially this means that for Christians, there is a time when God forgives a person’s sin and then sets him or her apart for a very special purpose.

Personal Focus on Grace

My favorite part of all that we have said so far is that grace is unmerited favor.  That means that grace is not a reward for a job well done.  It’s not given like a merit badge for great accomplishments.  The beauty of grace is that we didn’t do anything to earn it or deserve it; nevertheless, it can still be available at certain times in our lives.  We’ll talk more about this in a moment.

Mercy Defined

Before we get too deep into grace, let’s define mercy too.

Merriam-Webster only gives us 3 definitions for mercy so let’s take a look at all of them.

  1. compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power
  2. a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion
  3. compassionate treatment of those in distress

Once again, this definition causes us to look up another word, forbearance.

What is forbearance?

Refraining from the enforcement of something (as a debt, right, or obligation) that is due.

Personal Focus on Mercy

In a nutshell, mercy is not giving a person what they deserve.  And I have a great example of this.  One summer I taught a Pharmacology course to nursing students.  It was a tough course and the students had other courses going on at the same time, all in an fast-paced summer format.

I used to provide some blank space for students to write me notes if they wanted me to look at something closer, so that they wouldn’t interrupt the class during the test.

One student wrote a very brief note that said “Please have mercy!”  Oh my gosh, that was one of the best notes I ever got.  This student was admitting that he/she didn’t deserve an awesome grade, but was hopeful that I would not give out what was truly earned.  Honestly, this happened quite a few times during my academic career but this was the first and only time someone had the courage to actually request mercy and I thought that was awesome!

Giving and Receiving Grace

Let’s return to our discussion about grace, “unmerited favor”

Is this something you would want in life?  Do you think it’s something other people would want?

Physical Examples of Grace

In a physical sense, we might think about receiving money we didn’t earn or bonus items because someone was feeling particularly generous and tossed something extra our way.  I used to give my son buzz cuts for Jr. ROTC in high school.  I had been doing it long enough that I decided to get some real hairdresser equipment.  So, I ordered a cape for my son to wear so he wouldn’t get hair all over him during the cuts.  And I ordered myself one too.  The lady I purchased it from (on eBay I believe) decided to embroider my name on it for no extra cost.

In a human sense, this was something that made me feel special and that a stranger had cared for me.  I hadn’t paid for it and didn’t really deserve it.  But was this grace according to our definitions?  Well, on the surface it may not appear to have anything to do with heavenly purposes.  But whether this women knew it or not, I have often felt like I have not lived up to the expectations of the authority figures in my life.  And I’ve also been flat out told I’ll never be good enough to really fit in.  While I can logically say that the opinions of those individuals are not truth, they still hurt.  I’m one of those people who can all As in school and be disappointed because they are not all A+s.

So, back to the question, was someone embroidering my name on a hairdressing cape for free, without me asking, an act of grace?  To me it was one small way of helping me remember that I am unique, I am special, and that I do matter in this world.  It helped set me apart, as the home hairdresser named Terri Wenner!  And it started to help with the regeneration process of my damaged self-esteem and poor self-image.  So for me, yes indeed, it was an act of grace!

Emotional & Relational Examples of Grace

In an emotional or relational sense, we might think about being forgiven for something we did that hurt someone.  They didn’t have to forgive us, but they graciously did.

Great examples of this are relationships where one partner has strayed and violated marriage vows.  But the other partner has shown grace and forgiven the other person and attempts to mend the broken relationship.

An example of emotional grace is when someone has lied about you or taken advantage of your friendship in some way.  A normal human response would be to be angry and distance yourself from this person, or even give them a piece of your mind.  However, emotional grace doesn’t respond in that way.  Emotional grace says, it’s ok, humans make mistakes, and I’m not going to let one thing destroy our friendship.

I would throw in a word of caution though; there is a difference between showing grace and enabling bad behavior in others.  Forgiving someone for lying once is one thing, allowing chronic bad behavior is not ok.  Trust is broken and grace can be taken advantage of, so just be careful you’re not doing more harm than good with your gracious action.

Back to Our Questions

  1. Is this something you would want in life?
  2. Do you think it’s something other people would want?

This is trickier than you might think.  While it sounds great to receive grace, some people do not believe they deserve it and will then go on and punish themselves.  Or they will feel a sense of debt and carry the burden of repaying it with them until the imaginary debt is paid.

  1. How often do you demonstrate grace to others?

This is a good question.  Let me give you some ideas to think about.  How do you respond when someone takes the parking spot you were going for on a Saturday at the local mall?  What about when someone butts in front of you line for lunch when you’re famished?  Or how about when a friend forgets to meet you somewhere and you feel stood up?

