The Littler Way

So as you all can probably imagine I spend more time than I ever dreamed I would arguing with people I’ve never met on the internet. (Believe me it’s embarrassing to admit because I never wanted to be that person.) But as fate would have it I publish a lot of stuff online and when people misunderstand, offer a crappy counter-argument in an arrogant way, or bash something that doesn’t deserve bashing I just feel some inexplicable need to defend it. Anyway, in one such instance I innocently posted my article A New Faith and a guy responded, “the only thing I hate more than people who blame God for their problems are people who give Him credit for their successes.”

I can’t imagine a person needing to begrudge another person their gratitude, and I said as much to this mystery man and I explained how I felt about God and I admitted honestly that “I hope by the end of my life that I take credit for nothing, because I would rather be anything than proud.” And oh my goodness the internet exploded.  Had more people read it the internet might have shut down entirely because people were furious about my attitude and horrified by my religious “brainwashing.” Like I’ve just been so brainwashed by religion that I don’t realize how dumb I am and if I saw my ignorance through their eyes I’d feel sorry for my pathetic self and repent by reading Richard Dawkins.

If you have to be brainwashed by anything, it should be religion, the water of grace, the stuff of the Saints, nothing like truth and solid dogma to refresh your mind. In fact, I would rather be “brainwashed” by religion than the new atheism because I have studied the effects of both and made an informed decision to remain Catholic. Because I think a fantastic measure of truth and sound dogma, that is seriously underutilized in this day and age, is to look at the lives of the people who live their creeds and ask yourself which way you’d prefer.

But before I go too far down an entirely separate tangent I’d like to come back to the purpose of this article, which was to enlighten people to what exactly I meant by my apparently super controversial statement. Because there was a reason it sounded so outlandish to my atheistic and cynical counterparts, to the point where it angered them, and the reason is a sad one. It was because they don’t understand the essence of humility which I believe, in large part, is why they also have so much difficulty having any kind of relationship with God.

To explain, let’s examine the nature of the disagreement. The article I wrote was discussing a gratitude and a new faith I had developed in the past year or so and a confidence that if God could get me through those particular trials then He could get me through anything. The counter was that I had gotten myself through the various trials on my own and that my credit to God was, in a word, stupid. (Or ignorant, if you liked that one better).

Now what I was trying to get this guy to understand was yes I did make some economical decisions that helped me save money and yes I was proactive in searching for jobs while unemployed etc. But to tell my tale of hardship and woe out of the context of my relationship with God would not only render it significantly less interesting but horrifyingly incomplete. My article glossed over the year as a whole, it did not include my daily prayers or take into account the fact that my new faith came second, not first. What these people missed was that with God great things never start off great, they start off small.

To clarify, my big year didn’t begin as a year, it didn’t even begin as a day, it began as a moment. A moment where I was really afraid, intimidated by the future, and unsure of what to do next. So in that moment, I decided to do something new because my old way, the type-A extremely well-organized 5-year plan method, the way of the world that career experts recommend as foolproof, was leaving me in knots and getting me absolutely nowhere. I decided to forgo my careful planning and trust God. In 23 years as a practicing Catholic, I’m not sure I had ever truly and genuinely trusted in God before to actually come through for me in my adult world. I had always kept everything rather compartmentalized, maybe due to my skepticism that God really does have a grand plan for my life and cares about my day to day needs too.  I don’t know I guess I’d always had God as an idea, but certainly an abstract one that I wasn’t sure how to incorporate into my life, and I guess it was time for us to finally get personal.

And get personal we did. Because instead of living in fear I thought I’d dare to be daring. I basically said something to God along the lines of “well God with everything I have going on, with my old plans out the window, it seems a good a time as any to finally start living life like it’s an adventure again instead of a calculated chess game where the object is only to win. And adventures always have a good ending, so I want my final destination to be heaven. Forget the rest of it, forget making a name for myself, or having it all, or living in the suburbs. My goal now is just to go to heaven and enjoy the trip, and I’m going to need You to take care of me each moment until I’m finally there, because I trust in Your mercy and I can’t wait to see it.”  And that was that.  I started sharing each moment with God: the good, the bad, and the ugly crying. And the more I tried it the easier it became and the more I actually enjoyed the little moments of being alive again. I realized that, although extremely informal, this was prayer and as it became more natural to me I was noticeably happier, even though my circumstances hadn’t even changed for the better yet.

