There comes a time in our lives when a person, event, or loss leaves our heart wounded. Sometimes that pain is easy to cope with. We rely on friends, or family, or a gallon of ice cream. There are other times when that pain feels too much to bear, as if there is a large gash left in our chest.
In those moments, we are encouraged to pray, to lean in and rely on God’s love and mercy. Yet for some who have been through repeated pain or trauma, that love and mercy can seem like a foreign concept altogether. What is Divine Mercy, and how does one practically heal from emotional wounds through it? What steps can they take?
Divine Mercy is “Love’s Second Name”
Throughout the Old Testament, two Hebrew words are translated into “mercy”: hesed and rachamim. Hesed refers to steadfast love, as described in Isaiah 54:10:
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you…
The word rachamim comes from the Hebrew word rechem, or womb. Think of it as the love a mother has for her child. In the New Testament, the Greek word eleos was often translated to “mercy”. Eleos is loving kindness, or tender compassion toward those who are suffering.
Pope Saint John Paul II referred to mercy as “love’s second name” in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy, 1981). Based on the definitions above, mercy can be seen as the result of God’s love for us. It is the expression of God’s love when He reaches out to us with compassion during times of need and brokenness.
Accepting Divine Mercy
How can one accept that expression of love from God and heal? The answer lies in trusting that God will show that mercy toward us, no matter our circumstances or feelings.
When I worked as a therapist, I often had to teach clients the importance of identifying and mastering emotions. It is important to recognize that you are more than the ever-changing tides of your thoughts and feelings. Through practice (and therapy!) one may begin to be in charge of those emotions, and to not get swept away by them. They are often circumstantial, and they can change.
From a Catholic perspective, it is important during those times as well to remain disciplined in prayer and to trust in God. To take the focus off of yourself and onto Christ. When we see that God’s love and mercy are present no matter how we may be feeling, then we can open up our hearts to that expression of His love. I like to refer to it as “getting out of my own way.”
Vulnerability with God
The easiest way to start this is to be vulnerable in prayer with our true thoughts and feelings, as in your raw feelings, your darkest and most hurt parts of you. Do not be afraid to express them to God. Do not be tempted to hold those back. As a mom, my children often lay their heads on me and cry with their entire bodies. Allow God to do the same for you: to wrap you in love, to show you His tender love and compassion. He wants to sit with you and love you through those feelings, as any parent would.
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Divine Mercy and Healing
Trusting that God is greater than any of the feelings you are experiencing can help you use prayer and other coping skills even in times of high emotions. Still believing in God’s love and mercy—that it never fails—can also lead to healing. Psalm 136 states that, “His mercy endures forever.” No matter what we have done, no matter what has been done to us, God’s Heart longs to help us.
Saint Faustina gives us a beautiful prayer that we can say during times where we are struggling to rely on God’s mercy:
Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. // Diary, 950
If we truly believed God’s love for us, if we believed His compassion and care for our wellbeing never leaves us, how would we respond? It can be difficult to let others care for us when we are hurting. At times I myself have wanted to push people away. Yet when we allow ourselves to be shown mercy, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We allow ourselves to let it all out, which in turn allows us to heal. To move forward despite the pain, fear, or sadness we may be feeling. For our hearts to be made new.
Christie Luibrand is a therapist turned stay at home mom living in Ohio with her two children and husband. You can find out more about her here.