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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.

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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?)

 

Categories
Amy M. Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Bargaining for a Guarantee

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”  Matthew 20:20-21

Like the mother of James and John, I want to protect my babies at all costs.  I want a promise, a guarantee from Jesus, that if I agree to have faith and follow Him, they will be protected and safe and healthy.  As Jesus says in today’s gospel, this is not the guarantee of discipleship.  As I write this, I am just over 35 weeks pregnant with a beautiful baby boy who has already been accepted and is very loved by his sisters and his brother and whole family.  We have pictures drawn by the other children up on the refrigerator reflecting what they think he will look like.  They want to see every ultrasound picture, feel as many kicks and hiccups as they can.  Our youngest likes to tell everyone she sees – the cashier, the UPS delivery man, anyone – that Mommy has her “baby brother Nicholas James” in her tummy.

At 20 weeks, we had our “big” ultrasound.  Because of my age, we went to a high-risk ob.  The ultrasound showed a beautiful, mostly healthy baby boy.  There were a couple concerns that warranted a follow-up ultrasound eight weeks later.  We weren’t overly worried because it seemed everything was just on the outer edge of normal.  Eight weeks later I reported for my follow-up.  This time, his stomach was bigger than normal and warranted a diagnosis. We are still hopeful that his condition might resolve before he is born.  Also, after researching, we have learned that while it does require surgery to correct most times, it is a surgery with few complications and a high success rate.  We have learned that many times it is a condition that is not discovered until the baby or even child is in a medical crisis.  We are blessed to know now in order to prepare and be vigilant.  However, instead of being thankful, I started blaming myself.  “If only I had done this…” or “if only I had NOT done that…”  Somehow in my mind, this diagnosis was my fault (even though many studies show that they don’t know what causes it). Have you ever done that?

Going back to the gospel, I became like the mother of James and John, trying to bargain with the Lord.  “If I stop eating this and stop doing this” and “if I start doing this every day” will you please heal our little boy?  I wanted a guarantee that my faith would be enough.  Doing this only dragged me away from the Lord, away from His comforting arms, because the way I was seeking the answer to my prayers was by testing the Lord.  As Lent started, I continued my prayers and started different meditations, and while I was praying, I felt a spiritual dryness and lack of connection with the Lord, barely more than going through the motions of prayer.  I kept telling myself I believe He will heal our son, but I couldn’t get the littler voice to stop whispering, “And if He doesn’t heal him, then what?”

I turned to my friends, both online and in real life, and I asked for prayers, for healing for our little boy and for peace and strength to accept God’s will and to know that He is with us through it all.  Turning to our Lord in this way has brought the sense of peace I had been missing for so many weeks.  The power of prayer is amazing!

I believe the words of the gospel that whatever we ask, God will provide if only we ask in faith.  The flip side, however, is that God uses the trials we encounter in this world to smooth our rough edges, to help us become the people He created us to be, both in this life and for all of eternity.  We have to learn to trust that His will, His plan for our lives is much greater than anything we can imagine.  Right now, I see one of the trees, but God can see the whole forest.  He assures me it is a beautiful view!  All I need to do is trust in Him.

“I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24