Receive from the Father

by Bonnie Staib

I grew up a Catholic. I knew God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I came to Madonna House knowing that. Or so I thought.

I was to discover just how limited my truth of God as Father was, that what I knew in my head was quite different from what I knew from my experience. It took time and healing for me to be able to truly receive from the Father.

Like many people, my image of God came from my father. My dad was good, generous, kind. This is what I knew. But I had experienced more than that, yet kept it hidden from myself. I used to fight with dad a lot, especially as a teen. Perhaps we were too alike.

My dad carried his own wounds, something I came to recognize, first in my head, then later in my heart. Eventually I admitted it before God and asked for healing of how we had hurt one another.

My folks loved me. I knew this, but I experienced that love more as conditional than unconditional. They expected great things from me, and, as I had many gifts, in many ways I excelled and pleased them. Thus I received expressions of their love. But I did not feel blessed by them simply because of who I am.

When I first came to Madonna House, I heard Catherine speak at spiritual reading after spiritual reading about how we don’t love ourselves, about how we evaluate ourselves on what we do, and about what poor self-images we have.

I was sometimes irritated that she talked so much about this. Then I was shocked to discover that this was something I really needed to hear, that this was a wound in me!

My spiritual director had asked me to pray to know the Father’s love, to pray simply “Abba, Father.”

I did pray that, but until I became conscious of this wound in my heart, I didn’t know how much I needed this prayer.

God started breaking through my pain, and healing did begin. But it was—and is—a journey into the heart of the Father, to be able to receive from the Father.

He, our Father, every moment wants to give to us in his love. He wants to pour out graces and gifts and joy to us every moment of our lives. Most of us barely know this.

So how did I start to really know this? What would I suggest to help you truly encounter the Father of all Mercy?

During a really dark period of my life—when suicide felt very inviting (and yes, I was already a member of MH at this time) I learned something.

I was desperate. I heard a talk about the power of praying out loud and I thought, “What can I lose?”

I decided to give God my mouth, my words. It was he who had to move this down into my heart, I thought. So I sang, over and over, scripture songs of praise and trust. I spoke psalms out loud.

I did not feel the truth of what I was proclaiming, but I did it anyway for what seemed like ages. One friend, who had stayed with us during that time, came back and said that what she had loved about our house was my singing—how happy I was! Happy? Hardly! But I was glad she had received even from my darkness.

Eventually, I was transferred and thus some of my immediate circumstances changed, and some of the darkness lightened. But I was to discover much more as the months went on. I found I did believe those Scriptures. I found myself in the heart of mercy upon mercy upon mercy.

My heart had been broken open. No longer did I thank God that those terribly dark years were over; I thanked him for that very darkness that had revealed Mercy to me.

So, what would I recommend to you in your efforts to discover the Father? These few things:

1 – Proclaim what you believe—out loud! And even if you only once believed it, proclaim it!

In my deep darkness, I felt that God did not give a darn about me. I felt he had called me to Madonna House and then abandoned me. But when I started praying a few scripture quotes that I really wanted to be true or singing scripture-based songs, I came to know they are indeed true.

There is a power in Scripture. It is not magical, but it is living and active, and its source is the Creator of all things.

2 – Tell your own story—what God has done for you. The more you tell it, the deeper it goes into you. It builds your faith, and that of others as well.

3 – Give thanks to God over and over. There is power in thanksgiving.

4 – Praise God. Over and over.

5 – Pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Or simply: “Lord Jesus Christ, mercy.” Repeat this over and over. As you do so, Mercy is revealed. You begin to rest on the Father’s heart, as Jesus himself did.

6 – Love. Give yourself away. Over and over. You enter into the domain of Love, who is God himself.

7 – Find someone you can talk to, really talk to. Receive their love and acceptance. It will lead you to the heart of the Father.

8 – Hang out with people who show you who God is. I had a friend in one of our houses, one of the poorest of the poor. But she loved me deeply.

She accepted me totally, unconditionally. I think I could have killed someone, and Laura would not have stopped loving me one iota. She remains a very special friend.

Unconditional gratuitous love. I have been so blessed with good friends who love me and reflect myself back to me. Be a friend like that!

9 – Hope for others. What God has done for me, he wants to do for others. Mercy upon mercy upon mercy.

Catherine Doherty used to say you can listen someone into life. I have walked with many, many people—some of them for decades—and have hoped for them when they couldn’t hope for themselves. I have also rejoiced with them as they received healing and true freedom.

I have shed many tears for those I have accompanied, tears for their pain and suffering, tears as breakthroughs and freedom have come.

10 – Sit with God. Just be with him! That might be 10 minutes in the chapel. And sometimes those 10 minutes become 30. It might be a long walk. Go to Adoration. Make time for a poustinia. Make a pilgrimage. (The biggest gift for me of my recent Camino de Santiago was a lasting inner stillness.*) Quietly be with your God, and you will come to know him.

11 – Forgive. Over and over. Let go of holding people in bondage. Let God take care of them. Relinquish the unfairness of what someone did or didn’t do. Leave it to God. You indeed will discover new peace and joy. Live your life in his mercy and be merciful. You will find that you will have to do this over and over. That’s normal and really OK!

12 – Be honest with God. Tell him about your pain, your loneliness, your disappointments, your heartbreaks. If we don’t admit our needs, we don’t need a Savior. And let him take care of you tenderly. Let him be your Savior. Let him in.

***

I spoke of praying Scriptures out loud, of singing Scriptures. When I was 38, I was transferred from a house I loved and where I lived with my best friend, to another house which I had never even visited.

It was to become a special place for me, as were the staff there and the people of the town. But it was all new at the time, a time when another stress was in my life: my twin was dying.

I learned from the men of our scripture group there a song that carried me into a deeper trust in God as Barbara was sick, then died. This song (based on the Book of Habbakuk) continues to call me to count on God and to trust. So I end with this:

***

Even though the fig tree does not blossom

And the crops in the fields all barren lie,

Even though the cattle barns are empty,

And the sheep in the pasture die.

***

Yet I will rejoice! I will rejoice!

I’ll be happy abiding in You.

And I will rejoice! I will rejoice!

As the God of my salvation brings me through.

***

Even though He asks me to climb mountains,

He will give me the feet of a deer,

For the strength of His love will surround me,

As the paths in high places draw near.

***

And I will rejoice! Yes, I will rejoice!

I’ll be happy abiding in You.

And I will rejoice! I will rejoice!

As the God of my salvation brings me through.

*See Restoration, February 2019, “Walking the Camino” by this author at “archives” at www.madonnahouse.org/restoration

(There is a second Restoration archives site, but it doesn’t have 2019.)