Pouring on Guilt? Or Administering Mercy?


“You shouldn’t have done that…”, “If only you hadn’t cut it…”, “Of all the things you could have done, that was the worst…”, “I just can’t believe you did that…”

All of the above statements and more were made to me recently. The person speaking to me was our landlord. Currently, we are renting a house and I made a mistake. You see, the kitchen floor is covered in linoleum. It is in good condition. However, during the winter months, the edges started curling up under the cabinets and were covering the main heater vent in the kitchen. Being the consummate handyman that I am and not wanting to bother the landlord, I decided to “trim” back the linoleum. Unfortunately, I cut about three inches off of the linoleum and then stapled down the edges with a staple gun (I kid you not). Over the next couple of months, the linoleum started coming up and occasionally bits of food would fall under the flooring. Our dogs, with their finely tuned dog noses, sniffed out the food and would try to retrieve the food by clawing the linoleum. Needless to say, the edges of our linoleum are ripped in various spots and the whole thing looks like a disaster.

Back to the quoted statements…those were a few of the things that the landlord said to me when I explained to him over the phone the situation. Now, I can understand his frustration. Here he is managing many different homes and there are people like me (Tim the tool-man Taylor) trying to “help him out” by fixing things myself. I can understand his frustration. However, I do not understand why he continued to berate me over and over again on the telephone concerning the issue. I believe I counted ten different times he told me in no uncertain terms that I blew it, I made a huge mistake, this could have been fixed if I would have called him initially. I told him that I had good intentions and was trying to keep from having him employ someone to fix the situation. He put me down again and I finally interrupted him and said out loud, “I MADE A MISTAKE, I SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE WHAT I DID!”

Have you ever done something wrong, perhaps a major screw up, and had those around you, especially those you love just pile on and beat you over the head with what you did wrong? The above episode helped me to reflect on the many times I have poured guilt on the offending party instead of administering mercy. And I couldn’t help but think of how bad the other person felt while I was reminding them of “how wrong” they were in that particular instance or how they could have done it better or what they should have done. Ever been there?? Oh, the countless times I have poured guilt on those around me for not making the grade.

As I considered the illustration at hand, I pensively pondered as to how Jesus treated those around him who failed, who sinned, who just blew it. Immediately, my mind went to the woman in John 8 who was caught in adultery (the Bible states “in the very act”). How did Jesus treat her? Let’s see…

First, He was silent. The setting to the story starts in John 8, verse 1. Accusations fly and tempers flare and yet Jesus does not say a word. In matter of fact, He does not say anything until verse ten of the chapter. And when He does speak, there is no one else around except Him and the accused. If I could only learn this principle, I would be a better man! So frequently, I can’t wait to get the words flowing as to how wrong the other person was. Silence. Quiet. These are traits of those who would rather administer mercy than pour on guilt.

Second, He was succinct. If you count the words that Jesus used in the story here in John 8, you will find twenty-one words. And those twenty-one words were in a conversation with the woman. When a person is pouring on the guilt, there is often a flood of words, comments, and looks. It is the rare bird that pours on guilt with few words. The lesson I learn from Jesus’ concise statements is that fewer words are better (not telling your tenant ten times they were wrong…or telling your wife five times how she screwed up or berating your children over and over again for breaking that one item in the house that won’t matter ten years from now).

Third, He used the right sequence. What I mean by that is that He first brought her close to Him (not physically, but in His relationship to her) and then gave her instructions to follow. So often, we want to jump all over the “right way” that something should have been done or what needs not be done in the future and then we try to bring that offended one close to us. No, no, no. The right way as Jesus showed us is to administer mercy first, and instructions second. Notice His last words to this woman caught in adultery in the story, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” Did you notice the order? Mercy, then instruction. “Neither do I condemn thee” (that’s the mercy); “…go, and sin no more.” (that’s the instruction).

We don’t know how that woman’s life ended up. However, may I submit to you that she most likely took the instruction to heart and it changed her life, most likely the rest of her life. Why? Because when mercy is first administered (instead of guilt), instruction is easy to follow. Oh, may we go and do likewise with our spouses, our children, our co-workers and anyone and everyone we interact with on a regular basis.

The linoleum? Well, my landlord says I am fully responsible for the cost of replacing the entire linoleum in my kitchen and dining room. That’s okay…the lesson he taught me by the guilt he poured on me was worth much more than I will pay to replace the flooring….

8 thoughts on “Pouring on Guilt? Or Administering Mercy?”

  1. Hello Joshua R. Thanks for the lesson today. Wow…good! BUT, may I have your landlord’s number? I would like a word with him. 😉 Love you, brother!

  2. being a landlord for many years I simply would have shown my shock over your stupidity and probably would have had the floor repaired without any question. The apartment is still my asset and still my responsibility. The repair would have been a write off so there would be some benefit to me. Brother Bob

  3. Josh, I thought about what you wrote and it reminded me of a situation with my husband recently. We were going to some good friends’ home for dinner and I was asked to bring appetizers. So I cut up fruit and made cinnamon chips to dip the fruit. I left the chips to cool on the counter and went upstairs to dress up. When I came down to get in the car, most of the chips were eaten! Joe was the culprit; and I was mad. I gathered the fruit salad and got the remaining chips, along with the raw ingredients and packed them into the car. I did complain to Joe pretty strongly as we were driving.

    Finally I calmed down, in Josh’s terms I began to administer mercy. Joe told me not to tell our friends. I laughed and said, ‘no this is too good not to tell them!’ Since I was no longer yelling and instead laughing, he was no longer upset either.

    When we got to our friends, I explained what had happened and that I needed to use their oven for a bit. It became a funny situation, which all (including Joe) could laugh about.

    I administered mercy and Joe learned to ask before he dives into ‘special treats’. You are completely correct! By expressing empathy, practicing patience, or administering mercy (however you might say it), we were able to get through a touchy situation and BOTH learn something.

    1. Excellent insight and illustration Mary Ann! Thank you for passing it along…I especially like the part about turning a tense situation into a situation where you laughed about it. Thanks again!

  4. Wow Josh, well written. Makes us stop and think before speaking. I was raised with “Why did you do that stupid”. No one should call another names or berate them. Self esteem is very much at stake.

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