“I hate him! I hope he burns in hell!”
Gulp! How do you handle it when someone spits out such fury? What do you say? What do you do? I’ve heard this too many times in my decades of ministering to the separated and divorced. Sadly, I’ve witnessed well-meaning but misdirected responses such as:
Oh, dear. You shouldn’t feel that way.
Tsk! That’s a sin!
You need to repent of that right now.
And probably one that makes the person even angrier:
There, there. You don’t really hate him.
Oh, yes, she does! At least a very real part of her. She’s wounded, angry, afraid, and probably feeling powerless to bring any justice into the situation. She’s sick of everything to do with the separation or divorce. She doesn’t need to be corrected; she first needs to be affirmed—not in her sin (yes, hatred is a sin, but hold that thought) but in her pain. A better response would be:
I hate him, too. Let’s pour some wine. (Clink!) Here’s to us and to hell with him!
Of course, I’m just kidding . . . but that, too, is a common response of someone who wants to help but doesn’t really know how.
There’s a better way—and it’s the Church who shows us.
The Works of Mercy
Do you recall the Spiritual Works of Mercy? Most people know the Corporal Works: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, et al. Both were formalized about the time of St. Thomas Aquinas but they are all rooted in Scripture and have been in practice in the Church for thousands of years. What the corporal works do for the body, the spiritual works do for the soul.
While we must be merciful with others, we must begin by being merciful with ourselves. Each of us has a Core Self, that part of us that’s most calm, clear, centered, courageous, curious, compassionate, creative, confident, and connected to God. But we also have other parts of us that are wounded, still unhealed, and that carry shame, fear, anxiety, and protective agendas. Let’s follow the works of mercy with our own inner parts and then similarly with others. After all, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as we love our SELF! (Mark 12:31)
So read these as you would speak to others, but read again as you develop much more merciful “Self Talk.”
Comfort the afflicted
It’s a great comfort to have someone affirm what we’re feeling. Deep down we usually know the way back to sanity, we just want someone to be there with us.
“Wow. Hate? Hell? You must really be hurting. I’m so sorry. What can I do for you right now?”
Counsel the doubtful
Even when our core self knows what’s right, another part of us can doubt and lose our way. We are comforted when we have someone help us find our way back home.
“Are you sure you want to let all that anger eat you up? Let’s find a better way to deal with things. I’ll help!”
Instruct the ignorant
Comfort and counsel are great but we also need practical steps to take; real-life techniques that work. Show us. Teach us.
“When I get angry, I try to remember to take a deep breath, get a drink of water, go hit a bucket of balls, or throw myself down on my knees in prayer. After the emotions are calmed a bit I try to make a plan. Do you want to talk about it? Let’s work on this together.”
Admonish the sinner
Don’t try to set us straight without first showing you love us. When we know you will comfort, affirm, counsel, teach, and walk with us, we’ll be more open to your correction. And don’t hold back on the truth; we need it!
“You’re kidding. You’re still angry at him? Stop! You know that will only eat you up inside and, actually, it’s blocking your heart from God’s grace right now. Don’t do that to yourself! I’m going to confession on Saturday. Want to join me for lunch and then go with me?
Bear wrongs patiently
We’re so obsessed with ourselves sometimes. Thank you for being patient while we let God work in us.
“Um-m-m…it’s me, your best friend. Remember? This anger thing is getting out of hand and I’m worried about you. I’m here for you. I’m not going anywhere—even when you’re crabby at ME!”
Forgive us; we know not what we do!
“Of course I forgive you. I love you.”
Pray for the living and the dead
Pray for us! We need your prayers.
“Dear Lord, please pour out your blessings on my friend and draw her heart closer to you. Thank you and bring good fruit from her problems. Amen.”
Now those are some practical ways to show mercy.