Spiritual Hangovers

Believe it or not this fantastic expression was not invented by me but rather the wonderful Mother Angelica. I’ve included a link here where she explains it in detail but in summary, it’s the idea that just as one can overindulge in alcohol and experience a response of pain from the body one can also overindulge in un-Christian feelings from the past or projections of the future and live in a “spiritual hangover” of bitterness, resentment, hatred or fear rather than in the graces God provides in the present moment.

Mother Angelica in her writings always strikes a wonderful balance between an understanding hug and swift kick in the pants and I find on my spiritual walk that I am in need of both those things. I love her metaphor because I find it both funny and convicting. How often do we justify ourselves in our feeling rather than trying to overcome them? Certainly more times than I’d care to admit on my blog…

But rather than share any personal reflection (because I’m sure you’re sick of those!) I wrote this blog post more to share a resource that I think is just great and which I hope gives you something to think about as well as a sincere chuckle.

Hope everyone is having an excellent summer so far! I can’t believe how fast it’s going.

 

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!

 

The Trouble with Most of Us 

I have been doing a lot of spiritual reading lately for groups I’m part of and I keep seeing the phrase “most of us.”

Usually, when someone uses the phrase “most of us” in spiritual reading it is not because they are about to give most of us a compliment.

“Most of us” are not holy like the saints were.

“Most of us” do not pray enough.

“Most of us” don’t understand the beauty of the Mass.

“Most of us” don’t take the hard road.

I live in the world just like you. I meet and interact with the very souls intended in the phrase “most of us.” However, I do not see the same phenomenon described by the spiritual authors. I often find that as much as I respect some of these authors and even benefit from their teaching I cannot share the attitude they take toward the nameless masses. Because I know for a fact that to God there are no nameless masses or generalized groups of ordinary people- God calls each of us by name. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us each profoundly, sincerely and uniquely as the work of His own Hands. When God looks at the world He doesn’t see trends or demographics, He does not gaze at “most of us” but into the heart and soul of each and every man. He knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly not in spite of our weaknesses but in the midst of them. And I am convinced that the revelation of His love for each of us will be infinite and without limit, all the more so if we have been seeking Him too.

When I think about my faith I do not think of most of us, the other masses who are not as good and may never be anything of consequence to earth (as if there was a correlation to heavenly glory). I tend to think of all of us and our universal call to be holy. I think of all of us in our searching for a purpose of life that I believe can only be found if you accept the invitation to know God, love God, and serve God as well as your neighbor.

I do not think that holiness is something that will or ought to elude most of us. I think it is something intended for all of us that requires nothing from us but our “yes” to the transformative love that God seeks to give us. We are called to seek, the success of our efforts to grow in holiness is a product of God’s abundant grace, either the graces needed to overcome our own natures or the grace to keep going when we don’t.

Perhaps most of us will be intimidated when we first start to think of this. Most of us will feel like running and hiding. Most of us will fail many times at loving God, self, and neighbor. Most of us will have moments of doubt and temptation, where we feel like quitting the whole endeavor…

But I believe each of us can become the person God calls us to be because He loves us, He will give us every grace we need in His perfect timing (and not a moment before!) but perhaps most especially because He gives us each other.

My walk with God received a unique twist around 2014, I had an interior conversion within my practicing of the Catholic faith and that twist was a burning desire not just to get to Heaven myself but to take absolutely everyone with me. Because I realized that as much as real love can frighten people at the outset by its demands of selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering,  to view love as sheer suffering and misery is to see only half the picture. While it is true that in love another’s suffering can become your own suffering, in love their joy also becomes your joy.

So not only will I be “happy” when I get to Heaven by the mercy of God (I use quotations because any word expressing happiness I know will be an inadequate  understatement) but when you get there and experience this “happiness” for yourself I will feel it as profoundly as I did my own because I love you and pray for you constantly. Each and every one of you.