Mercy is the Refuge in My Storms

I remember this trip to the confessional like it was yesterday. A big sin was weighing on my heart, and I sat face to face with my chaplain. What would he think?

“Father, forgive me for I have sinned…”

I decided to get the worst out of the way first. I muttered it as fast as I could, in as vague a way as I could manage. Then I proceeded to list the other, more venial sins on my mental list. Then I waited. Silence.

“What was that first one again?” Father asked, perhaps thinking he hadn’t heard me correctly.

I repeated it, head down, full of shame. And then I looked up at him. I’ll never forget his response.

“What’d you do?” he asked. Not in condemnation. Not in judgmental probing for details. Rather, with sympathy. He spoke those words as if his heart was breaking. I felt like a little child who had played where I shouldn’t and scraped my knee. I sat before my father—before my Heavenly Father—like a child with tears in my eyes. And the Lord’s response, communicated through this spiritual father? Comfort. Concern. “What’d you do?” I could picture God asking, concern in His eyes, inspecting my scraped knee, wondering where I had wandered off to, wondering how badly I had been hurt.

And then, acknowledging this hurt…the Father offered me healing. Absolution. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Unconditional mercy. The spiritual wound was cleaned and bandaged, kissed by my Heavenly Father.

That’s the awesome thing about our Father: He is good and merciful. It doesn’t matter where we’ve wandered, as long as we come back. Then we are safe. Then we are home. And our Heavenly Father scoops us up and binds our wounds.

Finding shelter

One of my favorite verses of the Bible states the following:

“The floods of water may reach high but him they shall not reach. You are my hiding place, O Lord; you save me from distress” (Psalm 32:6-7).

My spiritual director likes to describe the analogy of Jesus as the “buoy.” Sometimes, he explains, we find ourselves amid a stormy sea struggling to stay afloat. Perhaps we’ve let our doubts and worries, or our pride and sins, take over, and all we can see is our impending doom.

In those times, Jesus is our buoy. Though the storms rage and waves crash against us, we white-knuckle that buoy, holding onto to Jesus for dear life. It doesn’t feel good, and we’re not out of the woods by any means, but in that instance, we find our safety. We find our hiding place.

Whenever I mess things up (read: quite often), I find myself in those waves. And, by God’s grace, I can make it to that buoy. I can white-knuckle Jesus’ grace and pray for deliverance. But I’ve noticed an interesting trend.

You know what gets me off that buoy and into a life raft? Reconciliation. Reconciliation delivers me from the dangers of my sins, and brings me to God’s peace and security.

Reconciliation is our crying out to God our Father, our making amends and escaping the crashing waves. We realize we’ll sink without Him. We realize we’ve gone astray, that the path we’re on will only kill us. And we’ve looked to His Son. We, like Peter, have prayed “Lord, save me!” And now we’re holding on to that buoy, asking God to make it better. And how does He respond?

He comes to our aid, lifeboat ready and waiting. He scoops us out of the cold water, surrounds us with his warm embrace, and holds us. “What did you do, my child?” He asks. Not to condemn. Not to judge. But to love.

God’s heart breaks when we put ourselves through stormy seas. It hurts Him to see us hurt. In Reconciliation, we recognize our wrong doing. We recognize we were never built to endure these seas. We then climb to God through the Way of Jesus, into a boat that will take us far from the danger. And as we drive away, further and further from the wreckage, our Father looks us over, inspects the damage, and gets to work.

Binding our wounds

The wounds of sin can be healed, no matter how deep we’ve fallen. But it’s nothing easy…God must clean them out and close them up. Sometimes it stings, but it’s the result of our wounds, not God’s ill-will.

And as we drive away from our past sins, it takes some getting used to. Sometimes we need to break before we can know our need for a Savior. Getting put back together is uncomfortable, but that’s the reality of sin. Sin destroys who we are meant to be. Of course it hurts to make things right.

But it hurts even more to stay broken.

When God, through the Catholic priest, says “I absolve you of your sins,” He’s not kidding around. He’s offering you a do-over. He’s offering you His divine mercy. Why on earth would we ever stay broken, when that’s the alternative?!

A good, good Father

If you’ve wandered and scraped your knee, big or small, I encourage you to go home. Don’t let it sit. Find your Father, and tell Him. He won’t be mad. Rather, His heart will break that you had to endure that alone. He will come to you, ready with a band-aid, embrace, and shoulder to cry on.

He wants to be there. He wants to bind your wounds and hold you close. “What did you do, my child?” He asks, mourning your broken heart.

Let Him heal you. Let Him save you from the crashing waves. Each time we enter that confessional, we encounter not a harsh judge, but a God of mercy—a Father longing to reconcile with His child.

Will you find your refuge in His arms?