I’m sure elementary-aged boys are much more sophisticated and peaceful these days, but I grew up going to school with guys who whiled away their not-so-innocent childhoods inventing new ways to torment and maim their closest friends.

Who can forget the good, clean fun of trading punches, Indian burns, noogies, wedgies and Sylvester Stallone style knuckle-breaking arm wrestling matches? All of these twisted activities of my youth seemed to involve a unique combination of pain and utter humiliation. The school playgrounds of the 1970’s were like Lord of the Flies with a slide and a swing set.

One of my favorite, and at the same time most hated, of these juvenile gladiator matches was the sadistic game called “mercy.” If you’ve never played, let me assure you that the title is misleading to say the least. You play mercy by facing your opponent, interlacing your fingers with theirs and then promptly trying to twist their wrists clean off their arms. Apply pressure, create pain and force your adversary to yield. What could be more fun than that? At this point, the Lord of the Flies reference should start to make a little more sense.

I don’t think I ever won a game of mercy. Everyone I played with seemed to be doing some secret hand-strengthening exercise that I never discovered. The game, however, did teach me a valuable lesson about human nature. No one likes to admit weakness. Even when my fingers were being crushed to jelly I adamantly refused to say, “mercy.” I would whimper, scream and howl, but I did not want to say that word. It didn’t matter that my Neanderthal classmate was crippling me for life. I would not admit defeat.

The funny thing is that many of us still have the same problem. We don’t like to admit that we’re not as strong as we pretend to be. Weakness is unacceptable. Failure is not an option. Mercy? Who needs it?

Ironically, it is these cries of mercy that open the door for God to do His best work. When the pressure of life gets too much, when we feel ourselves crushed under the weight of our problems, the best thing we can do is tell God, “Enough. I’m done.” When we admit we’re done, that’s when we discover that God is just getting started. And when God steps into our situation, it’s a total game changer.

Just imagine if back in my playground days I could have brought my dad to school with me. Think of what it would have been like if I could have said, “mercy” and had my dad tag in on my behalf. How awesome would that have been? I would have absolutely dominated the game. Having a big, strong dad at my side would have made me invincible.

The same is true today. We have a dad in heaven who wants to do our fighting for us. He wants us to admit that we need His help and invite Him to join the game. He’s just waiting for us to tag Him in so that He can use His strength on our behalf.

The only thing that holds us back is pride. From the moment we’re born, we’re taught that we’re supposed to grow up to be self sufficient. The only problem is that the self is not sufficient. The self is made to be dependent.

So the next time you feel yourself buckling under the pressures of life, remember that crying mercy is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually the best thing because it unlocks the power of God to do what we could never do on our own.


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