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Ink Slingers Lynne Spiritual Growth

Lean on Me


My son, when you come to serve the LORD,

stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.
Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.
Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.
The Book of Sirach 2:1-11

I’m a melancholy person.  I look around at the world and feel an oppressive weight—the weight of the sin and suffering that encompass us.  It’s so big, and I’m so small.

 “You can do nothing here,” he said.  “Let us go.”

“My friend…”

“I tell you, you can do nothing.  Have you not troubles enough of your own?  I tell you there are thousands such in Johannesburg.  And were your back as broad as heaven, and your purse full of gold, and did your compassion reach from here to hell itself, there is nothing you can do.—Cry, the Beloved Country

That’s how I feel: there is nothing I can do.  Even on the smaller scale of my family, I break with sorrow over my children’s choices—choices that I can’t change or make right.  My helpless grief is a heavy cross.

“Perceptive people like you wound more easily than others. But if we’re going to work on God’s side, we have to decide to open our hearts to the griefs and pain all around us. It’s not an easy decision. A dangerous one too. And a tiny narrow door to enter into a whole new world. But in that world a great experience waits for us: meeting the One who’s entered there before us. He suffers more than any of us could because His is the deepest emotion and the highest perception.”Christy

I haven’t mastered the art of transcending my woundedness.  I cry with the pain of knowing that these things are, and that I can only watch—an impotent bystander.  I want to escape the world, to end the pain of being witness to things I can’t bear to see.

“You see, Christy, evil is real—and powerful. It has to be fought, not explained away, not fled. And God is against evil all the way. So each of us has to decide where we stand, how we’re going to live our lives. […] We can compromise with it, keep quiet about it and say it’s none of our business. Or we can work on God’s side, listen for His orders on strategy against the evil, no matter how horrible it is, and know that He can transform it.”Christy

 I want, in my heart, and also in my pride, to do things that make a difference.  But I’m not one of those people. I am the way God made me—small and weak. I am unable to shoulder the burden of much, and I do little except pray.  It seems a feeble offering.

“What is this want of power about?[…] What then is to be done? What you can do, and for which you will never lack power.  This is to form a simple desire of good, for God sees all the actions you would wish to perform in this sincere disposition to act rightly.  Cease then to distress yourself and to lament over your weakness.  Rather say, ‘Fiat, fiat.’ This will be of infinitely more value than anything that you could say or do according to your own ideas, to please yourself.”Abandonment to Divine Providence

Self-knowledge is painful.  Humility isn’t about being lowly; it’s about letting go of my notions of how things should be—in my family, and in the world—and in myself.  It’s acknowledging that not only am I helpless, but that this is how God intends me to be—dependent.  All my strength, all I do, must come from him alone.  Only when I’m broken can I learn this.

It was not that she was willing to compromise with wrongdoing or poverty or ignorance just that she was a long step ahead of wasting emotional energy on fretting. […]  She was—that was all. And her stance toward life seemed to say: God is—and that is enough. But why was it enough? That was what I had to find out. Even supposing one had proof of the existence of God, how could the fact of God suffice when all around us were conditions crying to be righted? How could Miss Alice be so sure that He had the world in His hand?”Christy

When I am feeling overcome by all that’s wrong, and by my own self-pity for what I cannot achieve, I have only to do one thing: look to Jesus.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.  Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund.  But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning.  He just went on looking at Aslan.  It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.”  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

There is an old story of St. John Vianney, in which he encounters a peasant, sitting in the church before the tabernacle.  The curé asked what the man what he was doing, and he replied, “I look at him; he looks at me.” That’s what I am trying to do now: look at him.  If I can do that, if I can look into his eyes and think only of him, if I can let go of all the things that I can’t make right, then for that moment I can breathe, I can live.

