Mercy in the Balance
by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
But how can it, Grandpa? Those questions only make me feel worse.”
“That is exactly why they hold the key to joy.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“In a different day and age it would have, Ricky, but not in your day, when everyone is trying to find happiness without giving up their sins. But you and I know better:
‘Wickedness never was happiness.’43 King Benjamin’s people became filled with joy only after they fell to the earth in fear for their sins, viewing themselves as ‘less than the dust of the earth.’44 The despair that gripped Alma the younger was replaced by joy only after he was ‘harrowed up by the memory of his many sins.’45 The father of King Lamoni had it right when he prayed, ‘I will give away all my sins to know thee,’46 which required him to recognize what was sinful within him.
“And so I ask again: Are there any ways that you are forgetting your own sins? Any ways you are failing to remember mercies that Carol has showed you? Any ways that you are forgetting the Lord? Any ways that you have become blind to your own ‘Nineveh-ness’? Any ways that you persist in feeling entitled? Contrary to modern belief, there are no happier questions than these.”
Rick’s mind was by now far away in a memory. He was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, Carol next to him. They had been out on a date that night-more from a feeling of obligation than from a desire to be together. Their conversations had been forced and awkward. They were now headed home, far earlier than on any date before they were married, in order to save on the baby-sitter bill. The penny-pinching reason for their early return, so common in their marriage, gnawed at Rick, but on this night he was anxious to get home himself, where rooms and walls would muffle the painful echo of their silence.
“There’s something I need to say to you,” Carol had said as they neared their home. To which Rick thought, Great, here we go again.
“I’m not very strong right now,” Carol began. “It isn’t fair to you, I suppose, but you are going to have to supply the love and understanding and support in this relationship. I’m afraid that I can’t do it right now.”
Rick pulled the car to a stop on the shoulder of the road. “That isn’t fair, Carol,” he retorted, flashing her an angry look. “You can’t demand that of me. You can’t just say that you’re not strong enough to supply love right now. You can’t do that! It’s not right. I’m not feeling very strong either, to tell you the truth. Who’s going to give me the support that I need! Hmm?”
“I know it isn’t fair, Rick, and I’m really sorry about it.” Rick recalled the self-pitying look on her face, and he felt repulsed anew.
“‘Sorry’! This is what you mean by sorry? That’s no apology, Carol. And besides, you can’t get what you’re looking for the way you’re trying to get it, anyway. You don’t discover love by demanding love from others. You discover it by learning to love others yourself. Unless you find a way to love, my love, or anyone else’s, won’t help you. You discover love by learning to love others. There is no other way.”
“Truer words have never been spoken, Ricky,” his grandfather interrupted, ripping Rick back from his memory. “Too bad you didn’t believe what you were saying.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You told Carol that ‘you don’t discover love by demanding love from others, you discover it by learning to love others.’ And how right you were. But you didn’t believe it even when you said it.”
“Sure I did. I still believe it.”
“Then tell me, if you believed that your love of others does not depend on their love of you, why did you have a problem with Carol’s request? Why did you get upset when she said that she was feeling weak and that you were going to have to be the primary source of love and support for awhile?”
“Well, because it isn’t right, that’s why.”
“What isn’t right?”
“That one person-me-has to supply all the love. It isn’t fair! I’m tired of it. Why can’t she hold up her end?”
“Do you need her to?”
“Why?” Rick repeated, incredulously. “Why?”
“Well, because. Because we’re married and we’re supposed to be ‘one’-one flesh and one heart. Are you saying that she doesn’t have to love me? That it’s just tough luck and deal with it? If so, I disagree completely. That isn’t what marriage should be like!”
“You’re quite right, Ricky, that isn’t what marriage should be like. But it is also clear from what you’ve just said that you don’t believe what you told Carol. Your own love is contingent on hers-you say you are willing to be ‘one,’ but only if she is. And if your love is contingent on hers, then why shouldn’t hers be contingent on yours?”
“But what are you saying, then, Grandpa? That I should just smile and be happy? I’m sorry; I’m not going to do that. I won’t be taken advantage of, by Carol or anyone else. I saw what that was like by watching you and Grandma. I won’t have it that way.”
Grandpa Carson paused for a moment and looked up at the sky. A bead of sweat trickled down his brow, the first sign of stress that Rick had witnessed during their encounters. He shook his head slowly. “I’m not sure I can help you, Ricky,” he said. “I’m not sure I can help.”
Rick had fallen back into defensiveness, but this comment shook him free. “What do you mean, Grandpa?”
“Just what I said, my boy. I’m not sure I can help you. Perhaps another time,” he said, standing tall and turning toward Rick, “when you’re ready.” He tried to give Rick a smile.
“No. Don’t go. I’m not ready for you to go. I want to understand this. Please stay. I’m sorry about what I just said. I didn’t mean it, not really.”
Grandpa Carson looked deeply into Rick’s eyes. As Rick returned the look, he saw for the first time a profound sadness in those eyes, as if a lifetime’s worth of tears had pooled up in a place deep within.
“What’s wrong, Grandpa?”
“I love you so much, Ricky. In the same measure that I love your Carol. It’s almost more than I can bear to see you both suffer. And at each other’s hands-” He broke off what he was saying and looked out over the expanse of Nineveh. “And your children too-Alan, Eric, Anika, and Lauren-don’t be fooled by their smiles and silence, Ricky; they know what’s going on, Alan and Eric in particular.”
Rick felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach.
“They’ve heard many of your arguments while pretending to sleep, perhaps as you heard things not intended for your ears when you stayed with me and Grandma.” He cast Rick a knowing look.
“They have spent many tearful nights because of what they have heard,” he continued. “They’re confused, Ricky, and worried. You have no idea the pain they feel. They hide it well because they love you so much.
“You know how eager they are to see you every night?” he asked.
Rick nodded absentmindedly.
“You think they are just happy to see you. And they are, to be sure, but there is more to it than that. They are trying to hold the family together, and they do that in part by holding you themselves. There is desperation as well as love in their arms and fingers.”
The memories of those eager hugs flooded Rick’s mind, and he nearly doubled over in pain as he felt the long embraces anew. He could feel the fear in those clutches, just as his grandfather said. Why didn’t I notice it before?
“Every prayer Alan and Eric have offered up over the last year has centered around you, Carol, and the family,” his grandfather continued. “In fact, it is because of them, and their prayers, that I am here.”
Rick couldn’t find a word to say. He thought of Alan and Eric, Anika and Lauren. They couldn’t have really been hurt, could they? he hoped lamely out of his own desperation. Please, Lord, don’t let them be hurt.
“Perhaps you can learn something from how they are dealing with that hurt,” came his grandfather’s voice. “The desperate love they are showing both you and Carol, as a way of holding the family together, can help you with your struggle if you will let it.”
“Consider, Ricky, how your children are answering the Lord’s question, ‘Should not I spare Nineveh?’ Like the Phoenician mariners, they have done nothing wrong yet suffer for the wrongs of others. And despite the fact that they have done nothing wrong-despite the fact that they have done nothing to deserve the pain they are feeling-they love you with all their hearts. They desperately pray for your happiness. They beg for the Lord’s mercy on your behalf. Their love is not contingent on yours or Carol’s. It does not fail in the face of difficulty.
“When you discover why that is,” he continued, “your love will no longer be contingent either, and you will experience a love that you have only fleetingly known, a love that endureth forever and faileth not, despite hardships and difficulties. When you discover that love, you will discover a Carol that you haven’t known either. Your answer to the Lord’s question will then be the right one, and despair will give way to hope and joy.”
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.