To contemplate the good qualities of someone in prayer is to permit God to change me into a better person.
13) Take time in prayer to contemplate the good qualities of someone who is difficult for you. Do the same for each member of your family.—56 Ways to Be Merciful in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble at all praying for my enemies. Maybe it’s because I’m not convinced I have any, at least not personally. Anonymous bad folks — terrorists, crazed dictators, people who hurt children and exploit other people? Sure, they are inimical to all I hold dear, and I pray daily for God to turn their hearts.
But oh, the people I know. For some itchy, perverse reason, it’s much harder to hold up in prayer those who are nowhere near enemies — the acquaintances, coworkers, social media connections, friends, even (yes) family members who irritate or anger or disappoint me in the most trivial of ways. The people who make me cross are my heaviest cross, as I (I’m certain) am theirs.
This week’s suggestion for practicing mercy in the jubilee year busts me where it hurts. “Take time in prayer to contemplate the good qualities of someone who is difficult for you. Do the same for each member of your family.”
Did you get the paper snake jumping out of the box, the shocker in the middle of this suggestion? This is not advice to imitate St. Therese in thanking God for the grace of the sufferings inflicted on my sensibilities by the loud-chewing, rosary-bead clacking, laundry-water splashing dolts I am saddled with. Following this suggestion doesn’t allow me to dismiss the difficult people I know as easily as I do my anonymous enemies, with a blithe wish for God to change them into better people. To contemplate the good qualities of someone in prayer is, instead, to give God permission to change me into a better person.
So, that person who always schools me in comboxes about how I am not smart enough to know how wrong I am? If I am to put on mercy-colored glasses in prayer, I cannot mutter, “Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see; and make their loins continually to shake” (Psalm 69:23), as I would so, so, so like to do.
Instead, I must sit still with my admiration of this person’s eloquence and conviction. And when I do, I must also acknowledge the real pain out of which this person argues and ask God’s mercy to relieve it.
And that friend who constantly complains, who passes along the paranoid urban legends and silly miracle cures, who asks for advice but never takes it? If I take this friend to prayer instead of snapping and correcting and sighing, the mercy-colored glasses reveal a person with a great and tender heart, a steadfast faith, a hope that can’t be punctured. How can I not give praise to God for those things in my life — or pray that I might imitate them?
When it comes to family members, I am blessed. Their good qualities number greater than the stars in the skies, each of them. If I lived with them, of course, the day-to-day wrong-way rubbings and pet peeves of family life would require mercy-colored glasses with lenses bigger than those goggles Maz Kanata wears in Star Wars VII.
Remind me, though, of this instruction when the grandson seems to have no use for me. Help me give thanks for who he is in his 6-year-old wondrous self, and love him from love and not my neediness.
“Contemplate the good qualities of someone who is difficult.” Contemplation is the key here. In prayer, contemplation is simply being in the presence of the One Who Is All Good. When I bring those who irritate me into that circle of contemplation, when I look at them with the mercy-colored glasses that are God’s eyes, I see only God looking back. And in that merciful glance, I too am transformed. Thanks be to God.
Joanne McPortland is a freelance writer living in California.