“What do you do when strength is called for and you have no strength? You evoke a power beyond your own and use stamina you did not know you had. You open your eyes in the morning grateful that you can see the sunlight of yet another day. You draw yourself to the edge of the bed and then put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You weep with those who gently close the eyes of the dead, and somehow, from the salt of your tears, comes endurance for them and for you. You pour out that resurgence to minister to the living.”Christy

I am not in charge; God is.  If I have no strength, it is because I have tried to do things in my own power, things that he hasn’t asked me to take on.  I have to lay the burdens which trouble me at his feet, and look deeply into the eyes of Him who loved me unto death.

“And so,” continued the Witch, “That human creature is mine.  His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.” [….]

“Edmund was on the other side of Aslan, looking all the time at Aslan’s face.  He felt a choking feeling and wondered if he ought to say something; but a moment later he felt that he was not expected to do anything except to wait, and do what he was told.”—The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Is 40:30

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Ink Slingers Lynne Motherhood Parenting Spiritual Growth

Giving Them Back

 

If you love something, let it go free.

If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.

If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.

 

I never really liked this drippy little high-school saying.  It best describes an injured wild bird that someone nurses back to health and then watches flit away, never to return, despite the tenderness that has been showered upon it.  Then again, maybe children are like this, too.  We spend our best years nurturing, teaching, and loving them, and then let them go free.  Maybe they will return someday—but certainly never to be “ours” forever.  And even if they do return, I have to realize that they were never mine to begin with.

The other day I caught the end of a talk on the radio.  The speaker was saying, “Give your children back to God.”  It’s an old line, but because of my life circumstances it hit me with fresh force.  Give them back to God.  Why didn’t I think of this before all the crying and vomit and broken bones and bickering?  I’ve kept them this long, but maybe it’s time to reconsider. Is there a statue of limitations on returns? Since God is eternal, I think I’m good.  Let the returning begin.  Now.

I have two children in college.  Letting them make the transition into the adult world has been difficult.  It’s not that I want to control every aspect of their lives.  Rather, it’s that I see that I can no longer protect them, even in small ways, from the evil that prowls about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.  I can’t shield them or keep them safe.  Then again, I guess I never could.

My oldest son, since age 16, has struggled silently with his belief in God.  I remember the first time I knew this.  We were driving home, the stars large and bright in the night sky—I could have reached up and touched the hand of God.  But something in our conversation, something carefully understated, caused me to realize that my son was no longer sure that God was there.  When he went off to college, I sent a Bible and a small crucifix.  As I left him, standing on the curb a thousand miles away from home, I wept.  Now, as he prepares to graduate, he was, at long last, able to confess that his belief in God is dead.  I know, as I know few things, that God placed him in this university.  For the last four years, he was where he was supposed to be.  My predominant feeling over this time has been, “We’ve lost him.”  But I had to let him go.

(This one didn’t perform as expected.  Can I make an exchange?)

 

Tim Oram/Getty Images
Tim Oram/Getty Images

My second son was exposed to pornography at age twelve.  He saw a sexually enticing ad and web address in the back of a scientific magazine in our own home. When he went to college, computer in hand, I knew he was walking into the lion’s den, yet I felt powerless to stop it.  All our talks together, all my prayers for him seemed insignificant in the face of the monstrosity that would confront him there.  His temptations have been as bad or worse than I could have expected.  But I had to let him go.

(This one is broken and I can’t fix him.  Can you credit my account?)

 

I recently read The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God. It is the story of the life of Ruth Pakaluk, a wife and mother who died at age forty-one after an extended struggle with cancer.  The book tells how she and her husband met and fell in love, of their conversion from atheism to Christianity, and of Ruth’s astonishing contributions to the pro-life movement while mothering her six children and undergoing cancer treatments.  It also tells of her extreme suffering, and her absolute, even joyful, resignation to God’s will.

Ruth was a letter-writer, and the larger part of the book is simply a collection of the letters that she had written over the years—to parents, friends, priests, and politicians.  Her last letters, appropriately, were for her children.  She expressed her pride and love, but she also admonished—pointing out weaknesses the children needed to work on.  She spoke to friends with confidence and trust of giving her children to Mary—though also with great sadness at the thought of leaving them motherless.  I thought of how she, much more so than I, had to let her children go.

