“God have mercy on his soul.”

The phrase was said sorrowfully in a warm Nigerian accent– all the O’s very open. The words and inflection sent a thrill of small horror through me.

I’ve read the expression before, of course, but I’d never before heard it spontaneously in conversation. The hugeness of what it signified hit me as it never has in print.

Here was a believer, awestruck at the evil encountered in an individual, and her instinctive reaction was both to recognize the destruction he was sowing and invoke perhaps the only possible response of a believer watching from the outside.

I suppose it is used as an exclamation more than a prayer for most people. And I’d even assume that many of the other people who say it are not particularly interested in the eternal reward of the transgressor. But it’s made me think: of how Jesus prayed for Peter, and all the stories of restoration I’ve read.

God is so much bigger than our wants or dislikes that maybe an instinctive reaction like this, even if it is thoughtless, can be healthy. Perhaps we give too much emphasis to the idea of being always “present” and consciously choosing what we do.

That is good for a beginning, but what if some things were better not to think of?

To use the analogy of a child learning how to walk: It is right and natural for him or her to focus all thought and energy on mastering the cooperation of muscles. It is silly and a waste of time (or symptomatic of worse problems) to continue that level of focus as an adult.

If I can invoke or train some muscle memory to maintain right-thinking, isn’t that a healthier way to live than having to think and decide every time if I’m going to, say, pray about a problem? Or be joyful?

My best example says yes. Thankfulness is one thing I almost never have to think about.

I’m convinced this has something to do with how I was raised, and how we watched God provide for us. Not the enforced thank-you notes, though. Sorry. Still hit-and-{late} on those.

If my kids are able to say there is one virtue that comes naturally as the result of their upbringing, I will feel a huge measure of success.

But thankfulness to God is instinctive for me.

I am continually floored at his timing and provision. The thanks is on my lips as soon as I stumble– because I didn’t fall, or I didn’t hit the ground baby-first (true story). I am grateful beyond words when God plants something in my husband’s heart along with mine, so neither of us has to convince the other of anything.

And my thanks comes automatically, with awe and delight at the hugeness of God and His ways.

Wouldn’t it be amazing and wonderful to be that instinctive with forgiveness and mercy too? To remember that the monster who probably deserves Man’s death penalty is still one of those Jesus died for, and one He would rejoice to redeem.

I don’t think my walk is that well-trained yet, but I begin to wonder if I’m too old to teach myself to pray, to say– if nothing else as a reminder to myself that it was the purpose of Jesus coming–

God have mercy on his soul.

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