Today I was thinking about how the love of God is something truly special. We hear that phrase tossed around so many times that it’s easy to forget the power behind the words God loves you. But Gods love is unlike anything I’ve ever known because God is love and His love is so powerful it transforms all things into Itself. It doesn’t destroy my darkness it transforms it into light simply by being unquenchable light that no darkness in the world is powerful enough to extinguish. Justice could destroy but mercy makes new. It’s making me new. And all I have to do is step into the light and come home.
So I had an awkward moment today, not that that’s especially rare for me. After dinner I finished helping my grandma with something and she commented, “you’re very nice.” Her smile was so genuinely sincere that I felt awkward because I’m really not.
I know that sounds bad like I’m fishing for a compliment or have low self esteem but in truth I’m really not a nice person. I had a moment a few years ago that was a profound turning point for me where I saw who I was without God’s grace. And it was ugly. It came at the end of a series of lows both personally and professionally that had taxed me to my absolute limit and that’s what I saw before my eyes that day: limits. I saw a proud young woman who had rejected God thinking she would do things her way and didn’t need the suffering He was giving. And at the end of that ill-fated rebellion came the realization that every gift I had ever been given came directly from God and on my own I had nothing. All the accomplishments I had attributed to my various talents, even the personal things I liked about myself like being kind and having a sense of humor, were beautiful gifts that came as a result of the love that had flowed so freely from God to me and I felt the absence of it, the absence of that union with God the life of love and grace I had been living without realizing it, down to the absolute depths of my soul.
I was tempted to complete despair in my misery and wretchedness and the pride that had been so blind to it, but I was blessed by two wonderful things that saved me by completely turning it around. The first was a consecration to the Blessed Mother who gently guided me like a mother back into life. The second was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the wellspring of merciful love I found within it which made that life worth living.
I’ve heard it said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “mercy is where love meets misery.” I’ve experienced that to be true and never before had I known a love so selfless and so completely forgiving, but what astounded me the most was how completely unchangeable it was. Jesus loved me as much at my best as He did when I was at my worst and I understood for the first time a little more of what real love was.
So now as you can judge for yourself I’m really not very nice. I’m genuinely nothing at all. But God loves me. And from that love I have life, the abundant life God promised in Scripture. And that life is what my grandma noticed when she told me that “I’m very nice.” I am very nice because God’s grace is stronger than my many many weaknesses and has been so transformative that I feel like a living miracle. I am very nice because the faithful love of God gives me great joy which circumstances cannot take away. I am very nice because the fountain of mercy from the pierced side of Christ on His cross has saved me and I look forward to eternal life in Heaven. I am nice not because of anything I am on my own but because God’s love is so perfect that it’s making me into His image which is not just “nice”, it’s perfect holiness which is an immersion in the perfect Love of the Trinity.
As a result of all this, what I am not good at anymore is accepting compliments because I always feel like the compliment belongs to God and to the love which He reveals by turning sinners into saints.
I recently read a really interesting article by R.R. Reno over at First Things talking about “What Mary Teaches” Mary in this instance referring to the Blessed Mother. If I ever endeavored to write an article about the things that Mary taught me I imagine it would quickly cease to be an article and instead become a colossal book. One that I would love to write…
All dreamy tangents aside, R.R. Reno’s essential point is that Mary is a realistic hope of what can be accomplished by God’s love, mercy, and grace. Born without original sin in a dogma Catholics refer to as the Immaculate Conception, Mary is a true masterpiece of God: a creature who perfectly responded to and cooperated perfectly with God’s grace while remaining completely human (not at all divine). She is now in Heaven body and soul as God promises we will one day also be.
This is a wonderful promise one that the author rightly points out gets dimmed in the skepticism and self-centeredness of modernity. However, the thing that struck me most about it was the horrible question that rose in my soul.
Yes, as I was reminded by the author of the universal call to holiness and remembering that a desire for holiness and expectation of God’s abundant graces are not unrealistic nor delusions of grandeur but the fulfillment of the promise of God and His design for humanity, the horrible question rose and it lingered:
What sort of limits do you place on that love? What sort of limits do you place on that grace?
Because here is the horrible truth I was forced to confront. God places no limits on His love for me, but I place many limits on the love I’ll accept. Whereas God is love and longs to lavish His mercy in my own pride and timidity I insist on accepting instead only small graces, more in line with what I feel I deserve which, to be honest, most days isn’t very much. Whereas God calls me to greatness and remarkable feats of holiness, I think of my many weaknesses and the shame of who I’ve been and accept only an ordinary destiny afraid not only to be great but afraid to even think that sort of greatness is possible.
Yet, believe it or not, I’m glad I read the article and even recommend you do too because had I not read it I might still be imagining the limits I was accepting as coming from God instead of coming from me. And what a tragedy it would have been to accept my own forgetfulness, to conform to the image of our material world, to believe that fallen things stay fallen and never rise again, when the limitless love of God stands ready and waiting in every moment to make me new, to make me something great. Because with God greatness is not marked by achievement or fame or fortune but by the thing I’ve always wanted: a complete oneness with perfect Love, an everlasting union with God Himself.