So the guy on the radio caught my attention when he said: “Give them back to God.”  The speaker was a priest, and he told of how he sat his parents down to explain his calling to the priesthood.  He described his mother nodding and smiling through it all, as though she already knew the story.  When he finished, she told him “It’s no surprise to me.  You were never mine to begin with.  Your father and I gave you back to God as soon as you were born.”

I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 13, which outlines what authentic love looks like:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

I have to give my children the same freedom that their creator gives them.  Love can’t be about possession or control…or about me.

St. Paul goes on to say,

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Growing up is something we all have to do—myself included.  We all have to move out of our comfort zones, and live out God’s calling to the fullest, even when it’s scary.   Because we see “through a mirror, dimly” we aren’t able to visualize the big picture.  I can’t even imagine what God has planned for my children or how he will operate in their lives. Instead I have to cling to God’s words.  Jeremiah 29:11 says,

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My youngest child is 22 months old, and already she wants to be fully independent of me.  All my children have wills of their own, over which (soon enough) I have little control.  I can love them, and teach them and discipline them.  I can listen, and I can pray.  But in the end, I have to let them go.  I have to give them back.  They were never mine to begin with.

(Can I speak to the manager?  Please?)

 

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Conversion Ink Slingers Lynne Pope Spiritual Growth Testimonials Uncategorized

My Love Affair with the Pope

What is it about an elderly man ascending to the Chair of Peter that causes me, an old Baptist girl, to swoon?  I swell with pride, my throat tightens, tears pour like rain and I am struck dumb with incredulity at this timeless spectacle.  What the heck has happened to me?

Before I converted, I’m not sure I was aware of the pope.  Surely I studied about a pope or two in world history, but I have no memory of them.  Of Catholics in general I was fairly ignorant, trusting to common misconceptions to form my opinions.  My grandfather subscribed to the “whore of Babylon” theory, but I mostly stuck with silly quips about Catholics avoiding birth control in order to increase their numbers, and going to confession so they could have a clear conscience about partying it up.  I was a deep thinker, see?

So when I met my husband and he wanted me to convert to Catholicism, I resisted.  After all, I knew the Bible. I knew what it took to be saved.  I felt no need for a change.  My husband, cradle Catholic that he was, didn’t know a thing about what he believed or why—only that I must become Catholic like him.  No other option was discussed.  I resented this, especially coming from the person who had seemingly absorbed nothing of his own faith beyond “this is the One True Church”.

I went through RCIA.  After several months of insipid reading and “feel-good” discussion, I was unmoved.  I had found no particularly convincing arguments for difficult Catholic doctrines, and a whole lot of well-intentioned but misguided spiritual mish-mash.  I declined to be confirmed.

Over the next year I prayed about this situation.  My husband, disappointed at my lack of conversion, regularly asked if I had now decided to become Catholic, and if not now, then when, and if not, then why?  (This is the same husband who proudly insists that he never pressured me to join the Church.)

During this time, we moved to a new town and at the invitation of a friend, I began going to adult formation classes in our new parish.  The man who taught these classes was a fantastic teacher who could rival any Baptist pastor for Bible-beating and fervent preaching—things I had missed while attending Catholic services.  I often went head-to-head with him over doctrinal points, but he always had answers that made a lot of sense.  In retrospect, I realize that I was doing little more than parroting the tired old arguments against Catholic teaching that have been around forever.  I’m sure he had heard it all before, but he answered me with patience and kindness and above all, he never compromised the truth.

One day I met with him in his office.  I don’t remember why.  I think I had a couple of small children along; why would I have brought children if I intended to have a serious theological discussion?  At any rate, we ended up talking about authority—the kind of authority the Church has, guided by the Holy Father and the Magisterium.  I have no idea what he said, though I believe he quoted some scripture along with it.  All I know is that suddenly, I was overcome.  My face flushed red-hot.  I began to cry.  Whatever he said about authority, I knew, deep inside, that he was right.  And I was wrong.  All the arguments I’d had suddenly meant nothing.  It was a profoundly awkward moment for him and an awkwardly profound moment for me.

