Last year, my 2nd grader came home from school singing “Mercy is falling is falling is falling. Mercy is falling like a sweet spring rain.”
“Oh, I love that song! Did you sing that during adoration?” I asked him.
“No, my teacher sang it when we walked outside in the rain,” he replied.
My eyes welled up with tears of joy. It was a big sacrifice, financially, to send our children to Catholic school this year. But what more could I want for my kids than for them to recognize God in the wonders of creation? To experience a cool falling mist upon one’s face and with this, to consider God’s Mercy, which cleanses and renews?
Ocean of Mercy
The teacher at this Catholic school wasn’t far off when the rain reminded her of God’s mercy. Saint Faustina also related mercy to water. She spoke of an ocean of mercy, and taught us to pray in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, “O blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!”
Let’s reflect a bit more on why water might be related to mercy. Water cleanses, renews, and refreshes us. If you’ve ever laid on a sandy beach in the sun, you may have found that the ocean invited you to come (Isaiah 55:1). Be refreshed with the freshness of the water which laps in ceaselessly from a seemingly endless source. It is a fount of life for countless sea creatures—from coral to starfish and humpback whales. And for us, it washes over us, renewing us in love and mercy.
Next time you’re at the beach, maybe even this Labor Day weekend, I invite you to consider the mystical meaning of the ocean that stretches out before you, inviting you to dive in, arms outstretched—your head, then feet following, for a whole-body cleanse. Let Him wash you from every mistake and cleanse you from within. Rejoice in the renewal.
Image of Mercy
If you’re as intrigued as I am by mercy, check out artist Anja Eltgroth’s incredible colored glass image of mercy. Read about it on the Imago Arts Facebook page. If you read carefully, you’ll see that the image was created from pieces of broken glass that Anja collected while living in Philadelphia, PA—the city of brotherly love.
So, seekers of truth: What meaning do you encounter in Anja’s image of mercy? Do you notice how the brokenness of the City of Brotherly Love has been transformed into a beautiful masterpiece, through the hands of an artist? As you reflect upon this, you might consider God, artist and creator. He, too, uses our brokenness—all of our sins, mistakes, failings, shortcomings, sufferings, and pain—to create something beautiful. All we have to do is give Him our brokenness, and He receives it all and uses it for glory. He transforms, renews, and strengthens us with every piece of brokenness. If you’ve ever ruminated over your sins and sufferings, you need not do so any longer. Instead, simply turn to the Lord and give him all of it.
How exactly can we do this? It might sound something like this: “God, I’m giving you all the mistakes I made in life—along with every sin and failure—I ask you to receive it, take it off my shoulders, and even use it for something beautiful.” God created us imperfect so that He can have mercy on us (Romans 11:32). So give everything to Him, and then watch and see what He does. Notice how He weaves all the broken parts of your life together into something good and beautiful, renewing and strengthening you.
If you’re still interested in Anja’s artwork, watch her video about art therapy, as she shares how engaging in art can be a means to release the “painful mass” within oneself. We all have pain and suffering, mistakes and failures; but all of this can be transformed into something beautiful for us and for others.
Psychology of Mercy
Now let’s look to the study of the human person to find out more about mercy. Remember, God communicates to us in and through creation—and that means rain, oceans, and the remarkable human person. So what has research in the field of psychology uncovered about mercy?
First, let’s look at forgiveness, which is often how mercy is defined. Forgiveness has been shown to have countless benefits, including improved psychological and physical well-being, acceptance of self, and resilience (Raj et al., 2016). Forgiveness of the self has also been shown to be related to improved physical health and psychological well-being (Davis et al., 2015). If you’re still stuck on something someone else has done, or something you’ve done, there’s no reason to hold on to it. Let it go, like Elsa from Frozen suggests, and forgive.
If you’d like to read more a story of forgiveness, check out Patheos blogger Linda L. Kruschke’s post “A legacy of forgiveness: Seeking peace and healing.”
Search for meaning
Additionally, research shows that when we attempt to find meaning in past sufferings, we demonstrate greater post-traumatic growth (Adler, 2012). In other words, we become stronger, more resilient, and more adept at navigating the world when we try to find meaning, or even create narratives, based on our most adverse experiences.
As such, when we consider God’s mercy—maybe as we’re diving deep into refreshing Jersey Shore ocean—we might start to agree with Kelly Clarkson and others who proclaimed that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” While current research suggests that post-traumatic growth is more nuanced than that (Jayawickreme et al., 2021), there’s substantial evidence that finding meaning in past adversity promotes psychological growth.
Speaking of growth, research shows that our brains grow when we make mistakes and when we fail (Dweck, 2006). Moreover, if you teach children that each time you make a mistake, your brain is getting larger, they spend much more time learning from mistakes than dwelling upon them (Dweck, 2006). Check out Carol Dweck’s incredible TedTalk for more information about the Growth Mindset.
Mercy is falling all around us
To you, seeker of truth. I encourage you to look for signs of God’s mercy all around you–in the sweet spring rain, in the rolling waves, and in your relationships. God is just longing to pour out His mercy upon you. You just have to give Him your mistakes, sins, and shortcomings- and watch as He renews you, making something beautiful with every piece of brokenness. In line with psychological research, I encourage you to forgive yourself and others, search for meaning in past adversity, and learn from mistakes. All of these practices line up nicely with God’s pouring forth of mercy, renewing and rejuvenating us not despite our past, but with it—all of it.
Adler, J. M. (2012). Living into the story: agency and coherence in a longitudinal study of narrative identity development and mental health over the course of psychotherapy. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102(2), 367.
Davis, D. E., Ho, M. Y., Griffin, B. J., Bell, C., Hook, J. N., Van Tongeren, D. R., … & Westbrook, C. J. (2015). Forgiving the self and physical and mental health correlates: a meta-analytic review. Journal of counseling psychology, 62(2), 329.
Dweck, C. (n.d.). The power of believing that you can improve [Video]. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en
Jayawickreme, E., Infurna, F. J., Alajak, K., Blackie, L. E., Chopik, W. J., Chung, J. M., … & Zonneveld, R. (2021). Post‐traumatic growth as positive personality change: Challenges, opportunities, and recommendations. Journal of personality, 89(1), 145-165.
Raj, P., Elizabeth, C. S., & Padmakumari, P. (2016). Mental health through forgiveness: Exploring the roots and benefits. Cogent Psychology, 3(1), 1153817.