The Year of Mercy is nearing its finale and I am still reeling a bit at how it has worked itself out in my own life. Last December, when I was blessed with the opportunity to be present for the opening Mass of this Jubilee Year in Rome, I was filled with emotion and excitement. Grateful that our Holy Father had called the Church to embrace a living mercy that loves as the Father loves. Since much of my life is dedicated to living the works of mercy, I felt like the year would pass as a celebration and an affirmation of all the things I had already dedicated my life to. And it has, in fact, been that.
But as much as we like to think of mercy as this warm, fuzzy feeling that God loves us and all is well, the truth is that mercy is a challenge. And the Father in heaven, it seems, was at the ready to use this year as an open door not only to affirm my life of mercy in action, but to go to the deeper, harder places where I myself was in need of His mercy, and to draw that need into the light.
Shortly after 2016 began and we returned from our trip to Rome and visit home to the States, my body started to show signs that it was getting very tired, that it needed rest and care. I could not imagine how to slow down life enough to pay attention to that warning. and I decided to take my normal approach to these signals from my body, and order it to simply push through. Perhaps it needed more rest, perhaps it needed me to admit that I was not that well and needed outside help, perhaps it needed better, more focused nutrition and exercise, but I needed it to do what I wanted it to at the pace I wanted to do it.
Without realizing it, over the years of living with a body that continually created high risk pregnancies and unwanted c-sections, a body that put on weight and would not shed it, a body that dried up milk for a baby who was nursing one moment and gone the next, a body that rejected four pregnancies and surrendered its fertility with a maddening ease–a body that had been an occasion of disappointment, pain and shame more times than I can now count–I had adopted the mindset that she would either step it up and get it together, or I would force her to do so. But she was not going to betray me yet again with her fatigue and lack of energy and rapidly increasing symptoms of burnout. And neither was I going to spend an incredible amount of time spoiling her. I had taken to treating my own body a bit like the proverbial unwanted step-child in my house.
Somewhere around April, it became apparent that my body would no longer be so easily manipulated into doing what I demanded it do without the proper care and nurturing. For the rest of this year of mercy, it has been confirmed more and more deeply that God’s call for this mercy-giving addict was to listen to his voice calling me to become a receiver of mercy, and not only the mercy that pardons a sinful heart, but the mercy that asks me to see this incarnational body that is stamped with his image in the way he saw it when he made it, in the way he sees it now, in all its weakness—as good, whole, complete and beautiful.
God invited me to rest, to recovery, to restoration, to indulgent mercy—not only for others or even for my soul—but for my body. Don’t misunderstand, it hasn’t been all spa trips and pedicures and the pretty picture of self-care we often paint. It has been a commitment to five hours on the bus to get to the hormone specialist who can actually help me, and another five hours to get the mental health care that I need. It has been getting deeply honest about some terrifying shame wounds that I carry and asking for help in their healing. It has been a commitment to meds no matter how much I detest the idea of needing them. It has been showing up at exercise class no matter how uncomfortable I am to be the heaviest one there. It has been vulnerable, raw, and difficult. And the journey is far from over.
But I have accepted the invitation to walk through the holy doors of mercy into the temple that is my own body. And I am learning to receive the grace that is being poured out in the journey. I am holding on to the promise that God heals, and his mercy is ever new, and there is always more when we get to the end of what we have to offer ourselves if only we will turn back to him and let him shepherd us back home.
In my case, the Good Shepherd has chosen to take this Year of Mercy to guide me right back into the gate of my own body, this flesh and blood and tissue that is filled with divinely inspired creativity, the gratuitous goodness of a gracious God, and the very image of Him in all the fullness of his glory. And he has asked me to be kind to her, to care for her like I am called to care for and steward the rest of his creation, to embrace the harmony he intended for me to live in when I was new and fresh and walked Eden’s paths, and live in the awareness that he loves this body of mine and desires me to do so as well.
So my prayer for this Year of Mercy has become this: “Lord, have mercy on me. And give me the grace to have mercy on my body. And to love her fully, naked and unashamed as she was at the moment of her creation, the way you love this incarnate flesh you created in love to house the divine image you have stamped on me. May she ever be a delight to you and to me. Amen.”
Copyright 2016 Colleen C. Mitchell