From that time, my view of authority changed.  As I learned more, I could not help but love and appreciate the tremendous wisdom of God’s design for the Church.  Rather than seeing the Church’s authority—and its chief authority figure—as restrictive or controlling, I felt an immense comfort.  I could snuggle under the wing of my Holy Mother Church and my Holy Father, the Pope, just as a helpless baby bird might do.  I didn’t have to figure everything out; they had done all that for me.

This is not to say that I abdicated my reason or gave up trying to understand things for myself.  I didn’t.  In fact, I insisted on understanding each teaching that I came across, wrestling and reading until I felt satisfied with the answer.  The last bastion of my heart was Mary.  Her, I could not comprehend.  Finally, after a drawn out and disappointing struggle, it occurred to me that the God had faithfully answered all my other questions through the historic teachings of the Church.  They’d been right on everything else; could I not accept this one last thing as a matter of trust?  I decided that I could.

When I look at our Protestant brethren, I see many things that we would do well to emulate.  And yet I pity them, not only because they lack the fullness of truth, but because they are in many ways like what the United States might be without a President.  They lack the single, unifying, infallible guide that we have in the Holy Father, who, together with the Magisterium, gives us sure guidance in every difficulty. I am overcome with wonder at the wisdom which has steered our Church through everything from ancient heresies to modern reproductive technology.  Like any good Mother and Father, they set limits on us for our own good.  Sometimes, like children, we don’t understand.  But when we know our parents love us, we learn to trust that they always want what is best for us; they want to keep us from harm and see us safely to Heaven.

I defy you not to love this man!

I’m no papal scholar.  Other than Humanae Vitae, I probably haven’t read a single encyclical in full.  Studying papal writings takes brain power that I have difficulty summoning on a good day, much less when surrounded by the energy-sucking mutants I call children.  And yet I look at each of the popes of my lifetime with complete devotion and awe.  The first time I read a critical comment about Blessed John Paul II, I was shocked.  Could there be a Catholic on the planet that did not adore this man?  [Please do not answer; I know now that there are many.]  Maybe I’m naïve, or too unquestioning and sheep-like, but these popes—Blessed John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict, and now Pope Francis (yes, even Pope Paul IV, though he was before my time)—have my heart on a string.

…or this one!

I don’t idolize them.  I don’t divinize them.  But I love them with an inexplicable, total, and all-encompassing love.  Maybe I love what they represent: the visible head of Christ’s Church on Earth.  But I think it’s more than that.  I love their fantastic intellectual gifts.  I love their penetrating insights.  And, ultimately, I love their love.  They radiate, each in his unique way, the unmistakable, fruitful, all-consuming love which distinguishes the Holy Spirit indwelling.  They love us in word, and in deed.  They love us with firmness and gentleness.  They love us truly.  And I love them.  Other people can call them popes; as for me, I’m blessed to call each of them, affectionately, my Holy Father.

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Conversion Ink Slingers Lent Lynne Spiritual Growth

Giving Up Greeley

“The lukewarm do not embrace the cross, they merely drag it along.” St. Teresa of Avila

Eight years ago, my family left Greeley, Colorado. It was an exciting time, something my husband and I had planned since we first met. We were on our way to my husband’s home town, to become part of his family farm. After ten years in Greeley, we found ourselves surrounded by people we loved, and the kind of Catholic community that didn’t exist in our new place. We had waited so long for the dream of “getting home” to materialize, but we hadn’t prepared for the difficulty of letting go.

We spent the first five years of our married life in Denver. My husband traveled a lot, and I was a young wife with two small children, paranoid about city life and suspicious of strangers. My fears kept me from reaching out to others and developing friendships; I was much alone and often depressed. Pope John Paul II wowed Denver during World Youth Day in August 1993, but I had only been Catholic for five months and was sadly unaware of this man or his message to “Be not afraid!”

