Another excerpt from Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation(p.164):
Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeness to God in Christ.
And this is what it means, among other things, to be judged by Christ.
The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder.
Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire – as if your true identity were to be hard wax – the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your own true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.
Like anyone else I naturally gravitate towards the easier path – the path that seems to have less pain and more comfort… but over and over again I’ve proven to myself that the easier path is a road of false promises. Seduced by promises of immediate gratification and the lure of easily obtained comforts, I stride happily down the garden path until I hit a brick wall. Then, with a jolt, I’d remember what I always already knew in the depths of my heart – that the way to true joy and peace lies elsewhere. And then I’d pick myself up abashedly, yet with great relief and gratitude, and return to follow His footsteps.
One of the greatest gifts I was able to receive from God last year was learning not to dwell in the past, either with envy or regret. As I get older, life keeps giving me heavier and more difficult challenges. When I was in my early twenties I learned to deal with such changes while often thinking wistfully of a more carefree youth. I felt like I had to grow up, but I didn’t look forward to facing all the heavy responsibilities that adulthood afforded.
I prayed that God would help me to get ready for the next stage of my life, to help me welcome the future He had planned for me. And He answered me in a truly creative way… by letting me have a year laden with feelings of helplessness, rejection, betrayal, anguish and near crippling self-doubt.
Yet in that darkest of times a brilliant light made itself known in my heart. It was as if the storm of my tears had washed away hardened grit around my heart and I could feel it again in its true form. I shall always remember the image I had of Christ holding a lamp in one hand and extending His other hand to me, inviting me to explore my soul together with Him, telling me that I have nothing to fear because He lives in the darkest and most broken part of me.
Though the sorrow and pain I continued to experience throughout this time was profound, they could not compare with the solace and joy I received from within. I had been broken so that I could be renewed…. melted in God’s love so that I could more fully receive my identity in Christ. Because of this experience, I no longer look backwards. If each new day and each new cross can have the potential of bringing me closer to God and opening my heart more to His will, I welcome the future. I know my faith will be sorely tested, I know that my human frailty cannot hold true on its own… but I also know that God promised me that I am never alone.
He is always with me. He walks before me, His love surrounds me, and His grace permeates me. I need only say YES to Him.
Lord, I pray for myself and for all others who, like me, are struggling to understand themselves and their place in this world. I pray especially for those who are at crossroads in their lives and who are anxious about their future. May they come to understand that their true identities lie not in what they do but how they live. May they have the courage and wisdom to pursue what is True, and the wonderful peace that comes from knowing You. Amen.