I dropped to my knees and began mopping up the mess, grumbling as I worked. “You have to be more careful! Especially when it’s a full gallon of milk! Ask Mommy for help next time so you won’t make a mess!”
I looked up at my daughter and stopped. A look of surprise mingled with remorse was fixed on her face.
“Sorry,” she whispered with downcast eyes.
My heart dropped to my feet and my tone softened. I tried to salvage the mess I had poured on top of hers. “It’s okay. Just ask me for help next time.” She walked away, and I finished cleaning, by now more frustrated with myself than with the spill.
The image of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son flashed through my mind. The father who didn’t scold. The father who didn’t ask any questions. The son who leaned with relief into a loving embrace of perfect mercy. And this was a son who had intentionally spent his father’s inheritance on gambling and prostitutes!
Yet his father greeted him with genuine love and joy.
The father must have seen instantly the remorse on his son’s face. He must have recognized the hardships his son had already endured, and understood that his son was disappointed with himself.
Their exchange wasn’t as much about the words that were spoken, as it was about the tone of their encounter.
One of the most healing moments I’ve experienced after a recent miscarriage was in the confessional. A flood of emotions had been washing over me since the day I lost my baby: anger, despair, bitterness, envy, resentment, self-doubt, longing, and even a little joy. I had never experienced a loss like this before, and wasn’t sure what to do with all of those feelings. As I prayed and asked God to show me the way, I felt pulled to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And as I knelt in church, trying to decipher my sins through a cloud of grief, I knew God wanted me to receive the sacrament face-to-face–to experience the mercy of confession in a way that I hadn’t in many years.
After confessing my sins through a screen for so long, it was a surprising relief to sit down and visit with our parish priest like I would a friend. I honestly wasn’t sure what to confess; I just laid bare how I’d been feeling, and the most wonderful thing happened. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but my priest made me feel as if all of my shortcomings, all of my confusion, and all of my worries were no big deal. Because, at that point, they weren’t. I was there, I was sorry, and I was open to guidance. I was the prodigal son returning, and God not only had mercy on my sins, but mercy on my grief as well.
I realized that this is real mercy: a guiding hand as gentle as our tenderest desires, eyes that recognize our remorse before our mistakes, ears that are open to our perspective rather than closed by judgement, and a heart that is so overcome with joy by our return that it instantly forgets our transgressions.
As my children go about their days, making mistakes and learning to follow God’s will, I hope that our domestic confessional can be as merciful as the church confessional–that the tone of every teaching moment is one of gentle guidance and joy in the return. And that as I drop to my knees to clean up their messes, I take the time to look at them before the mess and say, “You are loved.”
Image credit: Baby in parent’s arms, Rotaru Florin (Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)