Be careful when you ask God to do whatever he wishes in order to make you ready for union with him because HE WILL DO IT. And nothing that he does will be what you could expect or predict or even prepare yourself for. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit prepares you for it, though whether or not you feel prepared is an entirely different matter. For the last 4 months, ever since the beginning of Lent, I have been in a very unfamiliar spiritual space. In the last week, I can sense that this season is ending and a new one is about to begin. And with this sensing, I felt prompted to share this strange season of becoming undone by God.
I began Lent this year with a week away with the Lord in silent retreat. That week was full of communication and consolation from God, and full of laughter and tears. God gave me three messages to bring away with me that week: 1) Stop judging myself and learn to fully accept and love myself; 2) He knows every grace I need on this journey and he knows when he wishes to give them to me – I am to stop trying to run ahead of God’s grace; and 3) Stop striving for holiness with brute will and instead learn to wait for the wind of God’s Spirit before riding on it. Then, as soon as the retreat ended, so did the consolations, and I entered a season of testing during which I began to learn what God had meant by these messages.
The first thing that happened was that God revealed to me that I was really even more a beginner in the spiritual journey than I had thought. What I knew intellectually and what I strove to make myself “do” in the name of devotion was something quite different from where my true self actually was. I have a habit of focusing so much on the goal to be reached and getting myself there that I fail to notice where I actually am or to love my present self. (This tends to spill out in the way I treat others too.) And where I actually am is spiritually much “younger” that I would have liked to be. The question now was, can I embrace it? Can I relish in God’s love where I am? (With God’s grace, the answer turned out to be ‘yes’!)
A second thing that happened was that I found that I could more openly acknowledge my faults and even laugh about them. I never could laugh at my faults before. I took them very seriously because they were obstacles to my growing in holiness! Or so I had believed. But I found that I could laugh at what a flawed, distorted, stubborn and quirky little creature I was because I had become more secure in my own love! I was no longer in such a hurry to become perfect. After all, it is God – not I – who is the master craftsman at work on my soul, and I found that God was often laughing together with me! In becoming able to behold my true situation, I no longer find it so painful to acknowledge the many imperfections and sinfulness that surface from within. I am strangely now more at peace with being unfinished!
Yet the oddest thing that has happened to me during this season (at least odd to me) was that I found that I grew in my capacity to love self and others even as my feelings of devotion (as well as my practices of devotion) ebbed to a new low. I learned a wonderful new lesson – that God’s work in me does not necessarily translate to feelings of devotion or a stronger ability to pray in the ways I am accustomed to. But God’s work in me will somehow still bear fruit – and the undeniable mark that the Holy Spirit is with me is that I am still growing (however gradually) in love. Once I stopped driving myself to virtuousness beyond the grace given to me, I began to see instead the almost imperceptible small ways in which my soul is responding to God’s grace.
In these past few months, I had found myself incapable of grasping or articulating what was happening. Yet I knew that I was simply to be still and to let God’s work be done unto me. And, perhaps for the first time in my life, I did not feel any curiosity about what God was doing in me. Nor did I feel the need to try to understand. Love was at work within me and that was enough. I could sense that this was a season of “undoing” the many things that have been deeply ingrained in my psyche – flawed habits of thought and action that paradoxically prevented God from acting in me the harder I tried to work with him. Thus, any action on my part to “help” God could actually be counterproductive. All I needed to do was trust and be still. It was simple, and at the same time, hard.
I am thankful that throughout these months, I somehow knew that God’s hand was upon me, and that even in this seeming desert of prayer, I was able to frequently cry out to God for mercy and help. In fact, that was very often the most I could pray. Now I stand yet again at the brink of a new season. Will it feel better or worse? I know not, and find myself strangely caring a lot less about that. I shall simply trust that when the time comes for me to leap, I will soar with all the abandon of a child leaping into her Father’s arms. After all, with God, everything is possible!