How to Become Merciful When You’re Naturally Not

September 30, 2016

Pope Francis declared a Year of Mercy last December and my first reaction was, “Oh no!”

Y’all I’ve got a problem and I bet some of you do too.

You see I am one of those people who is not very merciful. Extending mercy doesn’t come naturally to me. Often times I have a stony heart and am unmoved by others in need of mercy.

Gross, right?

I am well aware of how this isn’t a reflection of God’s image or likeness, as my lack of mercy comes up in confession every single time. In some ways, God’s been hounding me to work on this part of my life and Pope Francis teed him up to do a spiritual inventory overhaul.

So what are Catholics supposed to do when they aren’t naturally merciful? Sitting this Year of Mercy out isn’t an option. The Church offers us immense graces during times like these and we shouldn’t let them pass us by.

I admit, this year I had to take a good look at myself and decide whether or not I would take it seriously and attempt to grow in mercy. By God’s grace, I have grown and there are a few practical tips I want to share with others trying to grow during this home stretch of the Year of Mercy.

Hang with the Saints

Get spiritual mentors in your life who will challenge you, inspire you, and pray for you. Spending time with people holier than us is good for us. Think about it this way—when you practice running with someone better than you, you’ll be running faster and longer in no time. Their example will push you to go further than you thought you could go and to be the best version of yourself. This is what the saints do for our spiritual lives.

Pick out a few saints who really exemplify mercy that you’ve been wanting to get to know more: St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Faustina, St. John Paul II, St. Damien Malachi, St. Gianna, St. John Vianney, and so many more. Read about them, ask them to pray with and for you, and be inspired by how they lived God’s mercy in this world.

Be Intentional about the Works of Mercy

This might sound elementary but if you aren’t intentional about growth in mercy, it won’t happen. Becoming holy will not happen overnight and it sure as heck won’t happen through osmosis or by simply wishing it to. Growing in virtue takes massive amounts of effort and intentional focus, just like changing any other area of your life, such as losing weight or embracing a new diet.

Growing in mercy won’t just happen for you this year because it’s the Year of Mercy. I wish it worked that way but it doesn’t. I encourage you to pray over the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and ask God which ones he desires for you. A few of them will likely stand out and then it’s easier to make a plan on incorporating those into your schedule.

Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy:

  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish sinners
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive offenses willingly
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Embrace God’s Mercy

Lastly, and likely most importantly, it’s time reflect on God’s mercy and embrace it in your own life.

This year I’ve finally realized that when I am tempted to be unmerciful, it’s because I’ve forgotten how merciful God has been with me.

During the Year of Mercy, I urge you to sit down, call to mind, and write down the ways in which you’ve seen God have mercy on you, your friends, and your family. When I sat down to do this exercise, I left changed to the core.

It was honestly overwhelming when I took account of how much mercy I’ve been extended by God and others. It didn’t take away my natural inclination to not extend mercy at times, but it made it a whole lot easier to say no to my sinful nature and to say yes to mercy. Not perfection yet, but growth, and that’s what this Year of Mercy is about. Dive in deep and experience the ocean of mercy you’ve been suspended in, without even realizing it at times.

Those are the practical tips I’ve got. I sincerely hope this Year of Mercy is one of transformation for you!

Amanda Teixeira

Amanda blogs alongside her husband at about money, mission, and marriage. Her unique perspective has led to her to be a guest on several podcasts and national radio shows, and she’s had articles featured on Dav more...