I am finding of late that I am having an unusual dilemma in the spiritual life. I’ve just been through a period of suffering during which time I did my best to cling to Jesus. Now, however, that I’m starting to feel better I’m hesitant to keep following God because I’m scared to ever go through it again. Looking back I don’t even know how I made it through and contribute it mostly to God’s grace, Him keeping me steady in the face of many storms. Yet instead of thanking God and trusting Him more deeply I am consumed with my personal desire of never suffering like that again and planning a life that will keep me comfortable in my comfort zone.
But the truth is I’m not in control and it’s foolish of me to think that with the right plan I could be. The truth is that God is in control. This normally gives me great comfort but this time, and I admit this with a degree of self-amusement, He doesn’t do what I want Him to do. I feel like a child whose parents feed her vegetables when she wants cake. I know it’s somehow good for me but I still don’t want it. I want what I want just because I want it. And while I had grand plans to offer so much to God I find that what He wants from me more than anything is my stubborn will. He’s found the one thing I cling to, the one thing that hurts to give up and I have to face the question of do I really love God enough to give up everything including my will and having things go my way? I may spend the rest of my life answering that question.
So writing on this blog is admittedly long overdue and part of that is due to the weird place I am in life. Lately I’ve been full of fear which is unlike me. And part of it is because in my soul I’m an introverted person who prefers to remain in the background but as an adult I find myself given more authority and bigger challenges which are really a blessing but which leave me wondering how to walk the littler way.
I think I often get caught up in the grand things I want to do for God. So caught up in fact that I forget that the goal of my faith is not to grow out of my need for God but to deepen it with loving trust. To surrender even more, to become even smaller and need Him even more than I have in the past. Sometimes I think that God loves me profoundly not because I am worthy but because I am so needy, so utterly helpless on my own. And He just can’t resist doing great things for me.
Such love and strength and power fill up every wound, every struggle even when I don’t feel it, even when it’s hard to be grateful and hard to believe. But when I get to heaven I hope I can say with the Blessed Mother that even in the sufferings even in the trials I’m blessed because I have the love that is everlasting living deep within my soul.
A few months ago I went to a really interesting young adult event hosted by the Diocese I work in where a former atheist talked about his conversion story from atheism to Catholicism. Not only was the speaker delightfully British (!) he was wonderfully engaging, humble and it was really helpful to get the perspective of someone not raised with any religion in the home.
I was very happy I attended for a number of reasons, but most notably because he said something that stuck with me about how he did not have a definitive moment of conversion. His story wasn’t Pauline with a dramatic conversion where everything changed, which I think is along the lines of what most people imagine when they hear the word conversion. Instead, he mentioned being a university student and a philosophy major and through becoming friends with Dominican friars (something I could relate to from my time in Virginia!) he could “see himself becoming Catholic.” Beyond doctrine and orthodoxy he was drawn in by fellowship, ordinary dinner conversation and prayerful peace and joy exuded by the friars themselves. Before he was drawn into a religion and a deeper relationship with God he was drawn into a group of Catholic friends united in their love for God and neighbor and the common destination of Heaven.
The speaker couldn’t point to one specific instance of conversion, rather it was a series of little moments over time that softened his heart and disposed it toward religion. He essentially went from “religion is for the ignorant” to “maybe it’s not so bad there might be something to Christianity” to “I could see myself becoming Catholic” until finally “I believe God is calling me and I want to become Catholic.”
As I was thinking of this I spoke to a dear friend of mine who is also in the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) program. He was raised Catholic but had fallen out of practice and never received the final Sacrament of Initiation (Confirmation). He said something similar to my former atheist speaker where when talking about his motivations to the group he mentioned first his relationship with myself and my family. Not that we did anything special and walk around with a light from heaven brushing our shoulders, we simply live our faith intentionally and from that extremely ordinary witness my friend could “see himself becoming Catholic” and is now in the process of doing just that.
It’s powerful testimony and useful to anyone involved in the New Evangelization to see how the Church that attracted the two new members I mentioned in this article saw not a mere institution but a living body of Christ.