When I approach something or someone with a narrative, it shouldn't surprise me that I end up with what I expected.
There isn't much left to the Year of Mercy. Thankfully, that doesn't mean that mercy is running out -- at least not God's! Ours, on the other hand, may be another story. Often, it's the story that's the problem.
One of the hardest things about being merciful is dealing with the burdens of past hurts and failures. There's something about how we're wired that creates a destructive loop of expectation and behavior. It tells us that no matter what we do, people don't change; whatever has been will continue to be. That kind of thinking defeats our deepest hopes. It fills us with regret for the past and anxiety for the future. It robs us of the ability to live the present fully.
When I approach something or someone with a narrative, it shouldn't surprise me that I end up with what I expected. The truth is that I've already decided how I'm going to see things. I've already chosen my villains and my heroes. Before anything actually unfolds, the ending is already written in my mind. For most of us, these narratives are pretty self-serving. I know mine are. For some, they are self-denigrating. In either case, they form the core of the lies most of us tell ourselves and the limits we enforce on others.
I've seen this play out very clearly when one of our kids leaves home for college. Every one of them has expected younger brothers and sisters to stay exactly as they were when they left. Of course, none of them do. I think it's also the hardest part of being the parent of adult children. They grow and change in ways we don't expect. Sometimes, it's hard to allow for that. But parents can grow and change too. That isn't something most young adults allow for either.
Giving people the space to change and grow demands that we set history -- no matter how painful it may be -- aside. That doesn't mean signing up for ongoing abuse, but it does mean that we allow for the possibility of change, even when we don't think there's a high probability of it. It means that we resist the temptation to skip to that same last chapter, the one that invariably confirms our self-serving expectations or our worst fears.
I am not very good at any of this, but I've met a few people who are. They are considerably more content and less exhausted than I am. They don't waste time shadow boxing old opponents or wrestling with angels. They are happy to let God write the story and turn the page.
Mercy means doing our best to avoid casting people as characters in our pre-conceived narratives or dramas. It asks us to allow others to live outside the storylines we've written for them. It challenges us to live out God's story for our lives, rather than our own. That is one way to free the imprisoned every day. It's also a way to leave judgment to God.
It can be hard for a storyteller to let someone else tell the story, but that's what I'm going to try to do. Mercy, though, is never a DIY endeavor. It becomes an option for us because God makes it one. But he always has this way of offering us something we can't do without him. I know I can't change myself, let alone anyone around me. But life's currents have a way of carving canyons in us, and faith gives us other options. God's transforming and transfiguring grace is real.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is the author of “Adoption: Room for One More?”, a speaker, musician and serves as an Aquisitions Editor at Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
Recent articles in the Faith & Family section
Transforming prayerJaymie Stuart Wolfe
Eyesight to the blindScott Hahn
The loud silence of St. JosephFather Steve Grunow
Disciples in Mission and renewed priestly fraternityFather Scott Euvrard
Did Jesus feel abandoned?Father Kenneth Doyle