“LORD, you have probed me, you know me...with all my ways you are familiar.” - Psalm 139:1, 3
"Be still and know that I am God" - Psalm 46:11a
This past Lent, instead of giving up chocolate, I tried to "give up control"... Needless to say, that didn't go very well. My friends, family, and coworkers know that I struggle with letting go and allowing things to be as they are or "good enough." As a perfectionist, I still fall for a deeply ingrained belief that if I work hard enough, things will turn out well. Conversely, if things don't turn out well, it's my fault, and I should have done better. I did something wrong...and that's not okay. At times, this internal voice urging me to "will my way" to success or perfection can even take on a dangerous spiritual tone: "Do it for God. It's okay if you're stressed and working beyond your limits. It's for God and others. AMDG and strive for the magis, right?”
These internal messages and anxieties are mostly the result of early childhood conditioning, biology, and the influence of the false spirit--all of which I've spent significant time working through with therapy, prayer, spiritual direction, and the support of community. Despite intellectually understanding that what God ultimately desires is to be in relationship with me, I get caught up in the busyness and demands of daily life, my perceptions of others' expectations, and my desires. My Lenten discipline this year, then, was to pause whenever I noticed I was trying to take control out of fear or anxiety. In these moments, I would say, "Lord, these situations/people/concerns are yours. I give them back to you." Attempting to loosen my grip in these small ways helped me realize just how tight my grasp can become. For someone employed in ministry, I sure don't always talk, act, and feel as though my ultimate trust is in God's unconditional love and promise of life. The only thing that seems to deter my insecure willfulness in addition to this habit is intentional time for prayer every morning. If I don’t make space to be present to God because I’m too busy supposedly doing things for God, I fail to move through my day with God.
This past July, I went on a Casa Building trip down to Tijuana, Mexico and witnessed an interaction that unexpectedly helped ground me again in the importance of just "being" with God each day. A friend who helps organize the trips has built loving relationships with the community of El Florido we visited. They know him as a dear friend--or even family member--from the United States. Upon arriving at their new community center, a little girl recognized this friend and clung to him throughout our tour of the facility. Despite his tiredness, he carried her around while she hugged him tight and studied his face intently with innocent affection. This special moment struck me not only because of the tenderness between them but also in how it reflected God's desire to be with each of us. Though she hadn't seen him in months, this little girl still adored my friend and couldn't get enough of just looking at him with love. In the days and weeks after the trip, I found myself having similar time with Jesus in imaginative prayer--just being in each other's presence and loving each other with playful, cherishing affection. Often, I am the tired one, and Jesus looks at me with a love that renews my spirit. Despite my failure to always "show up" to prayer each day, I try to let him love me when I do make that time and space. Other times, I too am moved by an underlying joy in being in his presence and can't help but be playful and adoring back. I am surprised by how my heart comes alive again with him.
As more time has continued to pass since the trip though, my heart has grown anxious with personal challenges and has been profoundly broken by news of sexual abuse, cover-ups, and divisions within the Catholic Church. I have turned to prayer even more overcome by anxieties and turbulent emotions. God has had to remind me of very foundational truths--that I am not God and that there is still a place for hope in my heart. When difficult developments came about at work, I started to give in to fear and despair. But I sensed Jesus say, "I'm not asking you to worry about or fix that. Just focus on what I'm calling you to." There was immense freedom in re-realizing that the world--even the little world of my immediate circumstances--does not rest on my shoulders. But in trying to process the recent revelations about the Church, I have gone to prayer not only with fear but also great anger, pain, and confusion. This horrendous mess is so beyond me, and I mostly feel helpless in the face of it. When I bring the Church's brokenness and my feelings to prayer, though, Jesus' presence with me has been different. He has been with me in my feelings and deeply pained himself, but his invitation seems not just to trust and not be afraid (as important as those reminders are). I think he has also sparked something new in me--some sort of courage and fire that was not there before. Jesus gave me a grace to take steps outside my comfort zone and act, a boldness not to shy away from potential opportunities to help shape the Church. I am also more willing to be real and vulnerable about my answers to others' questions about my decisions to be Catholic and work for the Catholic Church, however incomplete and unsatisfactory those answers might be (for them and me).
I don't know where God is leading me with this new spirit. My connection with it is not always strong, and at times Jesus still welcomes me to "be" with him rather than suggest a direction to walk in together. But I am trying to listen. I am trying to prioritize space as best as I can each day for prayer, trusting that God is ever-patient with me in the times when I choose to strive rather than pause and be led. I know that he will still look at me with tender affection when I do "show up," even if I can't forgive myself so easily for not making time for us. This new fire or spark within me might not be something I can control or predict--and that makes it somewhat scary for me. But, like God's unabashed, childlike love, I hope that if I embrace it and give it free reign flow within me, it will lead to surprising new life. I pray that by allowing myself to be loved and led, this spirit can grow into service with God that helps heal and transform the small space in the Church and world that I occupy.
A video I often find helpful: “The Illusion of Control” (Kung Fu Panda)