The other night, the psalm response for daily Mass was “Lord, you are merciful and gracious” (Psalm 86). I’ve heard about His mercy and grace my whole life, but last night I had a revelation. It wasn’t expected, and it didn’t hit me like roaring thunder. It was more like a whisper, and truth settled in my soul, gently, yet firmly.
He is full of mercy. He is full of grace. He is merciful; He is patient on an infinite scale. Too often I feel that my faith should be perfect, unwavering, without any bit of doubt or feeling shaken.
I’ve come to realize that on this side of heaven, although I truly desire with every part of me to love and trust Him perfectly, the reality is that I will fall short. There will be times of struggle. There will be times of intense aridity that can make doubt a heavy and almost crushing load. That, in a way, is inevitable in this world, in this season of life.
But what I think was revealed in my heart yesterday is that God knows I will fall short. He knows my faith will not always be strong. God knows my trust in Him will at times fail. He knows all that. It’s not news to Him. He knew all of that before I even came into this world, but what I know now with greater assurance and conviction is that He is merciful. I think He looks at my faithfulness. I think He cares much more that I chose to love Him and follow Him, even if my head and my heart at times seem to feel anything but certain. He is merciful because He knows – He knows me.
There is peace resting in His mercy and grace.
In his book, Faith & Doubt, John Ortbergh refers to G.K. Chesterton’s final chapter in Orthodoxy. He sets it up by giving an example. Imagine you have a 5 year-old daughter. She becomes very sick and needs to have surgery. You don’t know what is wrong, but you are worried and fearful that she might die. Remember all you know is that she is really sick and the doctor told you she needs surgery. The doctor approaches you and explains your daughter needs to have her tonsils taken out, a very routine procedure and she will be fine. You are relieved and joyful. You proceed to enter your child’s hospital room and attempt to reassure her that everything will be ok. But your child is terrified; she is nervous and does not yet understand.
“So you cannot let her see the lightness of your heart. You can’t joke around. You can’t laugh. She would think you didn’t care. You must take her fear seriously. You must let her know empathy. But every once in a while you have to leave her sickroom. You have to be able to laugh. You know all will be well. What if the human condition is something like this?… What if all things are going to be well? What if Jesus knew? Really knew? Then everything would have looked different to him. God would be the parent and we would be the 5 year-old in the sickroom. And God would have to accommodate himself to us; he would have to knit his brow, nod his head and take our fear seriously. But every once in a while God would have to excuse himself just to go outside and laugh.”
This example sets up the G.K. Chesterton excerpt well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes:
“Joy which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian… The Stoics ancient and modern, were proud of conceiling their tears. He [Jesus] never concealed his tears, he showed them plainly on his open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of his native city. Yet he concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of hell. Yet he restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that he hid from all men when he went up the mountain to pray. There was something covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked on earth; I have sometimes fancied it was his mirth.”
Can you imagine? His mirth. Wow. So, my heavenly Father knows. He knows everything so well, and He is merciful and gracious. And He laughs. Not a condescending or careless laughter. He laughs because He knows that all will be well. What blessed assurance! He tenderly acknowledges my fears and insecurities, but He can be joyful because He is fearless and absolutely secure.
In this life, I may stumble and at times fall. I might feel shaken. I might have days that I thoroughly understand that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I might have days were certainty is hard to come by. But that is ok because He is full of mercy, because He is full of limitless grace. He calls me and asks me to strive for perfection, but He does not say that I will not have trouble or trials. When those come my way, I have the choice, even if I feel all kinds of frailty, to follow Him. I can chose, even if I’m burdened with doubt, to trust Him. He can take my feeble attempt at following Him and loving Him with all my might, and He can make it good. He can transform my fragile faith into unwavering conviction. A priest recently told me that here on earth, we are never going to love or trust God enough. We don’t have the ability to love and trust Him as He deserves, due to our fallen nature. But get this: that is ok. He knows all about our fallen nature. I think He delights in our efforts, even if we stumble.
Two songs came to mind as I was reflecting today:
“Shifting Sand” by Caedmon’s Call
“Choosing” by Alli Rogers