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!
So I had an awkward moment today, not that that’s especially rare for me. After dinner I finished helping my grandma with something and she commented, “you’re very nice.” Her smile was so genuinely sincere that I felt awkward because I’m really not.
I know that sounds bad like I’m fishing for a compliment or have low self esteem but in truth I’m really not a nice person. I had a moment a few years ago that was a profound turning point for me where I saw who I was without God’s grace. And it was ugly. It came at the end of a series of lows both personally and professionally that had taxed me to my absolute limit and that’s what I saw before my eyes that day: limits. I saw a proud young woman who had rejected God thinking she would do things her way and didn’t need the suffering He was giving. And at the end of that ill-fated rebellion came the realization that every gift I had ever been given came directly from God and on my own I had nothing. All the accomplishments I had attributed to my various talents, even the personal things I liked about myself like being kind and having a sense of humor, were beautiful gifts that came as a result of the love that had flowed so freely from God to me and I felt the absence of it, the absence of that union with God the life of love and grace I had been living without realizing it, down to the absolute depths of my soul.
I was tempted to complete despair in my misery and wretchedness and the pride that had been so blind to it, but I was blessed by two wonderful things that saved me by completely turning it around. The first was a consecration to the Blessed Mother who gently guided me like a mother back into life. The second was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the wellspring of merciful love I found within it which made that life worth living.
I’ve heard it said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “mercy is where love meets misery.” I’ve experienced that to be true and never before had I known a love so selfless and so completely forgiving, but what astounded me the most was how completely unchangeable it was. Jesus loved me as much at my best as He did when I was at my worst and I understood for the first time a little more of what real love was.
So now as you can judge for yourself I’m really not very nice. I’m genuinely nothing at all. But God loves me. And from that love I have life, the abundant life God promised in Scripture. And that life is what my grandma noticed when she told me that “I’m very nice.” I am very nice because God’s grace is stronger than my many many weaknesses and has been so transformative that I feel like a living miracle. I am very nice because the faithful love of God gives me great joy which circumstances cannot take away. I am very nice because the fountain of mercy from the pierced side of Christ on His cross has saved me and I look forward to eternal life in Heaven. I am nice not because of anything I am on my own but because God’s love is so perfect that it’s making me into His image which is not just “nice”, it’s perfect holiness which is an immersion in the perfect Love of the Trinity.
As a result of all this, what I am not good at anymore is accepting compliments because I always feel like the compliment belongs to God and to the love which He reveals by turning sinners into saints.
Believe it or not this fantastic expression was not invented by me but rather the wonderful Mother Angelica. I’ve included a link here where she explains it in detail but in summary, it’s the idea that just as one can overindulge in alcohol and experience a response of pain from the body one can also overindulge in un-Christian feelings from the past or projections of the future and live in a “spiritual hangover” of bitterness, resentment, hatred or fear rather than in the graces God provides in the present moment.
Mother Angelica in her writings always strikes a wonderful balance between an understanding hug and swift kick in the pants and I find on my spiritual walk that I am in need of both those things. I love her metaphor because I find it both funny and convicting. How often do we justify ourselves in our feeling rather than trying to overcome them? Certainly more times than I’d care to admit on my blog…
But rather than share any personal reflection (because I’m sure you’re sick of those!) I wrote this blog post more to share a resource that I think is just great and which I hope gives you something to think about as well as a sincere chuckle.
Hope everyone is having an excellent summer so far! I can’t believe how fast it’s going.