In 1995, we trekked an hour north to Greeley. Within a few weeks, while walking my oldest son to kindergarten, I met the first friend of my adult life. When she learned I was Catholic, she invited me to adult formation classes at our church. I was a former Baptist, still unconvinced of Catholic doctrine. Here I found a lay teacher with answers to all my difficult questions, who helped me discover a profound love for the truth and beauty of my Catholic faith.

My new friend also introduced me to the mother’s group at our church. I met wonderful Christian women who challenged and supported one another as Catholics and as moms. We gathered for playtimes, picnics, and Bible study. We brought meals to one another as new babies were born. When I came to Mass, I was welcomed by the friendly faces of women who knew and cared about me.

Other friends inspired us to tackle homeschooling. I found myself surrounded by like-minded Catholic families, attending daily Mass together, encouraging each other and sharing wisdom. Our children played together and we joked about “arranged marriages” between them. We had potluck gatherings and prayed rosaries. We shared a common love for our faith that bound us tightly. Saying good-bye to Greeley meant walking away from all these things that I held dear.

That same year, a close friend also planned a move. Her family announced that they were “giving up Greeley” for Lent. I thought it was a cute line, but nothing more. It wasn’t until this year—nearly a decade later—that I realized I should have taken their idea more seriously. They gave up Greeley and moved on. I never did.

“Wish I was there!”

For the last eight years, I’ve pouted. I’ve sulked and complained. I’ve whined. It’s not that I haven’t met people or done things. I have. But I haven’t made friends or given of myself. I haven’t reached out, I haven’t reciprocated. I haven’t tried.

It’s true that I needed a legitimate period of mourning. I worked on detachment and tried to develop a reliance on God alone. But I lost my way and failed to see that my sadness and “detachment” had become wallowing and aloofness.

Then I picked up the book Boundaries, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. As I read, I stumbled upon something that startled me. It said,

“…we have…problems because we lack initiative—the God-given ability to propel ourselves into life.”

This pierced me. I was struck by the plain fact that this was me. The book went on to review the old parable of the talents, in which the master left each of three servants with a sum of money to care for. The authors point out,

“The ones who succeeded were active and assertive. They initiated and pushed. The one who lost out was passive and inactive.”

Passive—that summed me up quite neatly. In Greeley, my friends had drawn me into an active life and kept me accountable. Here, I had languished. Then I read:

“People who are passive are not inherently evil….But evil is an active force, and passivity can become an ally of evil by not pushing against it….God will match our effort, but he will never do our work for us…. He wants us to be assertive and active, seeking and knocking on the door of life….The sin God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try.”*

For so long my thoughts had been centered on everything I had lost and the shortcomings of our new church community, yet I hadn’t worked to make anything different. In Greeley, my friends likened me to a little bird leaving its nurturing nest, going into the world to “spread the gospel”, carrying a flaming torch into a place that needed life and light. I had high hopes, and felt myself a heroic missionary of sorts, off to be a foot-soldier of the “new evangelization”. But none of that had materialized. Rather than investing my talents for the Master, I had buried them deeply. My “torch” had been little more than a flickering candle which quickly burned low without my friends to fan the flame. After eight years, I had little to show the Master who had entrusted me with much. I had made small effort on his behalf, or my own.

About this time, I ran into a woman I knew. We had talked a few times in the past, but no more. I suggested that we get together, and the next week found myself in her kitchen, comparing stories of our strangely parallel lives. I went away thinking I had finally found a friend–only to learn that she and her family would soon be moving to Arizona. I smiled at the irony and at the same time prayed, “Who, Lord? Who can be a friend for me?”

A woman’s face immediately came to mind. She was someone in my family that I knew only little and cared for even less. I had prayed for her routinely, because she had no faith and seemed deeply wounded. Lately I had been convicted to change my prayers for her to prayers for myself: “Lord, help me to love her. Help me to see her with your eyes.” It occurred to me that I had wronged her in many ways and had been less than loving. Now, God presented her to me as a candidate for friendship.

