by Ron Huxley, LMFT
How can we be full of mercy and open ourselves up to the hurt that is in the world when there seems to be so little justice to balance it? My faith calls me to help the broken-hearted but I will be honest, there are days when it just too much. Bearing witness to the trauma and pain in the world can be traumatizing to me. Is that true for you?
The problem comes when people have hearts of mercy but end up empty and burnt out from over giving. Sometimes this comes from our own brokenness and at times it is from simply not staying full of mercy so that we always have enough supply. Mercy givers are good at giving but not so much at receiving.
As a man of faith, it is easy to think about God acting through me instead of God working in me. There is a big difference between being called and being driven. Our acts of mercy can become performance-driven instead of heart reactive. We have to live our lives honoring our own emotional and physical needs. It is vital that we practice what we preach and have good diets, exercise regularly, make healthy connections, and take time alone with God.
The real secret is to operate from a place of “overflow”. It is far easier to give to others when are continuously full and overflowing. Operating from a place of excess is a healthier balance than continual lack.
Individuals with hearts of mercy are called to “guard their hearts”. Two practices that help us stay full of mercy to cope with the injustices of the world is gathering up little moments of mercy and to find time for silence and solitude every day. It is easy to believe that the refueling process it about filling up on knowledge, reading more scripture or memorizing more bible versus. These are beneficial but they won’t fill that deep inner space.
Discerning the glories of the world is crucial. What are the lovely, pure, beautiful, noble and sweet moments of our life that pop up around us? As the poet says, did you stop and smell the roses? You might find that divine moment of mercy seeing a sunset or catch a babies smile. Maybe you need to stop and listen to all the words of your favorite song on the radio when it comes on. You could even dance a little. Cherishing the little moments will add up to huge rewards in our hearts.
Guarding our hearts also refers to saying “No” to what drains you. It is such a little work but it takes so much effort for people with hearts of mercy to say it. The truth is that you will have to say no to some things if you want to say yes to others. There are only so many hours in a day and you are not superhuman. Make a choice.
Dallas Willard, the famous theologian, describes our first freedom as humans is the freedom to choose where we want to direct our thoughts each day. You have the power to choose well.
In my Christian faith, silence and stillness are hallmarks of the heavenly relationship. I am sure other faith traditions have similar invitations to inner transformation. Most faith goers hate silence and stillness. Be honest, you know you do!
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book “The Invitation to Solitude and Silence” comments: “Because we do not rest we lose our way…Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest out lives are in danger.”
Ruth goes on to claim that our refusal to rest in spirit and body is an attitude of arrogance, that we don’t need what God has modeled as a need to take Sabbath rests in our busy weeks.
I have found that hurt people don’t want to stop and rest because they don’t want to hear what God might have to say to them. There could be areas of their lives they are neglecting and they don’t want God reminding them of the need to take care of areas of dysfunction. It’s easier to focus on others needs and not our own, right? People with hearts of mercy can be broken too. Wounded healers can answer the needs of the world without allowing God to heal them first.
I remember the time my own counselor/spiritual mentor told me that I can’t be a “father until I learned how to be a son.” Those words hit home hard. I wanted to improve my effectiveness as a leader, be a more involved dad, and have more influence in my business. Instead, I was continually burnt out and frustrated. I had to turn my focus to concentrate on my own relationship with God. As a result, I spend the next year not allowing myself to taking new leadership roles and adopting new projects. My focus was on being healed and taking personal retreats so that I could restore my identity as a “son”. This is what sustains my ability to be a good “father”. This time away increased my heart capacity and is the source of my merci-fullness.
My challenge to readers who have “hearts of mercy” is to list 5 things that you will do for your own Sabbath rests. How will you rediscover what it means to be sons and daughters? Set a time for silence and solitude. Be OK saying no. Others need to see that light in your life to balance the dark injustices of the world.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
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