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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The Triumph

Not only do I love Mother Angelica, I really really like her too. She passed away semi-recently and how I wish I could have met her, it will have to wait until heaven now.

Mother Angelica is the foundress of EWTN, a Catholic TV network but more importantly (to me) she was the first spiritual mother/guide I ever had. I found her as a questioning 19-year-old by reading a book that is the first on my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads” List, Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. 

I recently picked up this classic yet again (I have reread it too many times to count) and it is still as great as it ever was. That is my personal test of a great book. If you pick it up and like reading it again even better than you did the first time, then it’s a keeper and deserves the coveted spot on the shelf (never enough shelf space in my room so I mean coveted in a fairly literal sense).

The reason I say it is great is because it is short, easy to read, but packs a punch to the point where a paragraph can turn your whole world and mind inside out. Mother Angelica was a holy lady who dedicated her life to helping others grow in holiness too and one of the best things she does is make it seem so possible for absolutely everyone. It’s enough to give hope even to a sinner like me and that’s how you know it’s deeply rooted in the gospel and not just the empty sayings and “feel-good” euphemisms that plague our age.

And it was reading one of her gems that inspired me to write this particular blog post because it hit me in an especially profound way and I hoped that maybe someone else would find it useful.

She was talking about discouragement and in the context discussing Christ’s crucifixion she wrote the following:

He died with no valleys in his soul, no crevices where resentment, and hatred, or anger, or self-pity could hide and warp and disfigure the soul.

This impressed me because, first of all, doesn’t contemplating that just make you want to love Jesus?

Second of all, each of those temptations she listed I find easy.  I wish I didn’t but being a person who struggles against a proud nature I find that those crevices come to me rather naturally.

However, I confess I often forget that each vice has a corresponding virtue. For example, resentment and hatred can be defeated by forgiveness. Anger can be overcome by mercy. Self-pity can be conquered by humility and trust in God.

This knowledge is important because it is this truth that reminds me that I see the world the wrong way. Whenever I am put through trials I tend to see it first as a trial and sometimes (particularly when there are many trials at once) I want a respite from the myriad imperfections that I notice the trials are bringing out in me.

And while it would be easy to sit back and throw my fist at the heavens and ask “why God?” the answer struck me very clearly. It’s because I want to be holy which is just another way of saying I want to love not as humans do but as God does. I don’t want those valleys and crevices to remain in my soul. And so God in His love and His sense of humor gives me lots of opportunities not just to avoid sin by managing to hold my temper or not judge, but also to put into practice it’s opposite virtues like kindness and compassion.

But it’s funny to think that up in Heaven we won’t be glorified for the things on earth we were good at and did well, but instead glorifying God through the things we did poorly and asked Him to do for us in His love. And it makes me sad that those who aren’t “religious” or who feel stuck in a rut sometimes have that fear of approaching God because I’m convinced that in His eyes the greater the struggle the greater the triumph of merciful love.

 

The Quest

Do you ever feel like you fight the same battles over and over again?

Whatever the battle itself happens to be, I’ve found that it can be completely aggravating and easy to lose patience with oneself. However, at the same time, I’m really grateful for the struggle because I know that struggle is the one thing in my life that forces me to change.

It is struggle that often reveals to me I’m not as strong as I thought I was and reminds me of my infinite need to draw closer to God. It forces me to confront my fears with courage, to believe that God can do the impossible with me if I ask Him because He loves me and wants me in Heaven even more than I want to be there myself.

It almost feels like magic sometimes, to contemplate that, but even better and more concrete than any sort of magic. It’s the truth behind the fairy tales, the happily ever after that so far exceeds the imagination.

In short, I find in times of struggle I have to admit that I’ve grown up too much, that I’ve tried to do much on my own, and that in my heart I’m still a child. But it is in finding myself as helpless as a child that I truly know what it means to be a child of God. And it is this experience of the ever faithful and entirely undeserved love of God the Father that takes Heaven from a lofty and far off destination and brings it to the center of my heart.

In spite of my many weaknesses and struggles, in spite of myself, it is so much easier to chase after Heaven when it feels so near at hand.