I read a quote today from St. Catherine of Sienna that essentially said we cannot defeat evil with evil but must defeat evil with virtue. I was struck by how profound that is especially in our modern world where so few strive for holiness and virtue. Where it can feel like the only way to beat evil is with evil. It can be so tempting for me to want to be cruel in return when I have been treated cruelly because it feels like justice and is gratifying only for the faintest moment. Because instead of offering up my sorrows I’ve dragged another down into that mire and it doesn’t change anything except me, and it’s a change for the worse.
To fight evil with virtue is what I want to do in my heart but I confess it’s tempting to see that as ineffective. In a world of self sufficiency and control it can be tempting to believe that if you don’t play by the world’s rules you won’t get what you want in the end, you won’t achieve your goals. With virtue and walking the virtuous path you may face persecution and obstacles but you learn the lesson I am still learning to totally trust in God and where He leads you. To trust that even if you don’t see the fruits of your virtue and if others remain the same He still sees you and will reward you. But I confess to you also that I don’t want to become mercenary about receiving a reward I would like to be virtuous simply because I ought to be. It’s the way God designed me to be and it’s the only way I’ll experience not only true love but true life. Please pray for me!
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.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been told all about the power of positive thinking summarized by many an older and wiser person telling me, “the trick is to have a can-do attitude” in order to achieve everything from my short-term goals to my deepest held dreams and desires.
The older I’m getting (I turn 27 in ONE MONTH) the more I’m discovering that this well-intentioned advice may have missed the mark. Or maybe it’s just that my goals have changed. Regardless of the reason, I’m finding at the forefront of my desires is a desire to love that far exceeds my actual capacity to love. In short, I want to love like God does, and I can’t.
I just can’t. It’s something I’ve lamented to my spiritual director to varying degrees over the course of last year and I’ve had about a million temptations to discouragement. Not the kind of discouragement that tempts me to stop altogether, the kind that tells me to lower my aim, shoot for the middle, keep my head down and be “normal” (never my forte I admit). Yet the desire persists.
And with the help of many, I am finally coming to understand that I have come to end of what I can do and it is time now to let God do everything for me. It’s time not for strength but for weakness, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness, it’s time not for success but for humility, a time of total surrender and not control, but most of all a time to empty myself totally to receive unconditional love so that I may give it as totally and as generously and mercifully as God gives it to me.
It sounds counterintuitive and it may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done after a lifetime of plans and project management, of selfishness and pride. But as I join Christians around the world in preparing for Advent I can’t help be full of joyful hope and a sincere desire to wait in confident expectation for the coming of my Lord. And I hope this can’t-do attitude remains with me as I grow in deeper trust. I hope you have a blessed season of Advent!