June 24, 2018

Running Past Our Limits Update (Part 6): Mercy

rhodesLast summer I wrote a series on lessons we all can learn from marathon training. (You can find it in the archives.) This series responds to requests for an update.

I sometimes lose track of why I’m training. It’s not about going farther and faster on a machine, or even about actually running a marathon. It’s about reclaiming full health, in body and soul. That’s the real goal; everything else is just modality.

Every creative endeavor – business, artistic, athletic, or otherwise – has times when it shifts and drifts, goes where we didn’t plan, sometimes in alluring new directions. Then what? Do we reaffirm the original goal and stick with the plan, or follow the new direction to a new goal?

People sometimes suggest experimental drugs they’ve heard about, or theorize about mechanical gizmos that might help. Or they suggest biking or swimming instead of running. Nothing wrong with the ideas in theory (even if they would require a whole new training regime!), and if they held out a clear path to healing, I’d consider them. But so far they haven’t. Instead, they’ve only offered a form of dependency that full healing would make unnecessary. I don’t want a drug or a device to move me; I want to do the work myself.

Maybe it looks like I’m crazy or stubborn, but something inside tells me that, if I adopted a new goal and modality, my soul would suffer. I’d give my power away; my heartfelt project would become someone else’s. Never mind that their terms might produce success as they define it, I’d hurt my soul if I went there. Sorry, just can’t.

It’s a tough issue. Ultimately, I find guidance in the concept of mercy. I don’t mean shallow “mercy rules” like everybody who shows up gets a ribbon whether they win or lose, or if the score gets too lopsided you don’t have to finish the game. Those things are false mercy – bogus consolation prizes that don’t satisfy. Cheap mercy leaves a bad taste – not just in our mouths but in our spirits. We lost badly and we know it. A ribbon won’t change that.

Genuine mercy offers a balm to our pain. Whether we stay in the game or not, mercy invites us to create and keep creating the same way we did at first, only now our vision is clearer, we’re in touch with our essence and value and purpose like we weren’t before. Whether we stay the course or try a new one isn’t the point; that we can go either way with our souls intact is what matters.

Maybe mercy reveals that we didn’t really want what we said we wanted after all, that we didn’t fully know our hearts’ desires when we started, and now the pressures and obstacles have revealed a deeper and more abiding truth about what we’re after. Once we know that, there’s no point staying with what would become pointless suffering. We’re not quitting, we’re accepting an invitation to a more deeply satisfying outcome. Quitting and mercy feel different, and we know the difference. Quitting mocks us because we’ve painted ourselves into a corner; mercy blows the roof off and shows us the stars. Quitting says it’s over; mercy signals a beginning. Quitting fills us with regret; mercy stuns us with relief.

We reach the place of mercy when we pass the point of no return. Quitting can’t undo what we’ve done, it can only make us regret we ever got this far. Mercy can’t undo it either, but it doesn’t want to. It doesn’t call us back to what we so desperately wanted to leave behind, it invites us forward to what we really wanted in the first place. When we’re in the place of mercy, it’s not time to quit, it’s time to begin.

That’s where I’ll end this update. All the denial, finding my placebo, the gift of a new training machine, the hold ‘em or fold ‘em crisis, and all the rest come down to just this one amazing, liberating truth:  mercy, inviting me forward to new health, which is still what I’m after. Stay tuned.

Kevin Rhodes is a lawyer in private practice who’s on a mission to help people love their work and their lives. He leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section and the Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Beautiful post Kevin. Mercy is so often misunderstood, I think because many of us are so pain-averse and discomfort-avoidant that we don’t often get to a place of deeper meaning that comes as a result of suffering through. If I wanted to go into a lot of detail, I would cite to Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward” and his discussion of our culture’s loss of a sense of the tragic and it consequences.. . .
    I think compassion can come from ourselves (self-forgiveness) and also from a wider consciousness. We are not in control of our lives, only how we respond to the circumstances – that is where the meaning can come in. The word mercy in Hebrew comes from the root which means “womb” – talk about restoration! In this sense mercy and openness to it can reveal our essence as well as its unfolding – as distinguished from what we think our life is or ought to be.

Speak Your Mind