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Posts Tagged ‘abandonment’

I really want to be holy. I really do. Teresa of Avila, among many other saints, has given holiness a fairly simple definition: to always follow God’s will. But while in some areas I’m just too weak or selfish to do what I should do, in other areas I am sincerely willing but genuinely confused about just what God’s will is.

Many books have been written on this subject. Don’t let ’em fool ya; they won’t tell you how you can always know God’s will so you might as well save your money. Sure, we know there are at least a few clear-cut ways to discern God’s will: obeying the ten commandments and precepts of the Church; tending to the obvious duties of our state in life (caring for a sick child, being diligent at work, preparing food for the family); fulfilling vows we have made, whether to marriage, the priesthood, or religious life; following inspirations to perform acts of charity that do not impinge on our primary obligations; and so on. But there is still a lot of gray area, and as far as I can tell, no book is going to clear this up for me. Neither is “praying about it;” I am rarely never given any divine revelations on this score.

The torment continues when I consider an oft-stated fact that is meant to console but instead leaves me in a state of confusion: When we sincerely attempt to discern God’s will, and do what we think His will is to the best of our knowledge, He honors that choice, even if it does not perfectly fulfill what He would have chosen for us at that moment. In other words, we are rewarded exactly as if we had known and followed God’s ordaining will. Since this means a sincere person really can’t lose, why does it torment me? Because I’m not merely “uncertain” about God’s will; I often fail at taking even the wildest stab in the dark at what it is.

Let me give you an example. As a woman of a certain age with a husband and three kids, I am also home schooling, working on a number of projects, and part of several different church-related groups, each with its obligations. I often struggle with the question of how to budget my energy. If the kids want to go on an adventure in the morning, do I abandon myself to the spirit of the moment, pour out my energy, and trust that God will give me what I need to get through the afternoon chores, visit a friend recuperating from surgery, and shop for, cook, and serve the meal I promised for a local church’s Community Meals program? Or do I hold back in the morning to be sure I have enough energy to get through the evening? What if a friend with five kids asks me to babysit one morning, which means pushing homeschooling to the afternoon, putting off a grocery shopping trip till evening, and not getting my messy house cleaned yet another day? Do I say yes because she needs the help and technically I will be home, hoping God will supply the energy I lack, or do I decline, predicting it might leave me too exhausted for the homeschooling and other duties? Do I volunteer for a worthwhile church activity even though I feel overextended already, hoping God will bless the sacrifice; or do I humbly recognize my limits and politely decline?

Father Jacques Philippe writes about this dilemma. He makes the point that God is not always calling us to do the hardest thing. He tells how sometimes he knows he is being called to stay up and spend an extra hour in prayer at the chapel. Yet another time, with a problem weighing on his mind, he concludes that God is telling him that instead of struggling to stay awake and pray, he should rest, and let God solve the problem while he sleeps.

But how do we know which is is? I’ve tried it both ways: holding back and pouring out. There is no predictable outcome. Sometimes I pour out all my energy and find I am miraculously given more. But sometimes the opposite happens, and I am left exhausted and lifeless. On the other hand, sometimes when I hold back on something, I find I have more to give to something else. But other times it works the opposite way, and after holding back, I find I STILL don’t have enough energy for the rest of the day’s obligations. The results of years of tinkering with this delicate balance are inconclusive. And this is just one of dozens of areas of uncertainty.

“Of course, some people do go both ways…”

But I am able to conclude one thing. Once again, it is a call to abandonment. To not have a system. To not bargain with God or weigh everything in the balance. To stop trying to predict the outcome.  Because as my friend Kate has told me (see “it’s all for you”), we never really do anything;  it’s all God. When we accomplish incredible things, He is really the life-giving source. And when it seems we can’t manage anything, it’s He who carries us like weary children in His fatherly arms. Part of the lesson for me in all of this is: sometimes I have to accept not doing things well.  I have to accept carrying on despite exhaustion. I have to accept the sense of regret and failure when I have opted out of a sacrifice. I have to accept that I am not in control of my life. And I have to accept not knowing whether I have pleased God. But I think somehow, peacefully accepting not knowing may be what pleases Him most.

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The longer I am alive, the more I come to realize that the whole purpose of growing up is to get back to who you were when you were a child.  The whole path to peace of heart is realizing that we aren’t spiritual grownups but God’s beloved children whom he carries in his tender arms. I think of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, whose  final words tell us something about what it must be like to arrive in heaven and meet Jesus, Mary, the saints and angels, and everyone we ever loved:

“Well, I… I think that it… that it wasn’t enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em… and it’s that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with…Oh, but anyway, Toto, we’re home – home! And this is my room – and you’re all here – and I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And… oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!”

My favorite book of late is Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe. He tells of the time the brothers of his religious community, the Community of the Beatitudes, were asked to help transport the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the French Carmelite saint, to one of the cities where they were to be displayed and venerated:

   “I volunteered for this delightful job, and it gave me the unexpected chance of going into the enclosure of the Lisieux Carmel and discovering, with joy and emotion, the actual places where Therese lived: the infirmary, the cloister, the laundry, the garden, and the chestnut-tree avenue–all places that I knew from the saint’s description of them in her writings. One thing struck me: these places were much smaller than I could have imagined. For example, at the end of her life Therese gives a good-humored account of the sisters dropping by to have a little chat with her on their way to make hay; but the great hayfield I had pictured to myself is in reality a mere pocket-handkerchief!

…I realized what a tiny world, in human terms, she inhabited: a little provincial Carmelite convent, not outstanding for its architecture; a miniscule garden; a small community of religious sisters whose upbringing, education, and manners often left much to be desired; a climate where the sun shines very little….However, and this is the paradox that struck me, when you read Therese’s writings you never get the impression of a life spent in a restricted world, but just the opposite…Therese lives in very wide horizons, which are those of God’s infinite mercy and her unlimited desire to love him. She feels like a queen with the whole world at her feet, because she can obtain everything from God, and, through love, she can travel to every point in the globe where a missionary needs her prayers and sacrifices!”

   These are the themes that keep coming back to me in my spiritual life: allowing myself to be a spiritual child and discovering a hidden secret:  the amazing freedom that comes from abandonment to God. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:25:

“For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.”

Sometimes I forget the spot where I buried this treasure and I have to go digging for it again before I regain a sense of peace. But every time I discover it, every time I lose myself in God, I find that I seem to recover a little bit more of who I really am. And my life has no limits at all.

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