One of my greatest spiritual struggles is learning to trust God. Recently, I considered how strongly God speaks to us through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. Sometimes, though, the message I receive reveals a little more about myself than I would prefer.
About a year and a half ago, I went to confession at a local parish. I told the priest of my sorrow over my sins. You know, the ones I confess every single month cuz concupiscence – impatience, unkindness, pride. He listened intently. Then he asked me a question I did not expect.
“How is your prayer life?” he gently inquired in his melodious West African accent.
“Umm, not great,” I admitted.
I told him that I pray every day, but I am always afraid to ask God what He wants of me. I am afraid of God’s plan. He seems to think I am some kind of super hero. I often try to remind myself that “the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God will not protect you.”
“Ah,” said the priest. “But you do not truly believe this.”
He continued, his voice full of joyful confidence. He told me I must have faith that God wants the absolute best for me. His will is always the best plan. The priest encouraged me to be bold in prayer and to be not afraid of the God who loves me more than I can imagine.
Ever since, I have tried to practice this brave prayer. Most of the time, I fail. It is in these failures, though, that I am able to glimpse the unwavering mercy of God. Each time I become afraid and hide from Him, He always follows me and waits patiently for me to turn back around. Every time, He scoops me up and holds me close, thrilled for me to try again.
It is amazing how quickly I forget this embrace. After receiving our infertility diagnosis, I did not feel particularly close to God. One night, I talked to my aunt about my struggles. She assured me that even though I felt abandoned, God was using this time to sanctify my soul. She gave me a simple prayer for such times. God, I want what You want, when You want it. I know she was not brushing off my pain. She is no stranger to finding out God’s plan is different from her own. So many times, God has said to her, “No. Wait. I have something else in mind.” She cannot see the end of her story either. Yet, she is always faithful, always joyful in her sweet, quiet way. Why then, do I resist the prayer she gave me? Why can I not hear the Holy Spirit’s comforting voice in her words? The Psalmist knows me well. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Ever so slowly, that simple affirmation of trust has become a little easier to pray. My trust in God is tiny and fragile, but it is real.
Recently, God decided to use my own words to speak to me. I was leading a Girl Scout meeting for my troop of fifth graders. I love these girls. They are so fun and creative. One of them asked if I would continue to be the co-leader next year. “No,” I answered. I told them about our plans to serve as lay missionaries. Their eyes lit up, and questions started flying in my direction. I mentioned that we will be working with priests or nuns.
“But aren’t nuns scary?”
Hello, teachable moment. I assured them that nuns are people just like you and me. We talked about stereotypes and how the media perpetuates them. We are afraid of what we do not understand. If you do not take the time to know someone, you are much more likely to believe lies about them and distance yourself from them. The girls gave me examples of other stereotypes they had witnessed, and we discussed ways to discover the truth about who people are. It was a really great conversation.
Later that evening, I prayed at our parish’s Eucharistic adoration chapel. I knelt before Jesus in His humble disguise and told Him all that was in my heart. I told Him of my desire to serve Him. My stomach fluttered as I mentally stammered the prayer my aunt gave me. I asked God, “I know how much You love me. Why am I so afraid?”
As clear as day, I heard in my mind, “You are afraid of people you do not know.”
That realization was like a spear through my chest. I talk to Jesus every day. Is it really possible that I do not know Him? Yet, how many times do I keep the conversation superficial so as not to reveal the (sometimes hard) truth? I catch myself speaking to God and then hoping He doesn’t answer. Then, I might not be held accountable to the truth I encounter. How often do I become complacent and think that my prayer life is "good enough?"
Do I honestly think I can do this alone? That my plans are better than God’s? The notion is wholly ridiculous. However, when I fill my heart with anxiety instead of inviting God to dwell in me, His grand plans sound terrifying. I cannot do what He has planned for me. I cannot bear it. What I must learn to understand is that I do not have to bear much at all. If I am being crushed by the weight of my cross, it is because I refuse to hand it to Jesus – because I tell Him I can do it by myself.
Are you seeing the same absurd mental picture as I am? There I am, lying on the ground. My relatively small cross threatens to flatten me. Jesus is standing over me, begging to lift it from my shoulders. “No!” I tell Him. “I don’t trust you. Look at this giant cross you gave me!”
Then, maybe I remember the giant cross I gave HIM and wonder at His eagerness to love me. These revelations of the nature of God’s love for us are truly sobering. Why oh why can I not lay down my pride and say yes to the adventure Jesus longs to share with me?
Heavenly Father, thank you for these beautiful sacraments you have given us. They pour grace into our hearts and teach us to love as You love. Thank you for the people You have placed in my life who lead me back to You when I stray and hide. Please hold on to me and never let me go. I love you, and I want to know you better. Take my wimpy mustard seed of faith and transform it into something only You can create. Something bold. Something wonderful. Amen.