(Shannon here!) You guys are in for a treat today. Colleen Mitchell is a fiery Jesus-lover and justice-seeker, and basically the Christian I want to be when I grow up. She and her family are missionaries in Costa Rica, providing safe birthing, medical care, and health education to indigenous mothers in their St. Francis Emmaus Center. Look for Colleen's book, Who Does He Say You Are?, being released this August. Today's post brought tears to my eyes, and I'm honored that she would share these words here. Please welcome Colleen Mitchell!
I have a confession to make.
When I first heard that Pope Francis had announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was less than enthused.
Actually, I was a little irritated.
My internal (and occasionally external) dialogue went something like this, “I mean it’s lovely and all. But do Christians really need a Jubilee year to remind them that mercy is the thing. I mean, c’mon. This is exactly the problem with the Church today and no Jubilee Year is going to fix willful ignorance.”
But maybe, just maybe, it can cure a bit of pride? Because clearly, ahem, someone needed some curing.
Surprisingly, I happened to find myself in Rome for the opening of the Jubilee Year and in one of the first groups of pilgrims to walk through the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s. My husband and I were accompanied by our spiritual director, who reminded us this was a time to beg to recognize our own need for mercy more deeply and the grace to dispose our hearts even more fully to that mercy so that we could then offer that mercy to others more effectively.
The experience opened my heart to the key message of this Jubilee Year, which is not, as many have reduced it, to feeding the hungry or being more generous to the poor, but recognizing the desperate need each and every one of us has for God and his goodness.
Then we returned to our home on the mission field, and a crazy thing happened to me in the first few months of 2016. I was daily bombarded by overwhelming need, injustice, and my own inadequacies in our ministry to indigenous mothers.
I attended the births of babies whose mothers had barely turned 14 years old, then sent them off to the mountains, babies with babies in their arms. I helped a mom through the end of pregnancy who explained that she had had a C-section for her first baby because her husband beat her in the stomach regularly to try to make her lose the baby he did not want.
A mom with 4 littles 5 and under who lives in the most extreme poverty arrived to stay with us while her husband underwent surgery after surgery from injuries sustained from being bucked by a horse. He survived, but will be permanently disabled and unable to work.
God, there were days I could barely breathe for the weight of it all. I nearly succumbed to exhaustion and despair. About a month ago, I reached the point where I did not want to get out of bed.
People kept trying to remind me how important the work we did for these women was, but all I could see was what it could never fix, never do or undo. And I was tired from carrying the weight of that.
Tired from carrying the weight of mercy.
And in my exhaustion, the lesson of this year became all too clear. See, I was looking to the mercy I could give as never enough and despairing, while I had forgotten to look to the mercy I receive, to God’s mercy which pours out and says “my grace is enough for you”.
I forgot that the saving wasn’t my job, and faithfulness was. I nearly gave up on mercy because I mistakenly let myself believe that the important part was what I had to give when the truth is, there is only one thing, and it is what I have been given.
If I am not constantly immersing myself over and over again in his mercy and love for me, then I spend my days bearing a burden that is too heavy for me, and I will fall or give up or give in to despair eventually.
I began to understand that this may be why so many Christians seem to have turned off the “mercy switch” in their hearts. It is not that they are unaware of the need. It is not that they are cold-hearted, selfish, or uncompassionate.
It is that they have counted the cost, felt the weight of mercy on their hearts, and declared themselves incapable.
It is that they, like me, have mistakenly measured themselves rather than throwing their weakness into the unending sea of God’s goodness and letting the waves carry them.
They have extended their hands and found them emptied too fast, while forgetting that Jesus’ scarred hands stand open with wounds of mercy from which flow unending grace.
The Jubilee Year can serve as a reminder to each of us that the weight of mercy is in fact too heavy if we try to carry it in spite of our own desperate need for God.
But if instead, we take that need, march it through the doorway of God’s heart and hand it over to him, where he freely offers his mercy in return, we might just find ourselves overflowing a bit.
And in that overflow, mercy runs freely to us, through us and from us to the people we desire to love.
Mercy becomes a river rather than a weight. And the strength of the flow is what carries it.
I have been humbled by the truth about mercy this year. I nearly buckled under its weight, and then have found my way back to his goodness riding the current of that same mercy.
And I am beginning to feel like just maybe I finally understand.
The weight of mercy is heavy, but the love of God can carry it, if only we let him carry us first.
Is mercy hard for you? Are you turning away because you feel too tired, too poor, too busy, or not enough to offer mercy? Where do you need to recognize the worthiness of your own need first and let God fill you so his grace carries the weight of mercy for you?
Let him, friend.