You are Good!
We human beings differ from other creatures in that we need so much more than sufficient shelter and nourishment in order to develop properly. We are, in fact, unable to survive infancy unless others affirm our very existence. This fact was demonstrated in the 1930s, when infants in hospitals with state-of-the-art incubators began to display impaired physical and intellectual development compared to babies in less well-equipped hospitals. It was discovered that staff and parents in the poorer hospitals spent much more time holding, caressing and interacting with the babies. As their existence was affirmed through the attentive presence of another, these babies were better able to develop and flourish. The babies with the best technology but no affirming human touch developed anaclitic depression and literally began to waste away.
Pope Benedict picked up on this very real human need when he reflected that, “if an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: “it is good that you exist” – must say it, not just with words, but with that act of the whole being that we call love.” Within the family we are uniquely placed to be able to communicate this message of unconditional acceptance to each other – “it is good that you exist” or in other words: “I appreciate you, just for you”; “you enrich my life just by being in it”; “the world wouldn’t be as good without you”, “I like being in your company”, “I delight in you”, “you are good”. But such a message almost always requires time to be communicated effectively: time working together on projects, time recreating together, time sharing a meal, time really listening to the other and to what concerns and interests them.
In the daily grind and pressures of modern life we can barely find time to be attentive to ourselves, let alone be attentive to those around us. Often, when I find myself being inflexible, impatient or judgemental towards my spouse or children, taking a little time out for self-reflection will reveal that underneath I am feeling overwhelmed or guilty. My unconscious feelings that I am somehow failing, not keeping up, or not making the grade, lead me to make exacting or unfair demands of my family. I have to look carefully at the expectations I put on myself or that I unconsciously take on from others and ask whether, from God’s perspective, these expectations are realistic or even necessary. So often they are not. The God who made us, loves us for who we are, not for what we achieve.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis is encouraging us to cut ourselves some slack, to give ourselves time out, to take a breather and “open our hearts to the hope that we are loved forever despite our sinfulness”. God’s mercy, Pope Francis reminds us, will always be greater than any defect we discover in ourselves and he is ‘ever ready to forgive’ our failings. Acceptance of God’s mercy towards us frees us to love and accept others as they deserve. As parents, the Year of Mercy can be a year of learning to accept that a few less-than-vital jobs might have to fall through the cracks, a few less-than-necessary commitments might have to be let go and friends might even have to be occasionally disappointed so that we can give ourselves the time and space to open our hearts and hear God say to us, “it is good that you exist”. If we can have the courage to internalise this truth for ourselves we will be empowered to communicate it to our children. Or in the words of Pope Francis we will learn how to be “merciful like the Father”.