Lord, Have Mercy on My...Body?

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Image Credit: Unsplash by John Felise 2016

Image Credit: Unsplash by John Felise 2016

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.

In Rome. December 2016.

In Rome. December 2016. Copyright: Colleen C. Mitchell

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.

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My body doing its best work as a doula to a young indigenous mom. Copyright Colleen C. Mitchell

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.

The gifts my body has given me. Copyright Colleen C. Mitchell

The gifts my body has given me. Copyright Colleen C. Mitchell

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.

I am learning to see a body that carries me to far away lands on great adventures as a friend. Copyright Colleen C Mitchell

I am learning to see a body that carries me to far away lands on great adventures as a friend. Copyright Colleen C Mitchell

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.

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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

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About Author

Colleen Mitchell is a Catholic wife and mom to five sons here on earth, one little saint she held for a brief three months, and four she has yet to meet. After the death of their sixth son, Bryce, she had her husband founded St. Bryce Missions, seeking a way to use their experience of grief, loss and the tender mercy of God in the midst of it to bring glory to God and serve His Church. She currently serves a foreign missionary to the Cabecar peoples in the rural Chirripo mountains of Costa Rica and hopes soon to be bringing Christ's love to the Church in Tanzania, Africa as well. She is passionate about loving the poor, living the call of the Gospel radically, living with the Eucharist as the source and summit of all her endeavors and becoming a saint. Not wanting to be a lonely saint, she hopes her written words will encourage others to join her on the journey. Colleen blogs Blessed Are The Feet

13 Comments

  1. I thought the same thing as you…I thought I should be called to give mercy and I am needing it. I am on work leave for an autoimmune illness. I have great pain and weakness. It is taking me through a lot of different physical and emotional issues. I am learning more about Christ’s suffering through my own. I contemplate his physical exhaustion, pain,and anxieties in Gesemeni(sp). I offer up my suffering for others as I ask for my own mercy…a 2fer!! I am greatful for the time to get more intimate with the trinity and Mary through prayer..I have made a best friend out of my guardian angel. (She has yet to speak but I talk with her as I go about my time at home. So through the suffering I see the good it has done me to understand giving mercy as well as asking for mercy..

  2. Coleen, thanks for being you beautiful real vulnerable, strong, courageous and a child of God. May He give you rest and healing and abundant Mercy the rest of this year and the next.

  3. Girl… thanks. I’ve been looking for a kick in the pants to motivate me towards taking care of myself. Turns out I needed this merciful hug you offered. ?

  4. I learned this earlier this year when I quit my job. Doing that alone, took care of my body and the ability to attend daily morning Mass took care of myself. Kudos to you for recognizing it for yourself! As women, we take care of everyone else instead of ourselves.

  5. Colleen, your words echo my own journey. 14 weeks ago I began a journey of self care after years of shame and actual fear of my body that manifested in overeating and obesity. I cried the first time I went to work with my personal trainer. I felt, weak, terrified and ugly. Now, I am so different on the inside, and the outside. I’ve not only released weight, but s h a me and fear as well. I am discovering how relentless God is in leading us along His path of grace toward the acceptance of the dignity and beauty of our bodies. It is essential healing. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this.

    • Anne, I am so glad you have found your way to healing and a new vision of yourself. Life is in the flesh is such a challenge but God loves our physical bodies and so should we. Right there with you learning this lessen again, newer, deeper.

  6. Thank you so much for reminding me what a gift my life and my body are. I understand too well the shame if obesity and thinking I am never good enough. Your words were exactly what I needed to hear today.

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