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!

 

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Things Great and Small

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of fun at my job. Ironically, it hasn’t been because I have an especially fun work environment, it has been because my work environment sometimes feels like the ER but with crises of a housing variety and I’m the one who coordinates all the staff, among other things.

No, the reason I’ve been having fun is because in those moments where I’m being contacted many different ways simultaneously and doing a thousand things in immediate succession, things that would not normally strike me as that big deal seem like the end of the world. So, instead of dealing with them immediately and/or being a jerk about these things to my coworkers (and dealing with the subsequent guilt of that) I decided to do something new.

Since I confess on this blog frequently about what an impatient person I am, I decided to wait. Instead of doing things in the heat of the moment I make a note and wait to do it until later once my emotions or frustrations have blown over. I take a break when I need to and do other basic things to take care of myself on the job (which is easy for some people but not always so easy for me).

And the funny part is how a lot of my “crises” take care of themselves. This little method has been shaking me out of my own perfectionism, which creeps up on me more than I care to admit. I do what I can with the tools I have and sort of go with the flow. Stepping away is helpful. While this all probably sounds rather obvious it’s not something that I see easily or frequently put into practice in the schools I attended or the places I’ve worked. With the speed and interconnectivity of everything it’s harder to get away, things are more easily blown out of proportion and most of all we live in a society that worships the act of doing.

It’s kind of a bold claim but I can point to many instances where prayer is majorly criticized by secular society because it is not seen as enough of an action. And I would go so far as to argue that it doesn’t matter what we do or how well it works in accomplishing our objective so long as it appears we are “doing” something. It’s the calm, the inaction that really offends because it shakes off that sense of urgency and importance and, as in my case, reveals that humbling and humorous truth that the world is a lot bigger than we are, and stretches far beyond the little problems and difficulties that we encounter in our day.

Even the larger scale problems that affect not one, but many, lose that sense of doom when I remember to have a perspective that stretches beyond myself and my limited abilities to include frequent prayer and trust in God to do even what feels impossible. To be glad that God is bigger than me and believe that He works everything out for good in its time.  Maybe the trick is just being willing to wait for it; to stay in tune with the graces He gives only in the present moment as we live it together.

This is what I think I like the most about prayer not that it changes God but that it changes me.

That One Time A Vegan Tried to Eat My Head Off

Incredibly, the title of this blog post is based on true events. One afternoon I was innocently eating copious amounts of cake, as I’m liable to do at office birthday parties,  and trying very hard not to fall asleep because I get sleepy after eating anything anymore it seems. I’m not sure if I should see a doctor or if it’s just adulthood.

Anyway, the birthday girl and her vegan friend were sitting across from me and having a conversation about cow milk versus the million other types of “milk” that exist these days. They made the mistake of thinking that I was listening to them when in fact I was, as I just admitted, eating copious amounts of cake and trying not to fall asleep.

Suddenly the vegan proceeded to put all these judgmental words in my mouth as she narrated what she supposed I was thinking as I sat eating my cake and hearing the two of them speak. It was hardly accurate, but I let it pass with a smile and opted not to say anything.

But she was not to be ignored. The conversation somehow transitioned to a discussion of doing laundry in the homes of exes and binge drinking. And the process repeated itself.

It was certainly something to behold because over the course of our conversation she spoke of her restrictive diet, daily life, and love of getting drunk and assumed I would judge her on all counts.

And it struck me as ironic because even though this girl struck me as comfortable in who she is, it was an almost frightening process watching all of these insecurities come to light as she laid all this judgment on herself in my name. She assumed that I had been silent because I had nothing nice to say and that if I had chosen to speak I would have been as harsh to her as she had just been to herself. And her eyes glistened with this reverse condemnation as she kept trying to bait me into saying something to prove her theory right.

It was a crazy moment for me because I knew that this outburst was not a result of anything I have ever said to this woman but rather a direct result of how I choose to live my life. That’s right, this person was offended by how I choose to live my life because my actionscheese conflict with her worldview and belief systems. She assumed that I’ve never done laundry at an ex’s house because she assumed that I lead a chaste life. She assumed that I don’t spend my evenings getting drunk or going to trendy clubs. She also assumed (incorrectly) that I would mock her diet choices because she knows I eat cheese and have an affinity for most dairy products. In short, she was mad at me for being me because she read my decline of a more stereotypical twentysomething existence as a judgment and rejection of herself. She saw me as a living embodiment of total condemnation and she was absolutely defiant in the face of this perception. I could see it in her eyes.

