Through my nephew, I could see the countless confession loops of my life. Sin unfolding into guilt and guilt to anything that would get rid of its burden.
Ten minutes into a game of hide and seek, and my nephew proved more hidden than found. In his childlike excitement he would usually give himself away before I even finished counting. This time was different.
I eventually found him crouched behind a piece of furniture, downcast and frozen in place. He wanted nothing to do with me. Something was clearly off.
Thankfully his mom, my sister, had met with this before. Its name was shame. Suffice to say that there was a prime potty-training blunder before her, one that instinctively caused my nephew to hide himself from the only one who could do something about it. My sister’s response was exemplary: compassion, concern, mercy. She crouched behind his protective barrier with him and waited patiently. His guilt would not have the final word. Mercy had come to his corner.
It dawned on me. This is a wee portrait of the Father’s infinite mercy for all his children. The movie I saw playing before my eyes was my story. I imagine it rings true for you as well; we’re all characters in this drama.
Through my nephew, I could see the countless confession loops of my life. Sin unfolding into guilt and guilt to anything that would get rid of its burden. But confession was less an encounter with mercy and more a lopsided transaction: My mess exchanged for freedom from its shame. I encountered God’s gift only by fractions. The Father’s face of mercy was too good to be true. Disgust, disappointment, disdain was easier to stomach. That, at least, I knew I deserved.
Yet if my sister — a mere mortal — could display such compassion, why couldn’t my God?
I came to realize that divine mercy is where our guilt, misery, and shame intersect with the Father’s loving compassion. It is the very crossroads of human poverty and divine goodness. To stand outside this junction is to let our lowliness — the weight of our guilt and shame —exclude us from the only remedy we have. But this is a lie.
The secret to a life lived on full throttle is God’s bottomless mercy in all its extravagant, unthinkable generosity. God does not delight in a list of sins brought to the confession box but the humble heart that recognizes such sins. Only then, can God rush in with the dire help we now know we need. It’s just spiritual physics.
Disdain is not an attribute of God, but mercy is. God is mercy just as he is love. Neither can be earned or won over. Gifts this great are gained only by acceptance.
Mercy is not a last-ditch safety net or just a “get out of jail” card when we sin. It’s a way of life. It is life itself. Our abilities to work, to love, to laugh, to better ourselves — life itself — its all a mercy. To rely on such a gift with all one’s might is to put the burden of pursuing holiness on God’s shoulders, the one who is far greater and far more interested in my welfare than even myself. What other option do we have? The fire of God’s mercy is waiting to set us ablaze.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.