nothing before taught me for you; but maybe something after did

Everything happens for a reason. The heart breaks a little differently every time. And, perhaps more importantly, it heals a little differently every time. Each time it heals it forms a new mosaic, a new stained-glass panel in the cathedral of your dreams. Your inner sanctum. Each time something grows, you look at it from behind the previous panel. Your instincts for what to look out for are coloured and structured from the previous panel. You cannot help it. This is how you grow (up). But sometimes, a rare shaft of light shines through from a place you didn't expect. The new panel. The one that foreshadows all the new ways your heart will break and heal; the way your little cathedral will never be the same again. Perhaps this shaft of light comes from God. Everything happens for a reason, even loss; and sometimes, loss itself is but a foreshadowing of joy to come.

On Coming to God

“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

So closes the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is a form of recited prayer my mother taught me. The last line struck me in particular—“Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” Anyone who prays the Our Father –or, indeed, pays attention in church—is rather well-versed in the idea of God’s will and letting it reign in our lives, but for me, this doctrine sometimes lapses into trope, easy to espouse but frustratingly difficult to implement.

What does God’s will mean? And what does it mean to come to him in our difficult moments?

I firmly believe it does not mean God will “solve our problems” in the way we want Him to. In fact, sometimes He rather obligingly makes them worse. But I have come to realize that a relationship with God means not changing the circumstances around you, but changing you. With God, the dust clouding my vision is cleared; with God, the rust and jadedness crusted on my heart falls away.

Coming to God is something my parish priest has often talked to me about, both in homilies and in our choir recollection. The idea of God as a lover seems rather uncomfortable, perhaps even heretic, but isn’t it God who first and foremost showed us the way of love? Isn’t it God to whom we must aspire in our human relationships of love? And when we bring our human ideas of love to God rather than the other way round, things get a little revelatory. “If your boyfriend didn’t like you saying the word ‘cucumber’, wouldn’t you think of him every time you said it? Wouldn’t you eventually stop saying it, because you don’t want to hurt his feelings?” my priest asked. In the same way, if God is the way, the truth, and the life, if God is our first starting point in love, shouldn’t we think of Him every time we sin? Every time we get tempted?

We don’t think twice about rushing to be with the person we love. We shouldn’t think twice about rushing to be with God, to spend time with Him.

But spending time with Him doesn’t have to mean spending the whole day closeted in fervent prayer. I have come to realize that you can live your life as a prayer, too. You can glorify the Lord with your life, and you can do this by clearing your heart, so that through you, others see Him (thank you, C. S. Lewis, for your words which I have appropriated and paraphrased).

I once read an enlightening article about what God gives when He takes away. It cohered in the most magical way with our topic of discussion during choir recollection: amongst which, the idea that loss reveals what we rely on, and prayer reveals that we should rely on God. It is a lesson I am still learning every single day, how to bring my daily gifts to God, and so lose nothing when He takes some away.

“Let us be confident in approaching the throne of grace,” writes St. Paul (or Barnabas; the author is disputed) in his letter to the Hebrews (at 4:16). (Please try to believe me when I say I’m not being self-indulgent in including that quotation.) Love is about being unafraid to come to each other with your sins, forgiving, working through them, and working them away. So should our love with God. After all, it was He –through Jesus—who came as a man to experience the temptation of men, who could have said no to God’s will but did it anyway—who demonstrated most strongly the power of yes. So did His human mother—Mother Mary, who at many points in her life (not just at the conception of Jesus—take, for example, when Jesus got lost at the temple; or more obviously, when Jesus died on the cross) was asked to accept God’s hand in her life, and acceded with sheer faith.

It is normal to feel unsure about doing God’s will. Is my human choice dictated by God? Is this the hand of God in my life?

Sometimes, we are called to say yes without asking; more often, when we come to God as His children with our many questions about how and what and why, we are asked to spend time with Him in order to understand. As we spend more time with Him, His peace fills our heart. Everything in His time; everything, in His way.

God is Love; God is Mercy. Let us be unafraid, then, to come to the one who was there first, who went before us and who understands our human hearts wholly and lovingly. Let us be unafraid to love God, to love others, and to love ourselves. 

