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Small Works of Mercy: Full of Grace

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I used to like to think that I was a very self-sufficient person.  And who wouldn’t be proud of that?  It’s a trait that our society highly values, especially as students make the transition from high school to college.  We hear that it’s great to be able to take care of yourself, to get things done without relying on others, to take responsibility for your actions.  Because of this, college is seen as an essential part of growing up and becoming a respectable adult.  While I do value the skills I’ve gained that allow me to navigate my life more independently, I’ve learned that there’s more to success than self-sufficiency.

In high school, I was that girl in the group who would pretty much do the entire project on my own because I didn’t trust anyone else to meet my standards.  I was the girl who would never let peers edit my rough drafts because I refused to let them see my vulnerable and imperfect stage.  I was the girl who would never admit a mistake because it would mean that I didn’t have everything down.  (God forbid, not having achieved perfection by age 18!)  I was the girl who would never ask for advice—and if I did, I would usually end up going with my original thought anyway.  I didn’t need others, and I didn’t really need God.  I loved God and believed in Him wholeheartedly, but there was no need for Him to interfere in my life.  I was doing pretty well on my own, thank you very much.

This thinking was dangerous, though, and my desire for self-sufficiency proved problematic many times.  I would forget some vital piece of schoolwork at home, or I wouldn’t know how to handle a delicate friend situation.  Without any way to solve the problem myself, I would frantically call my mom, asking her to fix everything.  No matter what, she always came to my rescue, yet I would feel ashamed as though I had failed by turning to her for help.  But in these moments of vulnerability, my mom started to show me that there is no shame in leaning on others.  “No one is perfect, and we all need someone to pick us up every once in a while,” she’d say.  “We simply can’t do this all on our own.”

My view was beginning to change, but I still hesitated when accepting help from others—after all, we are all imperfect human beings, and I feared that I would be disappointed eventually.  I didn’t give myself over to my friends or the One who could perfectly love and support me, who could truly provide for me…until I found myself in an event I simply couldn’t go through without Him.

One rainy night in May of 2010, my mom got into a car accident while coming to pick me up from youth group.  At first, when my dad told me that I’d need to find a different ride because he was with my mom in the hospital, I didn’t understand the implications.  The reality set in as I came home to find my two younger sisters, frightened and confused, with my aunt, who was doing the best she could to keep them calm.  After my sisters went to bed that night, I called all of my friends, looking for some answers or someone to quiet my fears.  Though my friends loved me and promised they would help me with “anything, anything at all, I was still left with a hole in my heart that I couldn’t understand.  For the first time, I felt helpless and unable to fix this situation myself, and my go-to problem-solver was out for the count.  After a few restless hours, I realized there was no way I would fall asleep and decided to plug my headphones into my iPod and crank up some worship music.  As the music played in my ears, I started praying for my mom’s health—praying more fervently than I ever had.  Slowly but surely I released my anxiety and frustration into God’s hands, and knowing that He was watching over us gave me the calm I needed to surrender to sleep.

My mom survived the accident with her life and eventually returned to almost perfect health, which was an incredible blessing.  But those weeks in the hospital, where I saw the woman who had been my refuge lie broken before me, were when I learned to find solace in God and grow more dependent on Him.  Without the continual knowledge of His guiding hand on my family, I would have crumbled.

God blessed me through this suffering more than I can ever comprehend, and many of these blessings were shown through the generous actions of all those who knew my mother and our family.  Their small works of mercy led me to see the help of others not as a burden but as Christ’s physical work here on Earth.  From bringing us meals to driving us home, from helping with housework to being shoulders to cry on, these people helped us rebuild our daily life.  They reached out in abundance, and thanks to their overflowing kindness we could not help but feel blessed. They could not physically heal my mother, but they were with us through it all and thus soothed our spirits.

Perhaps this is why, so many months and years later, the lyrics of the song “We Are One Body” resonate with me so strongly.  “We are one body, one body in Christ. And we do not stand alone”.  These lyrics tell me that I do not have to be enough—I am not strong enough or wise enough to solve all of life’s problems.  I don’t have to have everything down, and I don’t have to do it all on my own.  I am a part of the body of Christ, and the members of that body will never let me struggle alone.  They will be with me, supporting me and pointing me towards the love of Christ.  Thanks to this merciful love, I can turn to God with all my vulnerabilities and know that He is always more than enough.

Morgan Widhalm is a junior at the University of Notre Dame and a 2014 Mentor-In-Faith with Notre Dame Vision