So as the time started flying and nearly a year had passed, I wanted to pay tribute to that way, which I affectionately call “the littler way” (because St. Therese had a “Little Way” of offering random acts of kindness to God but since I can’t always be counted on to be kind my way was even littler in that I was going to share the moment with God no matter what it held, whether I was managing kindness or was my usual sassy self.) But after those many months I wanted to give God credit for exceeding my expectations, because as I found out God has a way of making the most insignificant, or even awful, moments of life really beautiful just by being a part of them.

rose

And this littler way, be warned, has a way of making you extremely little too, because with God it wasn’t merely “coping” as they cheer you on to do in the self-help section. It was learning how to live in the present moment in peace, in joy, and with a new faith (hence the title of the original article). And the reason I said I would rather be anything than proud, is because to reframe what I just told you as an empowering story of how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, made a plan and stuck to it without compromise, and did all of this without help from anyone would not only be self-serving, arrogant, and misleading it would be an outright lie (which I strive never to do). The worst kind of lie too, one that diminishes the light of the truth by blowing the smoke of the world. I mean, it’s impressive how much work has been done already to that effect, because I actually had the intellectuals (and by that I mean those who were not ignorant like me) lecturing me on how “pride is not a bad thing” and “you realize there are different degrees of everything, right?” (i.e. as long as I keep my pride in reasonable check it won’t harm me or others at all, which, interestingly, is the ironic error that Elizabeth Bennet mocks Mr. Darcy for in Pride and Prejudice.) It was certainly something to behold. Ignorance is truly bliss by comparison to this mental game of Twister.

Because when my adventure comes to an end and I finally get to heaven, I hope that when I stand before God I don’t feel the need to brag about a single accomplishment or hand Him my resume. I hope instead that I look Him in the face with one of those thousand-watt smiles and say, “thanks for everything Dad. I loved every minute.”

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The Cross

So I will admit that I am a very cranky person on the inside sometimes. I go through phases where my patience runs thin and I am sharp as a knife with all those I encounter, if not in speech then most certainly in thought. Most people who know me put me on the pedestal of being rather like Snow White because they are not subjected to my private internal life. In fact, there are only two people who are constantly subjected to my int.jpgsometimes porcupine interior, myself and God. And with that in mind, I find it absolutely astounding that God loves me. I believe it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t blow my mind a little bit most days. Because I love in a very human way in that my love is subject to being tested, whereas the love of God is constant in that it is and, when God took on the form of a man and was put to the test, remains eternal, sealed by a covenant, and by its nature unchangeable. God’s love doesn’t shift based on whether I am particularly loveable and at my best or particularly unloveable and at my absolute worst, and thinking about that really makes me want to be better, to have that capacity too.

And I know this will require no small amount of grace, because my nature is not predisposed to be kind or humble. I can remember when I was a little girl really admiring two women, my mother and the Blessed Virgin Mary, because they both had a sweetness and an unassuming ladylike quality about them that I recognized was not in me, but that I hoped to have because I loved them both and I too wanted to be a lady.

It’s a battle I still wage today because I certainly have my mother’s capacity to be sweet and innocently kind, but I also have the sharp wit, strong opinions, and limited patience with others that are perhaps more stereotypically Celtic (thanks Dad, lol). But above all, I’m strong willed. And it bothers me how even though I do have the capacity to love and to do good, and maybe even to be a lady, there are a few times on this spiritual walk where I don’t want to do the right thing. For example, choosing to love someone I don’t like. It is a true talent that my mother (and I imagine the Blessed Mary also) possesses, the ability to be gracious to all, patiently trusting that you should love each person because you only know a part of their story and have no right to dole out love as you see fit. It’s founded on the idea that true love is not at all based on worthiness, and I know that’s the truth because of the relationship I just described having with God.

Yet it is so hard to remember to do this, to look past my own vision of what the world should be and into the heavens, and to try to bring a piece of that kingdom back down to earth by authentically loving my neighbor. The enchanting mystery of this endeavor gets lost because it cloaks itself in the mundane and insignificant, Jbecause if you truly paid attention to your surroundings you would notice these opportunities present around you all the time. In traffic, at work, on the phone, in the grocery store, or even when you are just taking a walk. And it is so easy to be so distracted by the worldly idea that glory consists in great things, your enduring mark on the world, that it is easy to forget heavenly glory, the truth that sometimes the best crown you can wear is a crown of thorns. The scars that come from breaking your own heart and your own self will as you learn what it truly means to love.

And it is my ongoing frustrating efforts to do this for a few people in my life that inspired this post in the first place. Because I want to want to love them in the same way that God very generously loves me. But I’m mad at them for the way they treated me and the last thing that makes me feel is generous. Because if I sign on to love them, not only do I have to forgive them and treat them the same as I would people who are easier for me to love, I have to do so without the guarantee that they will change, that I will gain anything by it, or that it will be reciprocated in any way. To love for the sake of love, to love because I love God and it’s His command which, although difficult, is just. It is the tough road of perfection, not the superficial worldly kind that I find so incredibly cheesy, but the path that leads to perfect love and requires the sacrifice of supplanting my will with God’s.

