When I consider my sins, particularly the ones I most regret, I often find myself feeling like I don’t deserve all the good things God has given me.
In an effort to understand God’s invitation to mercy, I was recently praying with the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). As I imagined myself standing in front of my merciful Father, I found that while I was able to accept His embrace of love, I wouldn’t let myself go inside to the party. I stood outside feeling like it was all too much; it was more than enough for my merciful Father not to punish me. But to celebrate? How could God possibly celebrate my repentance when my sins had taken me so far away from Him? I was willing to let God bring me back to ‘neutral’ as far as sin is concerned, but I was not ready to let Him turn my shame into a blessing. According to the parable, however, this is precisely what He wants to do. The prodigal son is content to merely survive as a slave in his Father’s house, but, to the Father, this is not enough.
The Father wants to restore him to the honor and dignity of sonship.
The more I contemplated the Father’s invitation to rejoice and celebrate, the more difficult and mysterious it seemed to me. I couldn’t let go of the idea that I deserved to stay outside in somber recollection to prove that I was sorry for my sins. That’s when I realized what was wrong with my thinking: I was trying to prove myself, trying to earn the right to the celebration. But, the celebration isn’t about me.
God’s mercy is not about you. It’s about who God is.
When we consider the life of Jesus as an expression of the character of God, that leaves us with a God who:
· became a baby and let a human being take care of him (cf Jn 1:1)
· created 180 gallons of wine for a wedding banquet (cf. Jn 2:1-11)
· fed crowds of thousands with 12 baskets of food left over (cf. Mt 14:13-21)
· filled a boat with fish to the point of sinking… twice (cf Luke 5:7, Jn 21:6)
· … and went to the Cross to forgive our sins and open heaven for us. (cf. Rom 5:12)
God can’t help Himself. He is generous. It is in His very nature to be generous, to be self-gift. To accept God’s mercy is to allow Him to be glorified for the truth of who He is.
God extends mercy because it’s who He is, not because you earned it.
This is not to say that God’s mercy is impersonal. He knows every molecule that makes you up, and He holds you in existence every second of every day. He knows every circumstance that lead you to where you are, for better or worse, and He extends a hand of forgiveness at every moment. To quote Henri Nouwen, “God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, he wants you home, he cannot rest until he has you with him.”  When God extends mercy, it is an expression of who He is.
His mercy doesn’t make your sins any less sinful; it doesn’t change the reality that sin kills us and separates us from God. Yet, His mercy takes away our guilt and restores our relationship with Him. He does the hard work of running to meet us—all we have to do is say yes to the invitation to repentance and true freedom. He wants you to be with Him, and when you say yes, when you agree to let him rejoice over your return, you glorify God.
God lets us accept or reject this invitation. Living in unrepentance or insisting that we deserve punishment, denies the reality of who God is. When we refuse to take our sins to Confession because we aren’t perfect yet, or we dwell on the errors of our past, we hide the glory of God’s mercy.
To refuse God’s mercy is to deny Him an opportunity to be known, loved, and glorified.
If you’re like me, sometimes it can be hard to look at the many good gifts God extends and feel, “I don’t deserve any of this.” Jesus doesn’t tell us if the prodigal son went into the banquet, but He certainly implies that it would be the right thing to do. If you can’t let go of feeling unworthy, consider letting God rejoice over you for the sake of acknowledging who He is. Here are a few practical suggestions for how to accept God’s mercy and let Him love you:
· Go to Confession. Reconciliation is a Sacrament of Healing, and it’s where God most wants to meet you and extend absolution for your sins.
· Forgive yourself. Forgiveness does not mean saying an action doesn’t matter, that it wasn’t hurtful, or that everything is now perfectly fine. It means surrendering your anger, resentment, and hurt over what happened.
· Forgive people that hurt you. Let God be the judge of their actions and strive to rejoice if they repent. When you forgive another person, you are entering the very heart of the Father and loving as He loves!
· Seek forgiveness. If you hurt someone, tell them you’re sorry. You don’t have to be perfect to apologize. This is a difficult step, but to seek forgiveness means inviting another person to participate in God’s celebration of your repentance.
· Let yourself be healed. If you’ve been avoiding Him in prayer, run back to Him in humility. God wants to heal the effects of sin in your life so that you don’t have to live as a slave. He wants to restore you to the full dignity of membership in his family. You might consider spiritual direction, a retreat, or a specific healing prayer service.
· Look for the blessings in the struggle. St. Paul tells us “in everything God works for good with those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) He will bring goodness out of your mistakes. Accepting God’s blessings glorifies His goodness!
Sin makes us into slaves. Our shame, unrepentance, and fear keep us in shackles outside God’s house. God can’t help himself; when He sees us turn towards him, He can’t help but welcome us home and throw a party because He has us with Him again. Remember, its not about who you are, it is about who God is: your merciful, loving Father.