The way we respond really tells a lot about what we believe about grace.  It’s not fair to want and accept grace but never give it, is it?  Likewise, it’s not fair to yourself to always being a grace-giver but not a grace-receiver.  Additionally, what are you saying to the person/s that was attempting to show you grace through their actions?  Are you saying you reject their gift?  In all likelihood, if you reject or discard the generous gift of grace, you’re not likely to receive it again from that same person.  And in the end, you both lose.

The moral of the story on grace is that to be considered healthy and truly be a benefit to our well being, we need to be both Grace Givers & Grace Receivers and to do both often.

A Life without Grace

When we look at the world around us, I often see a lack of grace.  I have come to expect people mouthing off when things don’t go their way.  Also, I anticipate hearing people shout at the television set in disagreement with whoever happens to be speaking.  I prepare myself for the wrath I will receive if I have to deliver bad news.  Even in settings that would seem safe, we can often feel like we’re in a bipolar world and have no idea what type of response we will be getting.

I don’t know about you, but I yearn for a world filled with grace.  I want to live in a world that gives second chances and accepts the occasional human error as normal.  I’m not saying I want all standards to disappear, for heaven’s sake one of my job functions is quality assurance, but we don’t need to hear verbal baseball bats when something goes awry.  We don’t need to read social media posts accusing others of terrible things.  These nasty comments are often unfounded, or at the very least being spoken by someone who is not an expert in the field in the first place.

The only way we’re going to see more grace in our world is to be an active giver and receiver of grace ourselves.

2. More on Mercy

The second half of our main topic today is mercy and as we said previously, it is not giving people what they do deserve.

As a former university professor, I often think of grades when I think of mercy.  If a student didn’t study, didn’t seek help, and basically let life pass them by on the topic I’m teaching about, they deserve to fail the test or assignment.

Another trend I have often noticed in academia is that students who procrastinate feel that the instructor should bail them out.  Over the years I’ve received quite a few last minute emails desperate for a helping hand.  Should I be up at 10pm on a Sunday night eager to help my favorite procrastinators?  Probably not.  Did I do it anyway, yes most of the time I did.

Why?  Because I know life as an American young adult is more challenging than many people think.  And life as a university student is no picnic either.  While my personal preference is to plan ahead, I realize this is not always possible and if responding to a simple email helps someone, I am glad to be a part of that.

My approach was actually a combination of grace & mercy.  Through grace I would often provide the help they didn’t deserve at 10 pm on a Sunday.  Through mercy I always closely examined any question that over ½ of the class got wrong.  I looked for typos, grammar errors, or any conflicts with what was in the textbook or notes I had provided.

If I was convinced that the error was on my part as the teacher, I took the blame and often gave credit for more than one right answer.  However, even in the midst of grace & mercy, I didn’t lose touch with my sense of reality.  If I asked a question such as which of the following are pets and the choices were dogs, cats, birds, and cheese, I would not accept cheese as a correct answer, no matter how much effort a student made to convince that they had pet cheese!

A Life without Mercy

So, what would a life without mercy look like?  I think it would be rigid, with no margin of error.

Either you would need to perform with 100% accuracy or you would be considered a loser.

There would be no teachers up checking email late at night on a weekend.

We would throw more people in jail and throw away the key.

I’m sure you get the idea.

Unfortunately, I know there are some areas of our world that already operate with a no-mercy mentality.  In certain cases, it is important as part of the development process needed for certain career choices.

And there are also extremes that go the other way- all mercy, no accountability.  That’s not good either and it can often result in adults who cannot accept blame or real consequences.

Just like grace, for optimal health benefits, we need to be both receivers and givers of mercy.

So What About the Student Request for Mercy?

As a nursing professor, I couldn’t give out free points or any bonus work.  You had to earn your grades to pass my courses.  So, due to job requirements and the overall goal of having high quality RNs who could provide high quality nursing care to others, I was not permitted to show much mercy.

But as I mentioned, if I felt the blame was in any way on me, I took it and would not punish the student.  As I recall, there were 2 or 3 questions in that pharmacology test that were a bit on the vague side and although they were not wrong, they really were too challenging for sophomore levels students.  So, I accepted more than one answer as correct and in the end most students in the class received an extra 2-3 points for teacher error. And my dear student who begged for mercy got a few of those points, passed the course, and later became a high quality RN!

Dr. Terri’s Heath Tip & Challenge of the Week

Now for the health tip & challenge of the week.

Now it’s time to take action.  I have 2 challenges for you this week and I’d love to hear feedback from anyone who accepts the challenge.

  1. Find at least one way to show grace to someone in a situation where you would not be required or expected to.
  2. Find at least one way to show mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Consider social media as a great place to have a positive influence and let your grace & mercy shine!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you have barriers getting in the way of you freely receiving grace in your life?
  2. Is it time that you speak to a counselor or friend about issues that are getting in the way of your happiness and joy?
  3. How much mercy do you show toward others during the course of a normal week?
  4. Is it time to dial up your mercy level?


Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2017). Grace.  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2017). Mercy.  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mercy

Ways to Connect with Me:

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