Grace and mercy are not just church words… They are prerequisites for healthy and extraordinary relationships!
I know grace and mercy are words that we associate with church. And certainly they have their place in that setting.
But perhaps the most important place for the words and the practice of grace and mercy is in relationships. Relationships of all kinds. Marriage relationships, intimate relationships, parent child relationships, work relationships, and many more.
What are the definitions of grace and mercy? The dictionary defines grace as favor or goodwill that is not earned; it defines mercy as compassion or kindness shown to another. Often the words are used interchangeably.
But in relationships I like to use this definition with couples: Grace is giving your partner something that they may not deserve, and mercy is withholding a negative response or consequence that they may actually deserve.
Psychological research has indicated that there are five characteristics of couples who report their relationships to be healthy and fulfilling:
- Gratefulness for the other
- Daily expressions of love in word and in deed
For many years, I have worked with couples in my practice, conducted premarital workshops, and led “Heaven On Earth Relationships” intensives. Although in all of these situations I teach the five characteristics listed above, I have found that grace and mercy are often missing in relationships.
Why are they so often missing? First, very little grace and mercy is modeled for us; and secondly, we tend to live in a “get even” society.
There is so much to talk about “abuse“ in relationships that it automatically sets us up to take the attitude of “don’t be a doormat,“ or “don’t let them get away with anything!“ (Let me say here that abuse is never acceptable, and if you think that you may be in a toxic relationship, you might want to download my free guide to identifying abuse, and how to stop it by clicking here).
Practicing grace and mercy has nothing to do with being a doormat or allowing abuse. As a matter of fact, research has found many benefits to practicing of grace and mercy.
Harvard University lists some of the benefits of practicing grace:
• Relieves harmful levels of stress hormones
• Prevents coronary artery damage
• Improves gut function
• Assists with insulin regulation
• Bolsters immune system
• Stimulates release of stress-reducing hormones
Other research includes these benefits of practicing grace:
Lessens physical pain
Relaxes your body
Stops brain spinning
Increases our energy
Gives us courage
Creates a sense of success
Improves immune system function
Gives us desire to persevere
Nurtures our creativity
Sharpens our mental functions
Mayo Clinic research has shown these benefits of practicing mercy:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self-esteem
The Mayo Clinic further reported on their research of the harms caused if mercy is not practiced:
- Introduces anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience
- Subjects become so wrapped up in the wrong that they can’t enjoy the present
- Creates depression
- Exacerbates anxiety
- Creates the sense that life lacks meaning or purpose
- Interrupts valuable and enriching connectedness with others
The benefits and consequences alone should encourage us to be on a mission to extend grace (love, encouragement, or favor) and mercy (kindness that is not deserved, holding back anger or consequences others might actually deserve) to people on a regular basis… regardless of whether or not they deserve it! And to certainly shower our partner or spouse with grace and mercy. No doubt, they would be much easier to be around, even if they are difficult, while experiencing those benefits.
The interesting thing about grace and mercy is that both the giver and the receiver enjoy the benefits. However, research indicates that the giverof grace and mercy receives at least a double doseof the benefits.
This is precisely the reason I teach people that offering grace and mercy comes from a place of strength, not a place of weakness. When we are deeply hurt grace and mercy may seem to be beyond our reach. But it never is.
For many years I have worked with couples who are struggling with restoring their relationship after infidelity. It is such a devastating experience. The first question these couples normally ask me is: “can we get over this? Can we ever get our relationship back?” My answer is always the same… Absolutely! But the healing and restoration is directly correlated with the amount of grace and mercy the hurt partner can offer and live in, and the amount of true remorse the offending partner can display and live in.
I could produce a great reality series on the things that the wounded partner does when learning of the affair. In moments of shock, betrayal, and deep heartbreak, interesting things occur. In one case, the devastated partner of a somewhat famous individual put up a billboard near their shared office stating: “X is a cheater!” In another case, the cheater found his clothing in the swimming pool. In another, a businessman found that the left sleeve was cut off all of his coats and sports jackets. These examples are somewhat humorous, but to the individuals involved we know the consequences were devastating.
I never criticize these knee-jerk reactions because they come out of a place of desperation and devastation. However, I do tell them that now they have made their statement; it’s time to move to a place of grace and mercy (if the partner is truly remorseful).
Challenging? Yes! But absolutely necessary for healing? Without a doubt!
My greatest joy in walking with couples is teaching them to make grace and mercy a dedicated and daily mission. In my experience, validated by research, there are far less cases of infidelity reported in relationships where grace and mercy abound.
Here are three principles of practicing grace and mercy that I share with couples:
- In order to extend grace and mercy to your partner, you must first be gracious and merciful with yourself
- If you have a reward in mind when you give grace and mercy, it is no longer an extension and grace and mercy, but manipulation.
- Always remember that the benefits listed are doubled for the giver. So give well and give freely!
If theonlything you changed about yourself in your relationship was the extension of grace and mercy to your partner, I truly believe within 30 days you would use the word EXTRAORDINARY to describe your relationship! The sincere offering of grace and mercy elicit respect and admiration. My hope is that you will start today. My hope for your life and for your relationship is that they become amazingly fulfilling!