One night, I came home from a busy day at work. As usual, I was attempting to get the daily rundown of the kids’ activities, read the mail, check the messages, and get dinner started. That’s when it all came apart.
“Mom, Riley hit me,” reported Alex.
“Mom, I want pink milk,” demanded Riley.
“Mom, I feel like I’m going to throw up,” cautioned Maddie.
Another typical night in the Brigger house, I thought.
I quickly helped foster a reconciliation between Alex and Riley, filled a sippy cup with pink milk, and comforted Maddie and laid her down on the couch with a bucket nearby. A far cry from what I—or anyone else—would call “holy.” But, as I realized later, in many ways it was.
Over the course of the evening, I had unknowingly performed a number of the works of mercy that I had grown up hearing about, but which I saw as goals too lofty and, quite frankly, too holy for me to achieve.
But it was just a matter of a shift in perspective. For too long, when I read “feed the hungry,” I envisioned signing up and working at the local soup kitchen. But I never stopped to realize that feeding healthy meals to my own family counted, too.
Or that I was “admonishing the sinner” when I corrected one of my kids for doing something wrong or hurtful to someone else, “visiting the sick” when I took them to visit their great-grandma at the nursing home and “burying the dead” when Maddie’s rabbits died and we laid them to rest on our backyard hill. And the list goes on.
Here I was living the works of mercy in my everyday life, and I didn’t even realize it. But the question I have as a parent is: Am I teaching my children to bring the Year of Mercy into the world?
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
—The Mister Rogers Parenting Book
I love this quote. Every once in a while I’ll see it resurface on Facebook or Pinterest, and it always stops me in my tracks. First of all, it reminds me of what a wonderful and profound effect Fred “Mister” Rogers, who hosted a children’s TV show for decades, has had on not only my life, but also the lives of so many others. The quote is a good reminder for me to stop and assess how the quote pertains to me and my life. I wonder, Am I being a helper? Am I teaching my children to help others?
In “The Year of Mercy,” the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis reminded us that “mercy is a keyword that indicates God’s action toward us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living.”
But even before announcing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for us to care for each other. Too often, we look at individuals, such as Blessed Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or St. John Paul II, and stand in awe of their achievements.
We let ourselves believe that we are not capable of making that same type of profound contribution to the world. But guess what? We are. We’re just underestimating our potential to bring about change—which often begins with one single action.
Stop and take a moment to think of all the helpers in our everyday lives—doctors, teachers, firefighters, moms and dads—and the list goes on.
Do we recognize them for the contributions they are making? Do we recognize the works of mercy we are doing ourselves? Probably not.
Stop and think about what things would be like without those everyday helpers. So I issue this two-part challenge: let’s not only find ways to be helpers, but also to recognize the everyday ways in which we already help. How you do that is up to you. Each day provides us with new opportunities to do both.
Maybe you embody the works of mercy through volunteering with an organization whose mission you feel is especially close to you. Or perhaps it’s by holding a prayer service and burying your child’s pet. (That one I offer from experience.) Go through your clothes and donate some that you no longer need. Write a note to a person who has made a difference in your life, or let someone know, in some way, how much he or she means to you. Offer a smile or hug, which could make a world of difference to someone having a rough day.
Speak up when you hear a person being disparaged, and then find a way to raise that person up. The possibilities are endless, so start thinking. No act is too small. For further inspiration, I leave you with another quote from Mister Rogers that I hope speaks to your heart and inspires you to continue to make a difference wherever you are: “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said yes, when all it meant was extra work for you, and was seemingly helpful only to somebody else.”