Resisting Mercy: Connection is the Antidote
We sat at our gate staring at the monitor. Our plane had already been delayed once. If you’d told me that southern California would get a winter storm, complete with snow, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we were hoping to leave San Diego before winter-storm Piper rolled ashore.
Sitting next to my husband was a tall young man, shouting on the phone. “Yes mom, I’m at the airport. I swear I’m getting on the plane.” He repeated this promise a few times. I looked at my husband curious. He leaned over and whispered, “He’s very drunk. I don’t think he should be flying.”
Memories flooded my mind, reminding me of similar situations, played out over time with my addicted loved ones. I prayed silently for the mother to find peace and detachment from her son’s disease and for healing for the young man whose eyes could barely stay open as he tried to fulfill his promise.
Sometimes, prayers are answered in real time because, a few moments later, a big, burly young man dressed in a Southwest Airlines jacket came over to him, “Hey buddy, can you come over here a minute?” The young man got up. He had to steady himself before walking over to the quiet spot where the airline representative stood.
I couldn’t hear their conversation but what I saw didn’t require words. Soft facial expressions and eye contact indicated that there was no shame or confrontation. Instead, it appeared to be an offering; a steadying hand as he directed him over to the ticket counter. I imagine that he was getting him on a later flight. There wasn’t one bit of conflict. There wasn’t a scene. And then, the impaired young man followed him off into the distance.
This scene at the airport calls to mind the parable of the woman at the well. It is a parable that feels familiar to me and my family. Christ meets a woman on the margins. Their encounter is not one of judgment. He simply asks her for a drink.
But she resists. “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman?” We see in her question that she names two issues that should stand in the way of his connection to her: she is a Samaritan, and she is a woman.
Jesus continues, “If you know the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask for living water.” His statement asks her to look beyond her concerns. Maybe he is asking her to tap into her desires. Still, she can’t see the possibility of hope.
I see these same actions in this airline employee as he approaches the young, impaired man. He offers dignity by taking him out of the public eye and greets him with a question, “Hey buddy, can we talk over here for a minute?” It’s as if they are saying, I see you. I am not seeing the stigma, I see you. I want to connect to you.
Jesus continued offering living water (hope) until she was able to accept it. Once that connection was made, Jesus asks her to go get her husband. He was able to call attention to these issues after a relationship was created. It is almost as if he is saying, now let’s get these problems out of our way.
The Spiritual Exercises begin with that foundational understanding that we are loved without condition. Only after we understand we are loved are we invited to look at where we need healing. Christ stood with the woman at the well until she understood that she too was loved enough to be offered living water. Only then the problems can be addressed.
Like Christ, the airline employee’s compassion created a connection that didn’t leave room for shame or fear to get in the way of him accepting help. He didn’t accuse or threaten. He was just one human seeing and helping another human. He was looking beyond this one problem. He was seeing the whole person and, in the process, offering mercy. Because of their initial connection, he could receive help.
Our delay turned out to be a gift. Seeing the best in humanity offers a glimpse of Christ in action. It is a reminder to see others as God sees us. The offering of God’s love is a miraculous thing. Our actions will persuade others more than anything that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
- Another take on the parable of the Woman at the Well: https://beckyeldredge.com/visit-with-an-old-friend/
- Woman at the Well Scripture Passage in John 4: 1-30
- Mercy, Forgiveness & Transformation: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/forgiveness-transformation-and-mercy/
- An Examen on Mercy: https://vimeo.com/515385179
Photo by Caleb Gregory on Unsplash