Return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful
During this third Sunday of Lent as I continue wandering in the desert of my soul, I am very grateful for God’s endless mercy and graciousness. As the Master Gardener pulls the sinful weeds that crowd out the flowers of beauty, my Creator is pruning my heart for beauty to burst forth! Ouch!
Passing judgement became part of my DNA at an early age. Living in a house with a stepmother who was critical of others and struggled with her own shame, this nature was passed along to me. Shame was like water and I was the sponge, soaking up the darkness. I never felt completely loved and accepted so I learned to compensate by overachieving and striving. Becoming a perfectionist, I never felt confident in who I was and looked externally for who I should be. I needed to be needed by others to make myself feel valued. Through much healing and personal growth, I came to understand how the sins of our parents are passed down to our children if we do not transform ourselves. Shefali Tsabary, PhD, in The Conscious Parent book and Tedx Talk, describes the framework to break this cycle. It is lifechanging.
As we live in the light and follow the path of true love, our eyes open to our brokenness and our transgressions. They are like a mirror that reflects the areas where we need to change to bring God’s light into the darkness of our world. We are called to change our mindset – to transformation. How well am I doing this?
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.Focus on His truth, Luke 6:36
Mercy or tender compassion is God’s most distinctive characteristic. St. Augustine reminds us that we are, by our very nature, ordered to God. Since God is tender mercy, “having” God is tantamount to exercising compassion, and being merciful ourselves. This in turn allows me to have mercy for others. I have learned that being merciful includes showing mercy and compassion towards myself. If I judge myself harshly, how can I expect not to judge those who I meet throughout the day?
We are given a guide in Luke 6:37-38 as to what mercy means and the fruits that it bears: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
Bishop Barron says that “according to the physics of the spiritual order, the more one draws on the divine life, the more one receives that life, precisely because it is a gift and is properly infinite. God’s life is had, as it were, on the fly: when you receive it as a gift, you must give it away, since it only exists in gift form, and then you will find more of it flooding into your heart. If you want to be happy, Jesus is saying, this divine love, this tender compassion of God, must be central to your life; it must be your beginning, your middle, and your end.”
How many times do I listen with an open heart?
Being an active listener has been a strength in my career as a fundraising professional. I have been successful at listening with a genuine, curious, open heart, and guiding relationships through trust. In my personal life, I have had to work and apply the same approach. At times with my family, I do not truly listen as I am thinking about what I will say or I try to impose my thoughts, perspective, or offer a solution. I am not listening with an open heart and at times can be judging others.
To stop judging is the foundation of empathy. As I let go my point of view, I can hear what God is saying to me in my life. By keeping an open mind and heart open, I can hear what God is saying to me through others. And I can have empathy for people by listening to what God says about others and not be judgmental: to instead have mercy and compassion and God’s love for others.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux says on loving God: although we have sinned, been wicked and done evil, our Father, astoundingly, is merciful. He desires to pour into our lap gifts in good measure. But in our rebellion, we often fail to recognize his mercy or show it to others. True union with God always entails our assimilation to him, by which we are able to adopt the compassion and forgiveness that are his. For the true measure of loving God is to love God without measure.
One of my foundational life principals has been the golden rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto you.” After God’s pruning of my heart, I aspire to: “Do unto others as you would have God do unto you.”
How well do I pay attention to the needs of others and show mercy and compassion? Let us all reflect on this question during our remaining days of Lent and let God prune our hearts to be more perfectly merciful like him.
Smitten with His Goodness,