Whether you love it or hate it or merely tolerate it, winter is an undeniable fact to be endured. It can seem to be a bleak and interminable season, with days of light and warmth so far beyond our reach as to be almost unreal, the stuff of fairy stories.
I served as a lector at a large parish many years ago. Anyone from my high school English classes would be astonished to hear it, because I was never one to volunteer to speak in front of the class (offering smart remarks from the safety of my desk was something else altogether) and when it came to speeches, forget it. I once held the podium so tightly that when I was done, two classmates had to unclench my fingers for me. But reading the Word at Mass was something I really wanted to do, so I tried an experiment: I told myself the jumble of nerves I felt at the mere thought of standing in front of the vast congregation was actually excitement at the opportunity to do it. That little shift in thinking stopped my lips from quivering, my legs from shaking, and my voice from trembling. I was able to remove myself from the equation, which allowed God to work.
|Painting: Frederick Daniel Hardy|
When other challenges come my way, I try to remember the lesson of surrendering myself to what God is offering (or asking of me) in that moment. My nerves while public speaking or the frustration I feel at yet one more snowstorm, are a form of self-centeredness. While they are not wrong in themselves, they are indicators of my interior disposition, which tends to be focused on my own self, my comfort, my wants. I’m human, so a forgotten deadline is going to frazzle me, and yet another car repair is going to feel unfair. But these are also opportunities for spiritual growth, for increased virtue, for deeper holiness. They are invitations for me to empty myself of my own will and to wait upon the Lord.
In his book Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes:
If the business of becoming holy seems to present insufferable difficulties, it is merely because we have a wrong idea about it. In reality, holiness consists of one thing only: complete loyalty to God’s will. […] To be actively loyal means obeying the laws of God and the Church and fulfilling all the duties imposed on us by our way of life. Passive loyalty means that we lovingly accept all that God sends us at each moment of the day. Now is there anything here too difficult for us?
Well, yes, frankly, sometimes it does seem to be too difficult, doesn’t it? When your child cries for the fourth time during the night, or your boss yet again sets you an impossible task you know he will take the credit for, or your family mocks you for going to Church instead of watching football, it can be very difficult to ‘lovingly accept’ what God has sent us in that moment.
Perhaps it is a matter of changing our perspective: excitement rather than nerves. De Caussade puts it this way:
Now, if we see the will of God in the most trifling affairs, in every misfortune, and in every disaster, we shall accept them all with an equal joy, delight and respect.
|Photo by the author|
There really is no other way forward in the spiritual life. It is a call to trust that God is present in your life, that He hasn’t forsaken you, and ultimately believing “all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28) no matter how they appear in the here and now. Jesus laid out the game plan to His disciples when He told them “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Are we serious about wanting to follow Christ? God has a place prepared for us, but we have to fulfill our part of the bargain, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to do at times.
So, here I am, snowed in yet again, deciding to appreciate the beauty of the sparkling new snowfall. The storm isn’t something God has visited on me to punish me or teach me a lesson, but I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity to take baby steps in abandoning myself in this moment, to accepting God’s will for me today.
And occasionally dream of tulips.