I resisted, of course. But later that day I was running an errand and found myself driving past her house. After desperate consultation with the Holy Spirit, I pulled in. Ringing the doorbell was difficult, but she welcomed me in and listened patiently as I apologized for the hurtful things I had done. I proposed a new friendship, and asked if she would be willing to meet on a regular basis to get to know one another. To my surprise and relief, she graciously accepted. Even more surprising, I’m looking forward to my time with her.

Soon after, I was invited to join a ladies Bible study in a local protestant church. I was tempted pass, but instead steeled myself and plunged in. I found a warm group of women searching God’s word together. Their fellowship was so sweet, and something I had dearly missed. I can’t wait to return to them next month.

When I finally put forth a small effort, God met me halfway. There is still much for me to work toward, particularly within my parish home. But now, at long last, I think I’m letting go of the past and moving forward. Greeley was a tinderbox, where so many flames were kindled. It’s time for me to stir the embers of the torch I was given and use it to set the world afire. My old friends and our times together are irreplaceable, but this Lent, I’m glad to be giving up Greeley.

 

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Boundaries. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. 99. Print.

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Ink Slingers Lynne

Ordinary Girl’s Guide to Abandonment

For at least a year now I have been slowly, slowly reading my way through Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence.  It is the most simple-yet-profound spiritual book I have ever read.  It is about (surprise!) abandoning self-will and embracing God’s will alone.

As I read, I picture myself clinging sweetly to Jesus, saying things like, “Your will be done, Lord!” and “Be it done to me according to your word!”

That’s me, kneeling at the right.

Then I am awakened from my dreamlike state to the sound of someone screaming.  It’s the five-year-old.  The twelve-year-old has taken his toy sword.  From the sound of it, the plastic weapon must have then been used to cut off the five-year-old’s left arm.  About this time the phone rings.  Would I care to take a survey about my TV viewing habits?  It will only take five minutes of my time.  Just then, the 18-month-old toddles in without a diaper…and what is that she is holding out to me in her dirty palm?  The sixteen-year-old, meanwhile, desperately needs help with an advanced math problem, but the nine-year-old has already staked her claim on me and is waiting impatiently with her spelling words.  The doorbell rings.  It’s my father-in-law.  I hope he doesn’t mind seeing me in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair.  Then again, it won’t be the first time and it will provide him with fodder for entertaining all the extended family who live nearby.

As I try to sort out the press of people and things vying for my attention, my blood pressure rises.  I find an ugly snarl has replaced the radiant smile so recently beamed upon Jesus.  If only I could get away, even just into my closet, and finish my prayer time in peace!  If only my family were better behaved, I wouldn’t have to resort to anger and unpleasantness!  If only my father-in-law would quit showing up at my door when I’m least prepared to welcome visitors!  I should have been a nun.

So it was a miracle when, one day, in the midst of some storm of emotion, I had the thought, “Abandonment!” And I paused.  “Wait a minute.  So you mean that when I burn the toast for the 417th time, the proper response is not rage or despair…but abandonment?”

Thoughtful-toe-tapping and chin-scratching ensued.

“You mean, when my husband calls to say we’re going to the 8 a.m Sunday Mass after I’ve already gotten everyone dressed for the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass, the proper response is not muttering and slamming…but abandonment?”

Arms crossed.  One hip cocked out to the side.

“Are you telling me that when the airline closes the jetway and won’t let me get on the plane because I arrived two minutes late due to security delaying me for a hour, and I’m carrying a baby and the next flight isn’t for two hours and I’ll be late to my grandmother’s wake, the proper response is…abandonment?!?”

Big eye-roll.

Abandonment is not part of my nature.  I want what I want when I want it.  But the more I read this book, the more I know with deadly certainty that it is right.  I have to lay myself down.

While I’m underlining and making notes in my book, it all sounds so simple—even romantic!  I can be the next Mother Teresa, the next Father Damien…a hero of the faith!  All I have to do is submit my own will to God’s!  I have found the express train to holiness!  Until the gas man shows up with a past-due notice and is prepared to terminate my service.