Letting Go, and Letting Him In

If there’s something that strikes me about us Catholics, it’s how much we don’t know. I’m not talking about the stereotype that we don’t know our Bible (although, I must confess, I probably know less than I ought to), but rather, that our entire faith is a celebration of the incredible minuteness of our human capacity in the face of the vast ocean of God’s grace. As St. Augustine concisely put it, around 1700 years ago, “If you think you understand, it isn’t God.”
So I’m going to do a little something different with this post today. I’ve interspersed it with stanzas from one of my favourite hymns, “These Alone” by Dan Schutte (video at the end of this post), based on a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola. And although my blog has been a good way thus far to mark the new things I’m learning and internalizing every day, this post shall be a reiteration of all the things I don’t know—and thank God for that.
Take my heart, O Lord, take my hopes and dreams
Take my mind, with all its plans and schemes
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
I actually meant to begin (and post) this two weeks ago, when I was thinking a lot about what it meant to surrender to God’s will. I’m a frenetic planner by nature. Close friends can attest to how I often cannot put my mind at rest until I have a problem set out in a mind map, schedule, or battle plan. This constant need to have my problems delineated and put on the conveyor belt on their way to being solved, to know what’s happening next, even permeates my time off-duty: I, sadly, flip to the ends of books more often than I’d care to admit. (Don’t you? No? Okay.)
Those two weeks came and went without me ever feeling in the right mood to sit down and type a big chunk about what I don’t know, until problems piled up at my door that I had to let in and sort out. And these nights, before I lay me down to sleep, instead of going through battle plans in my head, I’ve been trying to let them go instead: to ask God to “take my mind, with all its plans and schemes”. It seems counter-intuitive that you can be much better off with a tenuous faith in He Who Cannot Be Seen rather than plans which give you a semblance of comfort, but to quote St. Augustine again (very eloquent, this man), “Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in You.”
So take everything I think I know, Lord- take my tangled strings and hanging knots and weave them into the tapestry which I know You have in mind for me. Take my yearnings and longings and uncurl them in the palm of Your hand, place me against Your heart, and keep me there. You know better. Let that be enough for me.
Take my thoughts, O Lord, and my memory
Take my tears, my joys, my liberty
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
“Strangely enough, if God’s will is to be done, there is only one way things can end. And that’s crazily comforting. There’s no need to make plans or worry about how to get there. God can handle that,” said my friend Anne over skinny pizzas one day (I paraphrase your words, dear, but I hope I got the gist right).
It seems that growing up, our problems are more open-ended than multiple choice, and sometimes the distance between where I am and where I want to be terrify me so much (to paraphrase Tracee Ellis Ross) (too many quotes?) (never too many quotes). But it is in these chasms that I hear, most clearly, the voice of God calling me to Him, to trust him. As Father Clifford said in his Homily two weeks ago (on the Sunday when I ought to have written this post), “God speaks to us most powerfully through interruptions.” What we see as a long-fought-for, long-trudged road coming to a dead end may well just be a curve in the road He has in mind.
And the strangest thing is, once we start to let go of the human conception that we know what is best for us, and start to glimpse the enormity of His excellent plan, there is so much joy. There is a fullness of joy which I cannot hope to entirely comprehend and terrifies me in the same way vast oceans and great mountains and beautiful flowers terrify me: when I realize that I am a small part in a huge and wonderful world, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I surrender, Lord, all I have and hold
I return to You Your gifts untold
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
The second reading on that Mass two weeks ago was from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 12:8-10: “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Three times St. Paul asked the Lord to rid him of his afflictions. (I must have badgered God at His door far more often than that.) (Sorry.) But like St. Paul, I only found peace once I stopped asking for more, and started asking for less. I need to learn to stop asking for God to fill my half-empty pot with more of what I think I want/ need, and to start asking him to empty me so He may fill me with Himself. As Sir Thomas Browne wrote, at least three centuries ago,
“If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
like to a shelf dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, ‘This is not dead,’
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, ‘This is enow
Unto itself—‘twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.’”
I like to think that at the end of the day when we reach Heaven’s doors, I will lift up my empty hands and tell Him, “Here are the gifts You gave me, Lord. I have used them all, and now I return to You.” As another friend wrote to me a few weeks ago, “God loves you so much, and He loves you enough to give you this life. That alone should bring you so much joy.”
Let me be filled with Your love and grace, God. Nothing more, nothing less.
When the darkness falls on my final days,
Take the very breath that sang Your praise
Give me nothing more than Your love and grace
These alone, O Lord, are enough for me
Admitting you don’t know anything, when you’ve made an entire life on being the one who knows what’s going on, is terrifying. But it’s also really liberating.
One of my favourite books of all time, Anne of the Island, has this to say about death: “I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about heaven- what it is and what it holds for us. I don’t think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think. I believe we’ll just go on living, a good deal as we live here- and be ourselves just the same- only it will be easier to be good and to- follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly. Don’t be afraid, Ruby.”
I think it’s also super applicable to letting God’s will reign in our lives- we will be ourselves just the same, only it will be easier to follow His word.
Lord, help me to let go of the bitterness and anger I feel when my plans don’t come to fruition. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Help me to keep my head lifted to the sight of Your eternal glory and fullness of grace, and help me to walk by this light, forever and always.
I don't know so muchbut You always know better.
For those who are curious as to what “These Alone” sounds like, here is a video (filmed at my church!):
For a truly inspiring article on opening your heart to God’s joy and love in the midst of human grief, read this!