Living by Mercy and not Merit

Living by Mercy and not Merit

Written by: Amanda Teo (Photo by: Zam)

Interview with Esther Lo

Trapped in the trials of her painful past and family feuds, Esther Lo only knew how to sing her way out of sorrow and shame. After discovering the mercy that God had bestowed upon her life, insecurity and inadequacy began to dissipate, and she soon found her identity and calling in Christ.

In an interview with SELAH, Esther shared her life story with such candour and vulnerability. I couldn’t help but feel deeply inspired by her wholehearted surrender and trust to the benevolent hand of God on her life. In her recounting of God’s mercy whilst growing up, she imparted such a fresh revelation of His goodness in my life.

You wrote the song To See Your Mercy, can you tell me more about it?

To See Your Mercy was the first song I ever wrote. When I was about 16 years old, I was on the bus one day, meditating, and pondering about the goodness of God, and out of a sudden, words started to string together in my head, along with a melody. Before I could even make sense of it, I had a complete verse. And as I meditated on the lyrics over the next day, a chorus came to mind. This song was birthed out of a simple but profound revelation I had of God’s mercy. At that point, I did not share it with anyone, as my songs were written in my secret places with the Lord, and partly because I did not like how I sounded.

How was releasing To See Your Mercy significant to you?

It was the first of my songs to be made public, after learning that my church wanted to put together an album sometime last year. After much deliberation, I decided to submit To See Your Mercy and it was selected for the recording.

After its release, I was so overwhelmed by the positive response from so many people. There were adults who would come to me in tears, thanking me for writing this song. And I was so amazed at how this insignificant song which I wrote could help someone through their toughest times. If this is the song that God has placed in me, then who am I to control when or how I should sing it, or how can I doubt what God has led me to sing and write? This little song that I wrote in secret, God has bigger plans for it.

The funny thing is: even after everybody’s feedback, I have realised that I am the one who needs this song the most. I need to be constantly reminded of God’s mercy in my life. There have been so many moments where I would worship God with this song in private and on stage, and I would weep and weep before Him. I’ve learnt that God wanted me to write this song because He wanted His mercy to be the message of my life.

What does the mercy of God mean to you?

Mercy is not receiving something I deserve, which is my punishment for my sin. Mercy means I am wholly accepted by God for who I am in Him, and not living in constant shame and guilt. It is a realisation that I am a work-in-progress, and I don’t have to strive to be perfect or to earn His forgiveness.

After I accepted Christ when I was about 12 years old, I became very conscious of my flaws and how fallen I was as a person, especially in contrast to how good God is to me — He has been so, so good to me despite all my imperfections. He has never withheld anything from me, and He walks with me through every season.

In Romans 2:4 (NIV), it says, “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance,” and I have come to better understand this. I now know that God does not look at my sins anymore because of the price Jesus paid on the cross. The knowledge that Jesus died for me, despite knowing that I might turn away or reject Him, always amazes me. He didn’t die thinking that I will live perfectly; He knew that I am such a sinful being.

I always find myself praying to God, “I am so flawed but You still came through. Why did You still come for me? Why don’t you just punish me?” To me, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is so incredible, and it is the display of the mercy of God over my life.

How have you personally experienced the mercy of God?

I experience God’s mercy when I am with my family. Whenever I feel accused or frustrated, I often react angrily or try to retaliate in some way. These situations tend to reveal and surface the ugly things within me. In not being able to accept my imperfections, I grew to become really hard on myself.

In such moments, I’m not showing myself mercy, and I’m not allowing the mercy of God to help me. I used to think that the right thing to do was to be sorrowful and beat myself up about my flaws and failures. Instead, we need to stop abusing ourselves, to have patience with our own growth, and to learn how to live and act in mercy.

It amazes me that in such situations where I am so unlovable, He still loves me the same. The best thing is that God’s mercies are new every morning — I really need God’s mercy everyday.

There’s a line in To See Your Mercy that says, “When I fall and my faith is weak, I will lift my hands and say, come and fight for me.” A lot of times, our battles simply require us to give it back to God and not fight it by ourselves. Even now, I’ve to remind myself everyday that I live by mercy and not by merit. Understanding mercy has really helped me to not fit into someone else’s mould; it has helped me not to worry about my pitfalls.

What has been the biggest battle in your life?

My family background is very complicated, so growing up was hard for me. I was very hurt by my family, especially my parents. This was the main thing that caused a hole in my identity, and it affected every part of my life — in the way I see and do things. I was constantly very hard on myself and did not understand what mercy is.

