The Middle

Does anyone ever get the feeling that they are at an important crossroads in their life yet continue to feel desperately unprepared to move forward?

Asking for a friend…

Lately, I’m getting that special feeling that only introverted over-thinkers can truly sympathize with, that feeling of needing a vacation from yourself because you are driving yourself insane.  It’s a feeling that often follows or even accompanies a struggle.

Fortunately, it is also a feeling once shared by St. Paul which makes me feel better since I like him a lot:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:15-19) 

I am actually not blogging to write about the particular struggle because I already have.

Rather I’m writing to vent my particular frustration with my own limits. I know I can’t do holiness, certainly not the level that I want and strive for. I know that may sound odd considering the attitudes I’ve expressed in the past regarding holiness, so for the sake of explaining away any perceived inconsistency I’ll briefly add:

I believe that the end for which every person is born is eternal life with God in Heaven and that all are called to be holy even now in time because we have to be holy in order to be in Heaven (good and evil can’t coexist so to be with perfect good all my imperfections have to be left at the door). However, I also believe that this transformation is brought about primarily by the gift of God’s merciful love and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which forgives sin rather than our own efforts. I think even wanting to make the effort is a grace.

I know that’s pretty lofty but that’s what makes religion fun and much less confining than a purely material world view.

However lately in spiritual life I’m moving away from things that are difficult for me to things which I already know are impossible to do on my own. I’m having a Carrie Underwood moment where I really need Jesus to take the wheel if I want to keep going (I do) but I’m very afraid to let go. And that fear comes from a sincere lack of trust in God which makes me feel ungrateful. In spite of all that God has done for me my faith feels very small and inadequate compared to the faith I know I need to move ahead. 

Yet I’m past the zone where I can do anything about it. If I want greater faith I have to ask God for it and then wait patiently for Him to answer my prayer, which includes me saying yes to the graces He offers in the moment rather than respond how I would on a natural level. This is hard to do especially when the natural response is so close at hand and so much easier for me.

It’s an important part of the middle of the journey, but I think it’s far from my favorite because I am very undisciplined in sticking with the middle. I look back to the exciting beginning of my life in Christ, I look forward to a future in Heaven, but I struggle to want what I’m getting in the middle which is a steady stream of trials with no immediate end in sight. Yet these trials are so important because they make me the person God is calling me to be, they make me more like Jesus. And I hope it goes without saying why I’d like to be more like Jesus… I’m sure anyone who has a relationship with Him understands what I mean, and if you don’t I’d highly recommend beginning.

Because even though from this post it may sound difficult it is so incredibly worth it. Even though I whine every step of the way in my soul and resist with the stubbornness that is my hallmark, I already know I am going to keep walking….chalk it up to the mystery of love. I also know that the only way I am going to part from these trials is to stop bristling against them and embrace them as the things that are going to rid me of what I’d very much like to be rid of: my pride, my fears, my temper, and my impatience to name a few.

Though I confess it is funny that even though I sometimes tend to hate my weaknesses and lose patience with them as they manifest themselves in myriad surprising ways. However it almost seems like God, rather than wanting me to overcome them with my own strength (my default response) wants me to trust Him to the impossible for me. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. In order to do it I have to rely not only on God’s grace but I have to remember what I all to often forget the very simple truth that God loves me very much.

And I wrote this post to help me remember that truth as I’m in the middle of the middle, in the hopes that someone else in the middle would remember it too.

 

Wait for it?

So my brother and I fell into an interesting conversation this morning as we were commuting into the city of Pittsburgh. The song “Wait for It” from Hamilton came on his Itunes shuffle and my brother asked me, seeing as were both young adult professionals at the start of our respective careers, whether it’s better to be more like the relentlessly ambitious Alexander Hamilton who seizes every opportunity or more like the soloist of the song, the character Aaron Burr, who wonders “if there is a reason [he’s] still alive when so many have died” and is willing to wait to find out what that reason might be.

The answer to that question is tricky.

It’s tricky because it hinges on what you believe to be truth. As a Christian, I believe not only that God “formed my inmost being… [and] knit me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139: 13-14) but also that when He made me He had a specific and eternal plan for my existence that He reveals to me little by little in time and will be revealed in full in Heaven.

It can be hard to cling to that truth in what Fr. Michael Gaitley aptly calls the “darkness of the ordinary” or those days that feel so average they seem insignificant as you go to and from work, interact with your family, run errands etc. Nevertheless, in spite of the easy temptations to doubt that spring up in the midst of ordinary living, I still believe in God’s plan for my life and for yours.    

So, with this truth in mind, I see no problem in waiting to discover what you were born for but it does beg the question what does that look like for the every day?

