I Cry Mercy In The Face of Suffering

We sat around the screen, our youth ministry students, this past Sunday watching the movie, “Son of God.”  It seemed a good idea to start the year off with such a movie as our church spends the year, “Following Jesus” through Luke’s Gospel (the lectionary gospel of this year).  For most of my life, Mark had been my favorite Gospel but like we all do, my leanings changed.

Now I find myself drawn to Luke’s telling of the Gospel story.  I’m not as hurried as I was in year’s past, something that tied me to Mark’s Gospel and his favorite word: “immediately.”  But Luke isn’t plodding along in his story either.  He offers more detail.  There is a personal nature to his book when he talks about his reasoning for writing.  I like his passion for telling Good News to everyday people and the reminder Jesus didn’t come looking for the world’s “beautiful people” who seem to have it all together.  This is no self-help book, it is a “GOD!  HELP ME!” book and we get God’s response - “I am here.”

In and among all the reasons I’ve come to listen to Luke’s voice is his focus on the stories Jesus told.  No doubt Jesus was THE master storyteller but Luke seems quite adept at story-telling himself, weaving the many stories Jesus told, some not recorded anywhere else but in his Gospel, and placing them expertly in the narrative of the God who is with us.

By far, my favorite is the story of the Tax Collector and Pharisee at prayer (Luke 18:9-14).  I love the way “Son of God” weaves this parable into the narrative of Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector, to follow him.  Even more so, it is the simple and so profound prayer that has become “the Jesus Prayer,” prayed by the Orthodox Church and which has been instrumental in my own journey of faith.

I have written about it before, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I have taught on it and preached on it.  I can testify, that prayed along with prayer beads, one truly begins to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).  But it will go deeper.  If thoughtfully prayed and meditated upon, it will also do deep soul work, breaking apart our “hearts of stone” as the prophet Ezekiel wrote (36:26).

As my wife’s battle with stage 4 colon-cancer continues into the second year, it has become a more urgent cry of intercession: “Lord, have mercy.”  At times, the only word that comes is simply, “mercy, mercy, mercy.”  There is no more words that suffice.  No other words will do.  Hell, there isn’t another word that can fill the cry of my heart.  I pray it for Heather.  I pray it for my son, Logan and my daughter, Jay.  I pray it for everyone who asks for my prayers.

Why?  Why mercy?

As I said, it is the sum of my heart and all that my mind can muster.  It is a word that is at once a prayer for healing and a respite from pain.  It is a word that puts what I cannot control into the One who has the final say.  It is both a prayer when my faith is strongest and a wish when I have lost hope.  It is on behalf of all the goodness and joy which I see in my wife and dearest friend and it is penance for my sinfulness and anger and the ugliness in my own heart no one but God can see.  

I pray it because most days are a kind of purgatory I never imagined existing.  I pray it when I stand in solidarity with other caregivers who feel alone and isolated and have no voice because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves but are longing for someone to notice them.  I pray it in the quiet of the night and the hectic nature of the work day.

I cry mercy because it is the only word I have found sufficient for the created to say to the Creator.  Mercy dear Lord.


So while I do not know what it is you face this day, there is a prayer that can express your heart when other words will not suffice.  It is not magical and it is more profound than mantra.  Pray it in your need or at your own risk and if you cannot, know that I will be praying this day for you…


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