Grace is a close sibling to mercy, and often people use the term “grace” to encompass both grace and mercy. Unlike grace proper, though, mercy is not a positive action, but, rather, the absence of a negative one. Mercy is withholding punishment or consequences that are clearly deserved. Your teenager who’s testing the limits probably deserves more consequences than you can dream up.
What’s the difference between being a permissive parent, and showing mercy and grace? Ah, that is a quandary. God models the perfect balance between justice and mercy, and we can learn from His example.
Requirements for Justice
Deep down, we all have a legalistic tendency, like Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, that makes us sadly delight at times in exacting penalties. When we salivate at exacting our “pound of flesh,” though, we fail to reach the hearts of our teenagers. They can certainly tell when we are truly grieved by both their sin and our responsibility to dole out promised consequences, and they fully recognize the times when we enjoy seeing them suffer.
Even when we must justly meet out promised consequences, God wants us to delight in showing mercy (Micah 6:8); we should never enjoy seeing others suffer, even when clearly they deserve it.
Boundaries for Justice
As parents, we need to set up safeguards to prevent us from setting unfair expectations or requiring absurd consequences. In the case of Shylock, his distaste of mercy was only part of the problem: He made a foolish agreement. Our kids need to know that we mean what we say, but at the same time, we need to be mindful of our own humanity and the potential for error.
Of course, this is where God is not an appropriate model: He is sinless, and none of his judgments require editing. We need to be cautious about rashly doling out punishments when we are angry—who hasn’t been told they’ve been grounded for the rest of their life?!
We should allow our kids some kind of appeal procedure during times of non-conflict and provide clear, unemotional communication regarding our expectations and consequences for noncompliance. Those kinds of equitable conditions can coordinate with a love of mercy to provide a consistent and just scenario that teenagers respect.
Requirements for Mercy
While justice is often necessary, those who love mercy will demonstrate it, at times. In order for consequences to be waived, though, repentance is required. Mercy is most appropriate regarding an offense that is not indicative of a negative behavior pattern. God delights in a repentant spirit (Psalm 51:17), and as a parent, you can model godliness by showing mercy, too.
If your teen insists in his innocence or argues that he was justified in his wrongdoing, he cannot appreciate your mercy as such. He must realize that consequences are deserved in order to truly benefit from mercy. If you pretend the wrong did not occur (Prov 28:13), a merciful response could actually do more harm than good.