So how do I practice abandonment in the middle of 21st century America?  What should abandonment look like in my life?

As far as I can tell, Fr. de Caussade’s ideas on abandonment can be summed up thus:

  1. The first priority is to be faithful to the duties of Christianity and of my state in life— or said another way, I must do the things that God and my vocation require. Fr. de Caussade says, “The will of God gives to all things a supernatural and divine value for the soul submitting to it.”  Translation: folding a mountain of laundry with the right attitude has as much value as climbing Mt.Calvary.
  1. The second thing I must do is accept everything (good and bad) as God’s gift in that moment—and suffer all these things with gratitude, sweetness and humility.  Fr. de Caussade says, “Each present moment contains what is best for you, and as such must be loved and esteemed.”  Translation: when I’m at Mass and my child vomits all over the man in front of me, I must gently apologize to the ungracious man whose new leather jacket is busily absorbing permanent odors, hurry the offender out of church and miss Holy Communion while washing out her hair—all the while thanking God for loving me this much.

There is also a corollary to the above:

  1. I must let go of my attachment to things and embrace God alone.  Fr. de Caussade says my prayer should be, “Lord, I sacrifice all this; I give up all my miserable interests to you. ”  Translation: If my daughter accidentally drops my brand-new camera while its zoom lens is extended, thus cracking small internal parts whose cost of repair is more than a new camera, I must breathe deeply and force a smile, realizing that any created thing, idea, or plan of mine is subject to recall by God at any moment, and that sudden and total recall of any and all things should be expected, and greeted with the cheery phrase, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Fr. de Caussade emphasizes that God expressly wills or permits everything that happens to me.  Therefore, anything that happens in my life—good or bad—is exactly what I need at that moment to grow in holiness.  When things happen that do not coincide with my own plans, then I must set my preferences aside with the knowledge that God will guide me along a path more perfect than any I could make for myself.

Personally, I like the notion of living a life like Gladys Aylward in “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”.  She travels by train to China, becomes an esteemed and revered member of the community, and radiates Christ love to those who have never heard the gospel.  She also gets played by Ingrid Bergman.

Now there’s a saintly woman!

Mediating with machete-wielding criminals in a Chinese prison riot and taking fifty children on a hundred-mile hike over the mountain never looked so inviting!  Fr. de Caussade uncannily anticipates my noble desires and remarks:

  “You say you would be delighted to find an opportunity of dying for God, and would be completely satisfied with some such action, or with a life leading to the same result.  To lose all, to die forsaken, to sacrifice your life for others, these are indeed charming ideas!”

The good news is that these romantically noble desires are dismissed by something more realistic and attainable.  He laments:

“If they could realize the merit concealed in the actions of each moment of the day; I mean in each of the daily duties of their state of life, and if they could be persuaded that sanctity is founded on that to which they give no heed as being altogether irrelevant, they would indeed by happy.”

This, then, is path to sainthood for me.  It is most likely to be one of obscurity, and will be found in letting go of thousands of little things rather than moving to darkest Africa.  It might be called, “dying by degrees”.  My holiness will be found in humbly throwing the burned toast in the trash and preparing a new batch with more care; or by helping everyone change out of their church clothes while thanking God that my husband has a good job and that he wants to go to Mass; or by saying a prayer for the airline workers who callously turn me away while I quietly vow never to fly with them again.  It will be a life-long task to internalize the fact that “[e]verything is a help to [the soul], and is, without exception an instrument of sanctity”—even airline employees.

I will not always be able to let go of my will immediately or entirely.  Even if I try to accept God’s will for me, it may be with regret and bitterness, apprehension or fear.  My goal is to “be content with being discontented, for as long as God wills or permits.”  Fortunately, God is prepared to grant me the graces I need to do everything he asks of me, at the moment he asks it.

If I practice really hard, maybe someday I will be able to say, “I agree to all, Lord, I wish what you wish, I resign myself entirely to your will.”  Pray for me!

Abandonment to Divine Providence is available through Ignatius Press.