The two parts of mercy

“A heart that is open and honest and daring enough to believe that He can do what He says, that is a heart that He can work with. That is a heart that lets miracles happen. “

Going to daily mass is hard for me right now. After two years of going because I thought I had to in order to “earn” God’s love, I find it difficult to try and settle into the liturgy and really be present to it. This causes me a lot of pain, especially because I now know that the lies that drive my body to react in anxiety aren’t true. I simply endure the residual, automatic reaction and wait for relief.

When I went to daily mass for the feast of the Assumption, I was particularly frustrated about this. I was frustrated because I couldn’t have peace in the one place I wanted it most, that I couldn’t give all of myself in the liturgy the way the way I really desired to. I was almost in tears after mass as I sat with this hurt because it had happened again, and it still wasn’t better.

As I’ve been wrestling with this, I have returned to John’s account of the raising of Lazarus, considering the dialogue Jesus has with Lazarus’ sisters immediately prior to performing the miracle:

“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.'”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, ‘The teacher is here and is asking for you.’ As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him. For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him… When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’” – John 11: 20-34

In this event, Jesus makes it clear that encountering both women is essential to completing what He has come to do. After Martha comes to greet Him, He asks to see Mary, and refuses to move from His place outside the village until He has spoken with her as well. He is insistent on this point. He must speak to them both. But why? What is significant about these encounters, and why are both necessary for healing to take place?

As I have continued on my own healing journey, I have learned a little bit about what the answer might be. Since the beginning of Lent, I have been learning to adopt Mary’s posture. The way she falls at His feet, and honestly and vulnerably shares herself and the pain in her heart, has been my model as I have processed my own pain and brokenness and begun to let Him heal me. But this alone was not sufficient for me to be completely healed. I had reached the point of turning to Him, of showing Him my face and my heart and all the shattered pieces inside it, but I couldn’t quite let Him touch them. I couldn’t quite give them to Him, and the reason was that I was scared about what He would do with them. Would He ever heal me? Would He leave me broken forever? Did He want to make me whole and make me happy and fill my life with the good things He promised? I wasn’t sure.

This is where Martha becomes important, I think. Martha didn’t fall at Jesus’ feet. She didn’t weep deeply and openly. She came out to greet her friend and Master with confidence and honesty. She showed a strength and deep resolve that He was Who He said He was and that even if He didn’t grant this request of her heart, she would believe that all would be well. And so, when asked if she believes in Him, she replies, ” Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”

What strength, what courage she had, to stand before the Lord like that and proclaim so boldly the truth she had come to believe. Could I possibly do the same?

After I went to mass for the Assumption, I went and got coffee with a dear friend of mine. I told her about what was going on in my life, how I felt a little lost and directionless and was having trouble really trusting the Lord with my heart and its hurts and desires. She listened patiently and lovingly, and left me feeling like I was okay, and it would be okay. After we talked for nearly two hours, I finally drove to work, and as I pulled into my parking spot, I sobbed. I sobbed and cried out, “Yes, Lord. I believe. I believe that You are Who You say You are and that You will heal me. I believe that You will not leave me like this forever, and that it will get better. Yes, I believe.”

And so, a new weapon has been added to my arsenal of grace. In addition to growing in freedom and honesty of heart, I can begin to grow in that great faith Martha displays in the moments before Jesus heals her brother from death. I can begin to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe” when my head is plagued with doubts about if God will take care of me. I can say, “Yes, I believe” when I feel overwhelmed with fear that I am not doing enough. I can say, “Yes, I believe” when the desires of my heart fill me with sorrow and ache and longing. There is new freedom in this, new confidence and trust that grows out of that simple act of faith. And that has the power to transform my heart.

This disposition of heart is incredibly powerful. This combination of intense vulnerability and confident faith has power to change hearts. Not because it of itself has any power at all, but because it is to this disposition of heart that Jesus can come. A heart that is open and honest and daring enough to believe that He can do what He says, that is a heart that He can work with. That is a heart that lets miracles happen.

I’m learning to return to this place, to quiet myself and come back to Him, carrying with me Martha’s faith and Mary’s honesty, when I find that I have wandered off and the reality of my brokenness and human weakness is placed before me. When I am overwhelmed in the mass and fearful, I can return here, and be reminded that this disposition is all that is needed. This is sufficient for salvation. I do not need to worry about if I have done enough. I do not need to worry about my weakness. He can transform me and make me a great saint, so long as I believe, and am honest with Him.

This road is hard. It is difficult work to trust this much. And I find so many places where I still don’t have that trust. But even that does not need to scare me. I can show Him that too, and tell Him that I believe that He can change it, that I want Him to change it, that I trust He will change it. I can just do my best to find all these hidden places and surrender them, knowing that the power to transform them lies in Him and not in me, and that He wills to make me clean (Luke 5:13).

As I approach the Triduum, the three holiest days of the year, I will try to keep this disposition of heart. I will try to say, “Yes, I believe.” I will try not to worry about if I am participating well enough or listening intently enough or if I am adequately prepared to enter into this mystery. The Master has asked us to come. Everything is ready. There is nothing more to do. I can simply enter in and let the drama unfold before me, the drama of His love. This is what I will try to do, and I will trust that it will be enough.

Let us enter into this season with great joy for our Lord Who loves us so much, and Who calls us to come to Him, whether we are ready or not. Blessed Triduum, friends.