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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Susie

Letting Go of the Good for God

A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog as we do most days. Walking her is one of my favorite things to do, both because I get to enjoy some time with her doing something that makes us both happy and because it’s a consistent motivation to make sure I’m outside for at least a little while every day.

This particular evening, however, things took a scary turn.

As we were walking, I heard the sound of motors coming from what I thought was the nearby neighborhood. The sound kept getting closer and closer, and I finally turned to see two guys coming up behind me on four-wheelers. The first one passed me without incident, but as the second started to pass me, I realized that it wasn’t aimed straight on the path but was coming towards us at an angle – and by the time I noticed the direction it was going, the four-wheeler was just inches away from my dog, and was not slowing down.

As a single 30-something, I admit to being more attached to my dog than I probably should be, but she’s my baby right now. (Note: I do not consider dogs equal to children, at all, but my dog *is* important to me.) I got her when she was around a year old, after she had been found as a stray. Once I brought her home, it took us both a little bit of time to warm up to each other – I had never gotten a dog that wasn’t a puppy before, and she needed to get used to having a real home and security. Now, eight years later, she has helped me get through lots of tough times, and she is one of the most precious things to me. I hate the thought of losing her, though that’s pretty much part of the agreement when you get a pet. (Despite my pleadings to God to let her live as long as me, I don’t think he’s going to say yes.)

You might be able to imagine, then, what was going through my mind when I saw that she was about to be hit by that four-wheeler. I was sure, when I lost sight of her as it reached her, that my dog was going to be mangled at best when it came to a stop. To my surprise, she came right out from under the four-wheeler on her own, shaking, scared, and covered in dirt, but still alive. It took me a few moments to check her over as I was in shock at what had just happened, and to see that somehow she had no obvious damage anywhere. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she appeared fine, though very shaken.

After a precautionary trip to the emergency vet, where they looked her over and gave her the diagnosis of being a very lucky pup, we were back home and the worst was over. I kept a close eye on her throughout the weekend, but by the next morning you wouldn’t have known anything had happened to her. I couldn’t understand how she had made it out without a scratch, but obviously God had arranged the situation just so perfectly so that she didn’t have any injuries and I didn’t have to lose her yet. I’m sure that if any number of factors were just slightly different in that moment or anything had been off by just an inch in any direction, things would have turned out much differently.

You would think I would have been able to stay in that place of gratitude for the gift she is to me after knowing it all could have gone so much worse, but (much like the Israelites, with whom I identify more often and more deeply than I’d like to) it didn’t take me long to start complaining to God that she would, eventually, die. The past year especially has been tough, and having my dog around has helped keep me sane. The more I appreciate the joy and peace she brings me, though, the more I know how much it will hurt when she dies. Sometimes I wonder, if God showed up and asked me to let go of her right now, would I willingly say yes to him? If I did say yes, would I resent him for taking one of my biggest joys? What if it were one of my family members, instead of just my dog? Could I still love God as much if he took one of them away suddenly?

A couple of days later, the Gospel reading included the lines from Matthew:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Ok, God, I hear you.

My dog isn’t the same as a human family member, of course, but I do have to make sure that I’m not loving her – or anyone/anything – more than I should. I need to make sure she and anything else in my life isn’t placed higher than God at any given moment – even things that are good and are blessings from God. I always have to check myself to make sure that my relationship with him is the most central thing in my life, even if he’s saying no to a deep desire of my heart. I imagine that if I am someday blessed with a husband and children, it will be many times harder to keep my relationship with God in perspective. Without him, I am and have nothing.

God has given me everything I have, and has been there for me in my sorrows, and will always be there. I have to remind myself that Jesus is all I ever truly need. We all have sorrows we’ve experienced, or are experiencing – maybe it’s not the death of a family member, but maybe it’s a chronic painful illness, or a long-held dream that is now impossible – and in the midst of those times it’s important to remember to place God first, and remember that he works all things to our good, even the worst things that make the least sense.

It can be easy to take God’s presence for granted when we have other great relationships in our lives. When something bad happens to someone we care about, it’s easy to blame God and question him, even to lose faith. But those are the moments we have to cling to God even tighter, especially when we want to push him away.

Being a Christian (and a human) means we’re guaranteed to have crosses, to feel heartache, to say painful goodbyes. Being a follower of Jesus means we have the tools to get through this life, the heartaches, the suffering. Sometimes that tool is the very cross we’re asked to carry – even if that cross is the loss of something we hold so dear, something that hurts so much to give up or to say goodbye to that it seems impossible we’ll ever be ok again. But Jesus has promised that he is there in those moments to hold us up when we can’t hold ourselves up. We just need to be willing to let him.

Categories
Confession Ink Slingers Sacraments Spiritual Growth Susie

The Importance of Decluttering Your Soul

I stood at the doorway of my room, completely overwhelmed just looking at the piles I knew I finally had to deal with. I had been putting it off and letting it build up for far too long – years, in the case of some items, which made the task that much more difficult than if I had dealt with things as they came. The weight of it all was becoming unbearable, though, and so despite the discomfort I gritted my teeth and dove in.

Several hours (and multiple empty boxes and bags of trash and giveaway items) later, I could see the dent I had started to make in the piles. I felt lighter and freer, even though I still had a long way to go. I had made progress! It was possible to see how I could finish this, eventually, or at least make it all more manageable. I didn’t have to be weighed down for the rest of my life, carting around old papers and useless keepsakes and clothes that have long before deserved to be retired.

I really don’t like clutter, but it’s easy for me to let things become cluttered. Once I leave out that pile of mail without putting it where it should go, or once I leave that pair of shoes out on the floor, it’s easier to let the mail start to pile up there, and to take off more shoes and leave them by that first pair, and then add in a jacket and some books, and before I know it things have gotten out of hand.

