I will never forget our family vacation to Wyoming when I was 20 years old. The only reason I went with my parents and younger sister in the first place was because I was convinced to go by my mother, who argued that it would be the last family trip we’d ever take. I reluctantly agreed to go—probably because I figured I could use a change of scenery and, hey, I just might meet a cute guy or two in Jackson Hole.
After a long series of events and in complete stubbornness, on the second-to-last day of our trip, I walked 16 miles by myself. In rafting sandals. Needless to say, as someone who’d previously never walked more than a few miles at a time, I was in excruciating pain.
As I stumbled into the hotel room that night, I flopped down in the double bed I shared with my sister and silently yelled at God. I was in agonizing pain because of my legs, and frustration with my life in general was at an all-time high. Academic success in high school had not translated to my college years, although socially, I was having a blast. Or so I thought. Deep down, I knew that the “fun” I was having had left me empty and broken and ashamed. And feeling broken and ashamed made me angry. And the pain in my legs made me angrier.
Eventually, as the hum of the air conditioning and the quiet sleeping sounds of my sister and parents taunted me, I found myself begrudgingly following my Mom’s advice from when I was a restless child—I visualized myself sitting with Jesus under a shady tree in a grassy meadow in hopes that He’d comfort me.
I can’t explain exactly what happened next, other than that I can never forget it. As I lie there, imagining Jesus’s face, He seemed to speak to me. Gently, yet firmly, He asked, “Why don’t you believe that I love you?” Hot tears streamed down my face as I recognized the truth in His words—I didn’t believe He loved me, and my crazy lifestyle was further evidence of my doubt. Indeed—how could He love me, with the mountain of sin I’d piled upon my soul? He continued, without condemnation, to ask: “Was My death on the Cross not good enough for you? My child, I have put your sins as far from you as the East is from the West, and still you continue to carry them with you.” See, friends, He wanted to forgive me, but I could not—would not—forgive myself.
What He said next forever changed me. Referring to His saving mercy, His redemptive suffering, His unique and total love for me, a wretched sinner, He imparted this command: “Rejoice. And be free.”
I wish I could say I walked a straight line after my experience that night many years ago. Sadly, I still stumble. I do, however, revisit His words often, frequent the sweet comfort of the Sacraments, and ponder the beauty of Rembrandt’s masterwork The Prodigal Son which purposefully hangs in our home. I do rejoice that He has set me free.
My friend, what is holding you back from experiencing the power of God’s healing love in your life? Are you struggling to forgive someone, or perhaps you just can’t seem to forgive yourself? Allow Jesus the Divine Mercy to love you in your brokenness. Because when He sets you free, you are truly free indeed.
Heather Anderson Renshaw is currently not drinking enough [coffee] to keep up with her five young kiddos in the Pacific NW. You can find out more about her here.