Our more worldly counterparts usually chime in that this view is the enemy to “progress” and that the only catalyst to change is ACTION, championing causes, writing the congressman, running 5ks, getting lots of followers on social media, etc. The might throw a lot of secular quotes in your face from successful (read: wealthy) people encouraging you to become more like them.

However, I have always had a problem with the “utopia now” set because even if they achieved every social and political cause they took upon themselves to champion, even if the world was overrun with the wealthy, science-minded, culturally-elite, atheistic, innovative collaborators public schools seem to be aimed at creating, even if poverty was eliminated, wars ended, and perfect knowledge achieved still everyone in this dreamy existence would cease to exist. Every single person in utopia would eventually die simply because no one lives forever.

So all these attempts at creating heaven on earth rather than pursuing eternal life in heaven to me seem short-sighted at best. The Hamiltonian idea that greatness consists only in great actions that result in an impressive earthly legacy is one which I reject. I’ve never thought that Alexander Hamilton or George Washington gain any eternal happiness by knowing that they are featured in many statues, town names, and American currency and (as much as I admittedly studied a lot of history and really like George Washington). I believe that as time passes even they will fade into obscurity like the Roman emperors of old who sat on the thrones of empires and were likened to Gods but who myself or the majority of people living today probably couldn’t name.

Living with an eternal perspective lends not only a patience and calm to thinks that might seem otherwise devastating but as a Christian my hope stems from not just a vague idea of paradise or idealistic reflections of justice, but a firm belief that a life of union with God will satisfy my every desire for justice, peace, happiness, love, and mercy. It takes the anxiety, the “now or never,” out of the equation because I do believe I will see this in my lifetime it’s just that I don’t confine that lifetime to include only my temporal life on earth. So until that day, I found my ultimate answer to my brother’s question is that I too am willing to wait for it.

 

 

The Surrender

I confess I have a love-hate relationship with my desk at work. It’s very modern: thin, sleek and totally white (think “just had my teeth whitened” white). You can very much tell that it, like all our other office furniture, comes from Ikea.

The advantage is that it really brightens up my tiny office.

The disadvantage is it shows every speck of dirt and for a neat freak like me this is sometimes challenging.

And I realized the weird paradox that some days when I notice that the cleaning crew has neglected to actually clean (this happens a bit we are in the process of replacing them) I wish that my desk was black or gray or wood or some other darker, more standard looking office desk so that I could be blissfully unaware of the dirt because there is only so much I can do with a Clorox wipe (I am totally that person) and now that it’s older, purchased very near my start date almost two years ago,  it almost never looks totally clean to me.

As I’ve been in the midst of the season of Easter I was hoping to coast off the discipline of Lent into Easter joy. However, I’m finding that the same feeling of dogged perseverance as if I stumbled over rather than walked across the finish line continues, namely because my quest for holiness continues. Rather than coast in Easter joy, I’ve been fighting off the temptation of feeling like a lousy return on everything Jesus died to give me (completely overlooking His selflessness which demands no return in the process).

And with a wry and weary smile this afternoon as I was scrubbing the stains off my desk I realized that in a way I’m a lot like my desk because those sins and weaknesses that cling to my soul the way the smudges and other marks cling to my desk don’t blend in. It is clear that when the messiness of life happens both the desk and my soul ought to be restored to their original glory rather than conform to the imperfect state of uncleanliness simply by virtue of how they each were designed to be bright.

In my ongoing quest for holiness, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like the light of God’s love is so deep within that it’s actually casting out all my weaknesses and making me new. It’s not that this love is transforming me into an unrecognizable person but rather that the more I accept God’s love the more I feel like myself and the more I experience a greater freedom to love the way I desire to love. As hard as this stretching process can be, as much as it sometimes feels like I’m fighting against my own habits and personality, as much as in my impatience I get tempted to rely on my willpower rather than God’s grace I feel like the greatest growth in the spiritual life, at least for me, comes not just from success but in learning how to successfully fail.

Because it is from failing so frequently that I must practice how to gracefully surrender (which is the antithesis of my natural personality in case that wasn’t clear).

I have to surrender my sin and weakness to the mercy and love of God which is humbling, I have to surrender what I can’t control to God’s providence which is hope, I have to surrender my own understanding which is faith, I have to surrender my aspirations and my past in order to live in the present moment which is communion with God.

As much as I sometimes want the challenges that necessitate this surrender to go away, I realize without them there wouldn’t be the same opportunity to surrender to God in order to know His love better, to decrease that He might increase, that I’m trying to embrace it which I admit feels like the strangest, most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done (and I’m a pretty strange person).

So just like you can tell that my desk comes from Ikea I hope you see from my life, even if it’s just from the struggles and my failures and my poorly titled blog posts about them, that my home is in Heaven and that’s where I hope to return someday.

Until then pray for me!