A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford

The man had betrayed his wife, shamed his friends, lost the respect of his children, disgusted his church family. For the last ten years he has been penitently rebuilding his life, earning back his wife’s love, patiently building back his reputation. He was in town recently, and I ran into him. We talked about his family and work, and then he said, with tears in his eyes, “Libby, I didn’t know how precious God’s mercy is until His mercy was all I had left.”

He’d lost everything precious in life—except the everlasting, tender mercies of God. “Mercy” is “showing compassion to someone who desperately deserves to be punished for his wrong-doing, by someone who not only has the power to punish, but who has the moral duty to punish.” God is a holy God; He must punish sin. The only reason He can show us His mercy is because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin.

That resonates with me. I asked Jesus to be my Savior before I was five years old, and I have reveled in His love and mercy for more than 90 years. Why? Because again and again I’ve failed to act as the child of God He intends me to be. And oftentimes, there’s been no way for me to make it right.

I remember one blessed time I did find a way to make a wrong right. It was my first (and last, believe me!) venture into shop-lifting. I was twelve years old, in Woolworth’s on Jefferson Street in Oak Cliff, Dallas. I was shopping for valentines for my class. I had a solitary dime in my hand. Several assortments were available for ten cents, but contained only 12 valentines, and there were 22 kids in my class. I discovered, by chance, that one of the plastic-wrapped valentine packages would fit neatly inside one of a boxed set. So, heart pounding, I left it there. The check-out girl rang up my purchase without noticing my theft, and I had enough valentines for everybody in the class. I went home and merrily filled out my stolen valentines.

But my conscience began to stir, and then to burn. My heart was broken because of my sin against God. That was in February. In April our family moved from Dallas to Wheaton, Illinois, and my guilty conscience moved right along with me. I finally figured a way to make my theft right. I saved every penny I could lay hands on, and at last had a whole dollar bill. I mailed it with my confession to the manager of Woolworth’s on Jefferson Street, and my guilty conscience sighed with relief. That’s when I learned how sweet and precious is the gift of God’s mercy. “You don’t know how precious God’s mercy is until it’s the only thing you have left.”

But there are times when I have wronged someone, or misjudged them, or acted dishonorably, and I have no way of making it right. There’s no convenient address on Jefferson Street to send an apology to. No dollar bill can make right the wrong I’ve done. No words of apology are strong enough to heal the breach. That’s when I am driven to accept the only thing left to me, and that is God’s infinite, loving, unending mercy. I have no other resource, no other way, no other answer to make things right, except His everlasting mercy. Psalm 145:8,9 says,

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.

So what can we do, when overwhelmed with guilt? Tell God all about it. Ask for His forgiveness. Do whatever is possible to make it right. And then rest in God’s mercy, greater than any wrong we’ve committed. “You don’t know how precious God’s mercy is, until it’s the only thing yoou have left.”