We are not prisoners of our past (Horizons of the Heart 6)

The grace we are asking of God: To believe that we need God to free us from our own sorrow and regrets in order to love God entirely and to live a new life in Christ.

Horizons of the Heart: Horizons of the Heart is a weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Donec Formetur by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The everyday road of life is littered with disappointment. Sometimes the greatest of these is the disappointment we have in ourselves.

After a difficult year, I knew I had unearthed so many lost pieces of myself. I felt like even though I seemed to have had it all together, I suddenly was discovering in this year that too much of my ambition was dust in the wind. I felt like I needed to get away, to hide, to nurse back to health the broken fragments of my self. I could almost hear God saying, “Okay. That’s a great idea. I have just the thing for your healing.”

Shortly after, my sister called me up on a Friday evening to tell me that Dad was in the hospital and Mom, who suffers with Alzheimer’s, needed someone to stay with her. I was on a plane early Sunday morning and God’s great idea for my healing began.

Having lived in a large community and been involved in mainly an online evangelization ministry I was completely out of my element. My parents both were depending on whatever I could be for them in those difficult days, and I found that parts of my heart, having long lain dormant, were beginning to awaken. Something changed in me as the first couple of weeks turned into the five months I lived in their living room. Love was the only important thing in that precious appointment with grace. “Isn’t it always that way?” God whispered.

Stage 2 of God’s great idea: move into a Pauline community closer to my parents for a while. I’ve never felt so loved and cared for as I began anew for the second time in less than six months. I brought my one suitcase, moved into the guest room, and made do with what I had with me as I began a new adventure. “It isn’t about what you have, know, or accomplish, my Child,” God pointed out. “See how simple it can be?”

And finally, I ended up on my thirty-day retreat four short months later. So gently on those blessed days did Jesus my King begin to pick up the fragments of my soul and hold them in his healing hands. What I could not hold together, all the ways I felt ugly, regretful, lost, he made beautiful in his hands.

And there’s a story that Luke tells us in the seventh chapter of his Gospel about another woman Jesus made beautiful from the inside out. He restarted her life. He claimed her for himself. He made her new.

The woman was waiting for Jesus in one of the homes of the Pharisees who had invited Jesus to have dinner with him and his friends.

When I think of this woman, I imagine her standing on the edge of the dining room, quietly absorbed in her own thoughts and memories. This woman, through the influence of Jesus, had somehow already attained repentance and faith. And here she was. Waiting. Waiting to see once again the one who had saved her.

For her a lifetime of ugliness, hurt and self-hate, a lifetime of rolling dark clouds with never a promise of sunlight, flowers forever crushed, was now over! Finished at last! She still couldn’t believe it.

She pictured again to herself the face of the One who had given her hope. The One who had truly saved her from herself, rescued her from the trap of evil in which she had been caught. She was waiting for the young rabbi to arrive, almost oblivious of the others in the room who were also expecting Jesus’ arrival. I wonder if he will remember me, she wondered. She almost wept in gratitude as she recalled her meeting with Jesus, the moment of forgiveness. She caught herself…. This was not the place. She was the sinner known to everyone in the town. She was the one people talked about, avoided, looked down on, judged, excluded.

Have you been there, my friend?

The young rabbi who had been invited to the dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house entered the room. There was a deadening silence. She looked around startled. There were no marks of hospitality. Custom required a kiss, but none was given. No washing of the hands and feet. No greetings of respect. Something was wrong. How could they treat Jesus this way, she wondered.

Jesus stopped, seeming to sense that there was more to this dinner than he had been told when he was invited. Slowly he looked around the room, wondering if there was anyone there that he knew.

Will he remember the moment he saved me? What if he has forgotten me? The thought pierced her heart.

She held her breath as his eyes rested on each person there that night for dinner. Finally, at last, his eyes rested on her across the room. Jesus stopped.

I always hold my breath at this point in the story. Will he remember me? I wonder. Me, with my broken heart. With my regrets. With the messy mistakes and uncertain steps.

A great smile broke across his face: both for the woman in the Gospel of Luke’s story and for me. He knows me, her heart sang. He can pick out my face in a crowd. I’m not a number to him. I mean something to him.  

In that smile there was a connection between two spirits, a memory, a secret, joy given and received.

Jesus sees me and he sees you, the beautiful gift of the Creator, the one he has saved with his own blood, the soul he has filled and sanctified with his Spirit.

Psalm 45

Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
    Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honor him, for he is your lord….

In prayer one day, I entered what was for me a “sacred space.” I pictured a great cathedral filled with angels. Mary was at my side, and on the other side was my guardian angel. The Archangel Michael dominated the space, as he stood from floor to ceiling, guarding and protecting the honor of God. In this holy space, I reflected on certain relationships, ministries, expectations that hadn’t panned out the way I had hoped. They hadn’t given me the success I craved. They hadn’t left me with that glittering self-image I felt I needed in order to be happy. Eventually, I walked to the door of this great cathedral and said goodbye to them. I let them go. All of them. Every last one of them. They were such paltry, silly things in comparison to the grandeur of my Father’s house and my relationship with the King, my Lord. As I turned around to return to the step before the sanctuary, I felt an overwhelming desire to cast myself prostrate before the only One who saves, who overwhelms me with tenderness, who WANTS me, and who makes me beautiful in his eyes.

…All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
    her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
    her virgin companions follow her—
    those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
    they enter the palace of the king. (Psalm 45:12ff. NIV)

We each have things that we regret. Maybe I’m not such a great manager. Or I feel like I’ve not been there the way I wanted to be for my family because of health issues. Perhaps I realize I’ve tried out a ministry and others do it better than I. I never got that promotion that would have made a big difference for my family. I’ve made decisions through which I’ve lost prestige, financial security, options. It could be that I just wonder if I do anything right.

The most beautiful thing was not that Jesus remembered the woman before he had healed her. No. This beautiful woman “who was the sinner of the town” saw that Jesus remembered only the woman he had created by his act of forgiveness.

She knew then, in a flash of joy, that her past was gone.

Only her new identity existed in Jesus’ eyes. From now on she was the woman who was the work of his hands, the gift of his love, with a future built only and forever on his mercy.

We are not prisoners of our past. We are not chained by our brokenness.

The woman bent low in an act of reverence and utter gratitude to wash Jesus’ feet with the only thing she had: washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Then she kissed Jesus’ feet in a striking expression of affection and deep veneration.

Jesus says over her: “The one who has been forgiven much loves much” (Lk 7:47). You can hear these words addressed to you.

You are forgiven. Everything is forgotten. Whatever it was that broke you in the past, it is washed away. Whatever you hope is never found out, it is no more.

Jesus re-creates us and then remembers only what he has made us to be in his love. His dying love. His life poured forth for you and for me.

In gratitude, right now, love him.

Jesus, like a mighty Champion you rode your chariot from the rising of the sun to the furthest end of the sky.

Psalm 113

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
    his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.

Come to Me, Jesus says tenderly. Come to Me and I—the Mighty Champion—will refresh you…. I who bore your pain, was scourged, mocked, humiliated, crowned as a King in mockery, crushed to the dust beneath the weight of your sin…

Come to Me and I will refresh you, I will love you, I will start again with you, I will make you new (cf. Matthew 11:28).

Image Credit: Feature image: Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash; Frans Francken the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash; Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

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