Please just pray for me that I might have the grace not to turn back now.

Forgive and Forget?

So today I was scrolling around the web (I feel like that’s a more accurate description than surfing the web) and I read this article that posed an intriguing question. The question was: can you forgive and not have a relationship with that person?

I think the author of the article was sort of wondering can you walk away from a relationship and still love that person in the sense that you’ve forgiven them, but the relationship is bad and you need to walk away from it. But she didn’t allow comments. Boo.

So I’m going to weigh in on both sides of the question right here. (Consider yourselves fairly warned!)

As for the first part of the question, I think forgiveness is essential in any relationship, even the ones you don’t intend on breaking. I think forgiveness gets an interesting reputation because it’s always presented as something you don’t want to do but really should do if you want to be a good person and all.

And that’s such a shame because real and authentic forgiveness goes so much deeper than that. In fact, if it models God’s forgiveness, it completely forgets the offense and in no way hinders the self-giving love that is the true joy of Christian life (where you receive that from God and share it with others). And I think Jesus encourages forgiveness because the truth of it is that it’s not so much for the other person as it is for you. Embarking on the trail of forgiveness is a lesson in learning how to give a person exactly what, in your mind at least, they do not deserve. And that is difficult. Because, speaking as a human, I rely on my judgement a lot and it’s hard to give up the moral high ground (on those rare occasions where I’m standing on it) to go and sit with my fellow sinners, instead of on my lonely throne of judgement and righteous indignation. Because forgiveness takes trust in God, and an acceptance that even if I feel justified in my anger towards someone for their offences against me, I might not be either:

  1. justified at all
  2.  have that offense righted while here on earth.

Yet I like to envision heaven as a kingdom of mercy, and the further I walk down my spiritual path the less I want retribution from people for their sins against me because they were doing their best with what they’ve been given and I’ve certainly sinned against many here on earth (and against heaven too for that matter). And I want to forgive because I also want to be forgiven. I would want all the people I’ve ever sinned against to have mercy on me because the truth is, no matter how I appear to the outside world, I’m weak. It’s just a fact.

And I think this realization, the art of forgiveness, is a form of freedom. Acknowledging your weakness and the weaknesses of others, and being happy that God loves you and your neighbor anyway in spite of your many weaknesses. And celebrating that He’s happy to give you access to his love, the only thing powerful enough to overcome it all.

But getting to the second part of the question, is it okay to forgive and not have a relationship with that person? I would also say yes to this. Because I had a falling out with one of my best friends right around the time I graduated college. She knew me inside and out. I wanted to repair whatever was wrong (because to this day I’m still not certain exactly why she was so mad at me, I only know that she was) but she did not. And that hurt. Really badly. And it took me a long time to get over it. (Not having a blog at that time- which is a shame because I bet I could have churned out some really good stuff) And forgiving her completely took a long time.

I wanted to forgive her much sooner than I was actually able to because I felt really betrayed, and that’s a tough emotion to reconcile with forgiveness. I honestly don’t know how Jesus does it so effortlessly (I chalk it up to Him being infinitely more loving than I am). Because forgiveness flows from love and I still loved my friend (I do to this day) but I sensed that true forgiveness would require me to sacrifice my own emotions and my own will in the name of love, and boy did I not want to do it. But I eventually did even though this friend and I don’t have any kind of relationship anymore. While I wish her the best and made peace with what happened, the truth is as we were growing up we had been growing apart and becoming two very different people.

But it’s still important to take the humble path which in this instance was choosing love and life. Because selfishness brings death. Not physical death per se, but when you get too caught up in your own emotions, you become preoccupied with them, and it’s you that stops living. Because you’re not there in the present moment anymore, you’re immersed in the peaks and valleys of your own internal realm. And the only way I’ve ever found out of that battleground is surrender. A surrender to the love of God, which, as I have said before is stronger than any emotion. And this surrender is certainly a beautiful struggle. Because God’s love is an overcomer for sure. It doesn’t ask you to deny, ignore, or bury the emotions. Instead, it requires you to confront them, to be honest about what they are, no matter how ugly, and accept healing of them.

And with that healing, it’s like you can remember the wound without feeling any of the pain. It loses its sting. With this healing you can take the next step. One leap further on the path of love. Becuase now your eyes are not fixed on you, only the adventure that lies on the horizon.