Believe it or not, I run into these kinds of attitudes a lot. I try to lead a holy life because I love God and I really would like to be a Saint when I die because I really want the beatific vision. Most people think that’s nothing short of crazy, especially for someone my age who is expected to be as shallow and aimless as the pervading millennial stereotype would suggest. However, this desire affects how I choose to live my life and sometimes it makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Especially when I am around people with no discernable religion who think that I act this way because I somehow think I am better than them. That I decline to partake in these actions just so I can arrogantly lord it over those who do as a way to feel good about myself.

This saddens me on many levels. The first level being that I really don’t have any ill will towards others even those whose lifestyles are vastly different from my own and it upsets me when people assume I do, not because of anything I’ve ever done, but because they don’t understand the love or belief system that motivates me and instead simplify it to a belief system they do understand: elitism and condescension. The second being that my generation is truly one that revels in bad behavior to a large degree because it is the cultural norm and fitting in is a huge temptation, especially for those who feel lost and/or long for a purpose. Even though society paints the glittering road to partying, hookups, and careers (wealth) as the road to success, fulfillment, and happiness I have come to believe through my experience that most who subscribe to that model do so as a distraction from a deeper pain or because they are still in the cycle of believing that once they finally attain those elusive things they will achieve the success, fulfilment, and happiness promised. And that makes me sad too because I believe that promise to be absolutely empty, a bold faced lie that leads to dissatisfaction if not total ruin.

Furthermore, I’ve never understood the general defensiveness of the worldly model. This girl puts on a cool and content demeanor but the words she used to judge herself were not mine they were her own. She had cooked up all these accusations against herself and dared me to step in to play the part of her accuser. In other words, beneath all of that bravado she was angry at herself and while she was not expressly happy with her life choices she was at least comforted in the fact that they are common and therefore, according to the world, excusable choices. But my presence stood in the way of that. My presence was a threat because it made those choices less common and consequently less acceptable, and she proceeded to get as defensive as you might expect.

People often don’t believe me when I say that my Catholic faith is very freeing because they see morality as “restrictive” and “repressive” to every “natural” urge and not nearly as exciting as the freedom to do whatever the heck you want whenever you feel like it. However, I would argue that one of the biggest freedoms of morality is that the process I described above does not happen in reverse. People don’t chastity-shame me (not for lack of trying!) but because it is a decision that does not cause me inward shame and I don’t ever regret practicing it. It does not cause me shame because I believe it to be right and I believe it to be a fundamentally good thing whereas when I experience shame it is typically because I believed myself to be in the wrong but went and did it anyway because I’m a weak and sinful person. And I choose chastity, for example, not because I feel like I have to or because God would send me straight to hell if I didn’t, but because honestly I like to practice the presence of God in each moment and the more I do that the less other pleasures of a more earthly variety appeal to me. It’s true. So it is hardly a personal victory when I turn down things that are no longer appealing to me in the first place. No one congratulates me when I opt to drink craft beer over Natural Light…

People often incorrectly assume that you have to be good and then God comes to you, but I have always done it in reverse, by virtue of my profound neediness, by inviting God to love me however He finds me in a given moment and letting Him love me to perfection. Because sometimes in my weakness the only thing I have to offer is a desire to be better (or even a desire to desire to be better). And the Trinitarian Christian God is so loving that even the smallest desires of this nature prove enough every time.

And my continuing down this path is not something I do to be “prudish” or something that stems from a desire to be superior to everyone else in the room, it is a choice I make because once you take the leap and invite God into your life He really will give you His healing and His love. And I persist in this endeavor for the very human reason that this simple yet profound love makes me happier and more joyful than all the other things of Earth combined. And that includes all those things the world insists you MUST HAVE in order to be happy such as material wealth, multiple sexual partners, nights of binge drinking in trendy clubs and yes, even cheese. And therein lies the freedom. Because if you believe you must have wealth, for example, to be happy then you become something of a slave to it because to lose your wealth would be to lose your happiness. But having God as my happiness is secure because not only is He faithful, He is the only thing in life or death that I can never lose.