And I can’t help but realize how much decluttering — getting rid of stuff I’ve known I need to get rid of but am always afraid to because of the finality of it — is quite similar to my spiritual journey sometimes.

I have, by the grace of God, never fallen away from the Church. My closeness to Jesus has varied depending on what’s been going on in my life, but I’ve never had the experience of a long period being away from God entirely. I have, however, had the experience of letting sins and lies from the enemy pile up in my heart, avoiding dealing with them head on, until they get worse and worse. It can be easy to let in that one little lie from the enemy, or to do that one thing little thing I know is wrong but in the moment I decide to do anyway, and it’s easy to figure that I can clean things up with God later. The trouble is that once things start to get dirty…it’s easier to keep letting things get dirtier, whether it’s our house or our souls.

While I’m not quite to the point of appearing on a show about hoarders, I can see how it’s possible to get to there — just like I know how easy it is to put off working on overcoming sins the longer we let them fester. It’s often hardest to make myself go to confession when I need it the most, and it gets even harder if I start to put it off. If we don’t prioritize cleaning the things that really need it WHEN they need it, the easier it is to let more and more pile on, whether we’re talking about clutter or sins.

The good news is that it can get easier if we work at maintaining it better. It’s also important to stick with it once we’ve made that decision to start cleaning things up. Even if our resolve is there, it can be easy to get distracted — life happens, other priorities take precedence, and before we know it the mess is right back to where it was when we started. Thankfully, God never tires of giving us second chances — we’re the ones who have to build up to the resolve to start over again (and again, and again).

Just like I have an easier time keeping things clean once I get things clean (or, at least, telling myself I won’t let things again get as bad as they were), it’s similar with sin. Once I’ve gone to confession, I never want to sin again! But, being the human that I am, unfortunately the lack of sin doesn’t last long. At first it might just be a couple of little things — getting annoyed with someone while I’m driving or letting back in those creeping doubts about my own self-worth when I see someone else getting exactly what I want, which must mean she’s better than me.

Sometimes I can get a handle on these things before they pile up or turn into something bigger; but other times I find myself, once again, standing at the doorway, overwhelmed by the amount I have to clean up and clear out, knowing that the only way to be free again is to take that first difficult step, start examining and removing piece by piece, until eventually I reach the end and hear those most wonderful words — “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Categories
Chronic Illness Ink Slingers Prayer Spiritual Growth Susie

When God’s Voice Sounds Different

 
 
I recently found out that I will be needing surgery soon to remove a cyst on my ovary. This isn’t a very abnormal occurrence, but in my case it could be potentially life-altering. Just over one year ago, I had my other ovary removed due to another cyst — a much larger one that time. I also found out from that surgery that I have endometriosis. For someone in her 30s who is still single yet has always dreamed of having children (with the right man, of course), the last year has been tough, and this upcoming surgery is more than a little threatening to some of those dreams.
 
I’ve never been one of those people who gets clear, unequivocal messages or directions from God. I always try my best, albeit in my very flawed way, to be open to him and whatever he wants for my life, but a lot of the time it can feel like I’m just leaping without a lot of assurance that any given choice is God’s will. As in anyone’s life, some things I’ve chosen have worked out and some haven’t — but because I’m never quite sure if I’m hearing God right, I tend to blame myself and beat myself up when things don’t go well, and when my life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would.
 
My situation now, including the upcoming surgery, have helped me see more clearly that God’s been there with me all along. He’s allowing this time of uncertainty, and he’s given me my specific crosses, for very good reasons that can be explained with the word “love.” I realize now that God speaks to me in a quiet, gentle manner — no huge revelations, not a lot of clear, direct instructions that I look for and want, just a great deal of immense love. Earlier this year, I was on a retreat during which I felt that love God has for me to a degree I’d never felt before. Being more of a head knowledge person, I’ve always been able to trust the fact that God loves me without necessarily feeling it much (if at all). On this retreat, however, I felt it and heard it almost as clear as if it were someone standing right in front of me.
 
That experience opened me up to the revelation — which probably should have been obvious sooner — that my life right now, despite not being what I hoped it would be by this point, isn’t a backup plan that God haphazardly put together for me when I didn’t listen to him earlier in my life. His plan for me and my holiness directly includes this time of singleness, and facing potential permanent infertility. It’s not at all what I would have chosen for myself, but through this time God has brought me so much closer to him. I wouldn’t have been able to have the relationship with him that I have if he had given me a husband right out of college and multiple kids by the time I was 30. His ultimate goal for me, his deepest desire for me, is not for me to be married, but for me to be as close to him as I can possibly be. Our vocations are always meant to bring about our holiness in the best way possible for each of us, and that’s going to look different for everyone. Some people get the lives they want right off the bat, only to find out that it’s not what they thought. Others are asked by God to wait (and wait…and wait…and sometimes wait some more). He knows so much better than we do what will truly make us happy and holy, and sometimes that requires a time of pain.
 
For far too long, I’ve been listening for God’s voice to sound like a “yes” to whatever prayer I might be praying at the time. I’ve been listening for him, expecting clear instructions from above, like the voice of a pilot on a plane telling the passengers where they are and where they’re going and when they’ll get there. I’ve been listening for God to sound a whole lot like me and the way I think things should go. But God truly is that small, still voice. When he’s talking to me, he’s not my pilot telling me where the plane is headed. He’s a best friend, so close to me that he doesn’t have to speak above a whisper, letting me know that he’s here, guiding me, teaching me, and, most importantly, loving me even in the pain and uncertainty that life can bring.