It’s a fallen world out there and just because we know Christ does not mean we don’t have our share of pain and struggle. Sometimes I think we get more because the enemy wants to turn us away from our only source of strength, but then I remember how empty life was before I knew the Lord. How utterly alone I felt and how desperate I was to fill that loneliness with everything and anything. It was an ugly time. That’s a story for another blog, this post is about competing well for the faith. (1Tim 6:12)
I look around at women in my life who are facing great struggles, huge trials, and bearing crosses I can be thankful are not mine- really thankful. I was talking with one of those ladies bearing a weighty cross the other day and we talked about trust in God. She said she wanted to trust more. She wanted to be more serene and at peace, like a saint, in that trust. It was then that it struck me: we put up this gold standard, near impossible to achieve ideal in our faith life and we beat ourselves up every time we face a trial and we don’t look like that saint in our imaginations. (The enemy must relish our discouragement.) Like somehow I’m going to bear my cross with a cheerful countenance, smiling at everyone I meet, with a little gold halo floating softly above my head and act as though suffering were nothing. Or tell my torturers to turn me over this side’s done while they burn me at the stake. (Yes! Saint Lawrence said that while being grilled to death!)
Well, I’m here to say that’s not me. At least not most of the time. Occasionally I have been open enough to the grace of God to be patient in suffering and expectational in my hope during times of trial (yes I just invented a word.) Then, sometimes I think that is crazy talk! CRAZY! Because sometimes my trust in God is on my knees bawling my eyes out in the shower (because it’s harder for anyone to hear me cry in there) and calling out to God, “Why have you abandoned me?” Then after a short pity party (they get suspicious if I’m in there too long) and many tears I finish up with, “Lord I have to trust you. There is nowhere else to go, but I feel alone. I know you are there. But I feel alone.” My prayer ends more with pitiable resignation than with anything that looks like joyful obedience. But I stay with the Lord.
Sometimes my trust in God is somewhere in between- waving like a flag in the wind. Sometimes peacefully blowing and showing its colors, sometimes hanging down with nothing much to show, and sometimes straight out making that snapping noise. I wish I were steady. I wish I were constant and not so fickle. But faith is about real life and real life is constant only in its ups and downs. In that first letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts him to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” He uses the word pursue for a reason. Faith is active- it doesn’t just lay down and wait for patience to come or righteousness or devotion or love. We have to “seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Seeking is active. Pursuing is active. Competing is active. And we aren’t perfect. Our activities won’t be perfect. We are striving to perfection. Stop beating yourself up because you don’t’ walk on water yet. None of us do! Good thing or we wouldn’t need Jesus. Grab hold of him. Grab hold of him through your struggles and fears. He is the only balm for your wounds. Where else will you go- He has the words of eternal life.
This doesn’t mean you “save yourself” it means actively seeking His will for you. Actively praying. Actively listening. Actively availing yourself of grace in the Sacraments. Actively watching for the way He is calling to you. Be alert. Have extra oil for your lamp so when the time comes you can go into the feast with the Bridegroom and not miss it because you were unprepared. Yes! there is waiting, but not careless waiting. It is active waiting and watching.
I might not be making fast progress in the spiritual life and I may even backslide from time to time, but I’m still in the fight. I want to go forward. I want to be more conformed to Christ. I’m clawing my way out of the cocoon in hopes that I might be a butterfly this time. Mostly I’m still an ugly caterpillar (not even a cute fuzzy one) with some butterfly potential. But I am how God made me and I must trust in that.
I guess my friends’ vision is what I am striving for- to be at peace in all situations. But I’m not there yet- still pursuing, still competing. I have to keep praying. I have to keep receiving the grace of the Sacraments. I have to keep going. God will help me. I know when my kids were learning to walk I never scolded them for falling down. I know I’m still learning to walk my spiritual walk. God encourages me to keep trying and helps me up when I fall if I but reach for His hand. I have to keep getting up when I fall. I have to fight the good fight.
That fight wages on inside of me. It is almost never what is happening on the outside. I can only control what happens on the inside. And really I cannot even control all of that. Emotions come and go as they will according to life events. I can only control my response. I can only control where I turn to for answers, guidance, and strength to face life. I can only control where I set my sights and how hard I fight to get there. As Mother Teresa said, “God didn’t call me to be successful he called me to be faithful.”
So to my friend wishing to be more “saintly” in bearing her cross I say, “Be patient with yourself- God is.” Bearing guilt for not being perfect is just the enemy beating you down with your own fists. The Father knew you weren’t perfect when He sent the Son. That’s why He sent the Son. Get up one more time. And then one more time. Each time calling out to Him for help and grace. The closer we cling to Him and the more we submit ourselves to Him the more we can look like that saint in our imaginations because we will be more conformed to Him. Just don’t waste time or energy worrying about not being there now. Save your energy for the fight and take heart if you’re on His team- He’s already won!
“Fighting the Good Fight” contributed by Kirsten Simonsgaard.