I’ll never forget where I was, how the hair on my arms stood straight up and goosebumps erupted all over my skin. I’ll never forget how my pounding heart beat like a drum until I could hardly sit in my chair and found myself standing and walking to the front of the room with the rest of the teen girls, who were falling to their knees and breaking down in tears.
Just hours before, I had been laughing with my friends in our cabin, feeling fine and free. It wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a summer camp — a time to make memories and have fun with friends. Never in a million years could I imagine I’d end up splitting my heart wide open, sitting on the floor of some big gathering room, and crying loudly with prayers pouring from my heart.
The speaker stood on the stage, telling her story and speaking of all the pain and sorrow she once held inside. As she spoke, she lugged around a ball and chain that was attached to her ankle. She told us that holding on to pain and hurt is like being shackled to a heavy weight that always follows and drags, and that the only way to be free of it is to forgive — both ourselves and others.
I thought about the pain I carried from watching my older brother live a life full of sickness and suffering. I thought about the pain I carried from watching my parents split and go their separate ways. I thought about the pain I carried from losing friends after moving from school to school to school. I thought about the sadness I cradled and how it had twisted into a bitter resentment that left me wondering why everything in my life always seemed to fall apart.
I sat on that floor with the rest of the teenagers spilling their hearts out, and I joined in. I joined not because I needed to do what everyone else was doing but because I needed to understand this God for myself. I needed to know if He really could hold my heart, heal my hurt, and set me free from the shackles of sorrow.
My prayer, a whirlwind of whispered words, came out slow and honest:
Dear God, I don’t know who You are. I don’t know if You’re real. But if You are, please take my hurt and give me a heart that cares for others the way that You do. Give me eyes to see the world the way You do and a mouth to speak the way You speak.
When I got up from the floor that day, I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel changed or all charged up to go set the world on fire. I only hoped that God had heard me, that He would help me, and that He would have His way in my heart.
Not too long after this moment of sweet surrender, I traveled with my church to Quito, Ecuador, for a weeklong community outreach. Each night we sat under the big white tent as the same refrain played from a wonky keyboard and we all sang: Gracias, gracias Señor. Gracias mi Señor, Jesus. Hands lifting, voices rising in both English and Spanish, we sang this song about receiving the gift of everlasting mercy and everlasting life, about being set free through the blood of Jesus.
On my last day in Quito, I sat on the bleachers at the soccer field and wrapped a young girl in my sweater to shield her from the wind. As we sat there, watching the kids on the field kicking up dust for hours on end, I looked out at the horizon and found myself thinking back to that camp prayer I prayed.
It felt almost as if everything I’d ever felt had been released. I felt compassion — a desire to care about the pain of others — filling me up to overflow. And in that moment I realized that I couldn’t care for the people of a capital city halfway around the world without caring for the people closest to me. I realized I didn’t just want to receive the gift of mercy that I had been singing about. I wanted to extend mercy like God does. I wanted to live out mercy and I wanted to give mercy.
I felt like Saul (a.k.a. Paul) on the road to Damascus as he journeyed from merciless to merciful — from persecuting Christians to passionately proclaiming Christ. Found and forgiven, he was set free to unashamedly share the message of God’s loving-kindness.
This is why mercy matters, because it spreads like wildfire and burns bright with redemption. Mercy restores us to one another while also restoring us to God. And that is God’s heart — that none of us would be far from love or far from Him.
And what a gift it is that His mercy is not just for today. It stretches into tomorrow, saves, and secures us even for life after life. Mercy sets us free not just here on earth but for eternity.
The thought of such grace sends chills down my spine.
Story by Rachel Marie Kang as published in Create in Me a Heart of Mercy
What a powerful story of real-life, deep mercy. This piece appears in our latest Bible Study, Create in Me a Heart of Mercy, available now for preorder. With stories like Rachel’s woven together with Scripture study by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young, our prayer is that this study will help you see the mercy God offers each one of us.
Create in Me a Heart of Mercy releases May 16th, and we are SO excited to see how God will use it to speak to your heart. Sign up to get a FREE full week of Bible study from Create in Me a Heart of Mercy and preorder your copy today!