When I was much younger, my parents often quarrelled and threw things at each other. My mum was often drunk, and whenever I witnessed her trying to commit suicide, I was traumatised and hurt. I really looked up to my dad and had always wanted to make him happy, but he just never seemed to be delighted with me.

I remember once when I scored 92 marks for my mathematics paper. I was really happy because I had never scored more than 90 marks before. But when I told my dad, he showed no sign of delight and simply told me to tell my mum. When I called my mum, she said, in her drunken stupor, “What happened to that 8 marks? Was it all your careless mistakes again?”

The concepts of love and mercy were never present in my life. I always felt that I had to perform better, strive to be perfect, and if possible, be more than perfect. I simply wanted my parents to be proud of me. Since young, I would long for the approval of people, especially my parents. I longed to tell them of all the good things I did, so that they would praise me and be proud of me.

When my parents got divorced, my whole world came crashing down — these two persons were my life support. I didn’t know what to live for anymore.

As the years went by, my dad was occasionally violent and stopped giving me money when I was in Secondary Two. He became mean in his words too, hence it has been a personal struggle to look him in the eye and talk to him ever since.

Why do you have so much hope in Christ despite all these struggles?

After I met God, I was so in love with Him. I remember after I got baptised, which was when I got my name Esther, my family disapproved of me. But I remember the first time I heard His voice (a still small voice): “I love you, Esther, you are my Daughter.” I was so impacted, because He called me by my name, Esther.

It has become second nature for me to turn to God in every situation — no matter what. He always comes through for me, whether in small moments of comfort and when His presence is so tangible. He has been faithful to me.

Instead of blaming God for my family struggles, He has become my only option and only hope. And I think that is because of the grace of God over my life, in which I did not turn away but turned to Him. People in church have become my family, and God is such an integral part of my life today. I cannot imagine going through life without God. I also feel like these experiences have shaped and moulded me to be who I am today.

Perhaps it is more blessed to go through trials. Like Paul who counted it all as joy as he went through so many setbacks, I would rather go through trials than have a smooth-sailing life, because it will enable me to rely on Christ more and draw close to Him.

How do you cling on to God’s mercy and get out of your pit of despair and self pity?

I would step aside from that situation, quieten my heart, and pray, “Lord, I’m flawed. Help me.” There and then, His mercy is readily available. At our point of self-pity, it can be very overwhelming, but the moment you turn your perspective towards Him, your mind is open for God to pour in His love and His thoughts. The battle is always in your mind. If you don’t step out of it, the tendency to harbour those negative thoughts will grow, and this doesn’t benefit us.

There was one day when I found myself unconsciously trapped in the cycle of self-pity once again, and a thought struck my heart. It felt like a gentle rebuke from the Lord: “If God has forgiven me and His love covers a multitude of flaws; if my life belongs to Christ; if Jesus has already suffered on the cross for me; how dare I harm myself emotionally? How could I not be merciful to myself when God already extended His mercy so generously? Who gave me the right to decide to punish myself before first coming into His courts, submitting myself, and all my battles to Him?”

This has been my reminder every time I’m tempted to react in frustration towards myself, and it stops me from abusing myself emotionally and mentally.

I’m beginning to discover that the beauty of mercy that is found in the darkest and most desperate of moments. Mercy is beautiful because it is needed by everyone. If you truly understand and see the beauty of mercy, you will stop being so hard on yourself.

When we understand God’s mercy, and how it works in our lives, we become kinder to ourselves, and less judgmental towards other people. It helps to develop a heart of compassion towards others, no matter their background. Mercy liberates me from seeing the world and people through my own eyes.

 

AMANDA is an introverted extrovert who enjoys writing poetry with a chai tea latté at hand. She loves running at Pasir Ris Park in the morning, and exercising at daybreak is the only reason why she showers in the morning. Catch her if you can at @amandagraceteo.

1 Comment

  1. Amen to your testimony, Esther. I too was enslaved to self-pity, depression and sins of my fleshly self. Coming also from a broken and complicatied family. I realized by the grace and mercy of God, in the sufferings and my brokeness, Jesus revealed Himself to me, embracing me in His arms. In my self-pity and brokeness i personally know Jesus. The pain is real but through it all i really got to know Jesus personally and that is all that matters. God promised he will wipe all the tears away when He returns again. I had to die to myself in order to gain Christ. And im still learning to die to self daily in order to grow in Christlikeness. Jia You sister.

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