Welcome to the series “You Did It To Me” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
We see the word on bumper stickers, splashed across clothing and posters, bandied about by political parties and causes. For most people, peace has become a one-dimensional word that means your country isn’t at war (right now).
But Jesus promises us something far more important than even world peace–He offers us spiritual peace: that unshakable calm that permeates your whole existence, defying even the most difficult external circumstances as the Holy Spirit promises that you are safe and loved. And that no matter what is happening or will happen, “You are going to be just fine, my child.”
For most of us on the journey to heaven, true and lasting spiritual peace can seem elusive. I’ve had brief periods where I’ve experienced genuine interior peace; once I even maintained it for nearly a full week. Most of the time, though, my peace is fleeting.
But because I’ve experienced it, even temporarily, I know peace is possible. I also know that the key to peace is trust–absolute, unconditional surrender to God.
The Heart of the Matter
One of the great privileges we have as disciples of Christ is helping our brothers and sisters get to heaven, too. Over the years, as I’ve listened to countless souls share their struggles with me, I’ve come to see virtually every problem that worries a person enough to seek my counsel as a moment in which she’s doubtful of God’s love, goodness, or providence.
My friend’s heart is troubled because someone criticized her decision to work and use daycare (or stay at home)…her husband just lost his job…her special needs child has overwhelmed her…her baby has died…she can’t conceive. At the heart of each struggle is doubt. Doubt in herself and often, doubt in God.
Am I failing at this all-important job of parenting?
Will we be able to pay the bills if he doesn’t have a job?
Do I have it in me to persevere in raising this child?
Is God punishing me by taking my baby?
Can God really love me if He won’t give me a child?
Learning from Linda
Whenever I’m tempted by my own struggles to doubt myself or God, I remember Linda.
Linda was a dear friend whose husband had an affair 20 years into their marriage and left her and their seven young children. Her husband left the faith, embraced worldliness in all its forms, then frequently refused to cover any of his family’s expenses. It left my friend constantly on the brink of financial ruin.
Yet every time Linda got a notice that the electricity was due to be turned off or the house was going to go into foreclosure (again), she would pray, “Well, Lord, you know we need $178 by Thursday or the lights are going to be cut off” or “Lord, you have to either come up with $950 in the next two weeks or find me and these kids a new place to live.”
And I watched as God provided for Linda and her children again and again and again. I watched as she found two $100 bills in her mailbox on Wednesday evening…I watched as her recalcitrant husband decided to pay the mortgage after all instead of going on another expensive trip with his paramour. I watched gift cards to Walmart roll in when she told God her children needed shoes (and it was exactly enough for seven pairs of shoes)…I watched food stamps finally get approved when they were down to a single meal left in the cupboard.
I watched Linda tell God she needed someone or something if she was going to make it even one more day as a single mother–and that’s when God would prompt me or another friend to stop by to encourage her. Those were the times we’d spontaneously start a novena or rosary for her, discovering later just how desperate her need was for graces.
I watched Linda, and saw a woman who asked for what she needed and then gave the outcome over to God. She truly surrendered her fear of homelessness, hunger for her children, and even a lifetime of loneliness to the Holy Spirit, choosing instead to assume God would provide for their true needs. She had the marvelous ability to let God choose how he was going to provide for them, too; she told me that even if they ended up in a homeless shelter, “Well, that’s still a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs, which is more than many in this world have.”
Linda had no doubt that the Lord would provide, whether she needed a bill paid or strength to endure the loneliness and pain caused by her husband’s betrayal. And because she replaced doubt with trust, she gained that true interior peace that Jesus offers to all of us in the Gospel. Most striking to me was that while Linda was arguably the most beleaguered person I’d ever known, she was also the most joyful. This woman knew that God was good, that He loved her, and that He was going to come through for her each and every time.
And He did.
Want Peace? Foster Trust
I learned a great deal from my friend, Linda. Most of all I learned that whenever God asks me to help a friend carry her cross, doubt and trust are the two choices at the heart of the struggle, no matter what that struggle is. While many situations may require me to help someone brainstorm real-world, practical solutions to her problems, I still try to reinforce to those struggling that once she’s done her part, she must surrender the outcome–as well as the means to that end–to God.
We shouldn’t upbraid ourselves, either, if our initial response to life’s trials is fear. Feelings are morally neutral and often reflexive, especially when a situation reminds of us past suffering. Even Jesus was afraid. But once we’ve experienced our fearful doubts, we can still choose to say: “Jesus, I trust in You.” We may have to say this hundreds if not thousands of times before our words conform to our will. But there’s a reason why even secular counselors teach clients to replace negative thoughts with affirmations–because if you say it often enough, eventually even you will believe the truth.
Personally, I’ve found counseling the doubtful to be one of the most joyful works of mercy to perform for souls, because I see the fear and anxiety in my loved ones give way to a beautiful interior peace when the person does choose to trust. May God bless us all with the ability not only to counsel others to abandon their doubts for peace, but to lead by example.