Ever find yourself fighting against God? I have. It makes no sense.
- If God is all-powerful, things will turn out the way he wants. It’s inevitable.
- If God wills for ultimate good to triumph, why resist?
- If God is all-knowing, why insist on having things my way? Do I really think I know better than God?
Besides, when I fight reality, reality always wins.
Unfortunately, self-will is sneaky and dies hard. A few years ago I attended a four-day writers’ conference, convinced it was God’s will for me. I volunteered for service opportunities, looked forward to promoting my first book and to being interviewed for an ongoing writing gig. Above all, I was excited for the chance to find a publisher for my second book. In my eagerness, I denied my body’s ongoing physical limitations. Less than 24 hours after the conference began, my body rebelled and I was forced to slink home.
Apparently, God and I hadn’t seen things the same way after all. It took weeks to work through my disappointment and accept reality. I have disabilities. The symptoms may not be apparent to others, but the challenges are very real. It’s self-defeating to ignore them, no matter how much I want to.
Evidently God, who knows all about my limitations, achieves his plans in spite of my willful schemes. Although I could not attend the conference interview, I received the ongoing writing assignment anyway. Eventually, I was offered a contract for my second book—my new publisher hadn’t even attended that conference.
When my conviction about God’s will is wishful thinking on my part, whenever I’m trying to force outcomes, I’m fighting reality. Whenever I accept circumstances exactly as they are, do my best, then let go and trust God with the outcome, I feel peace.
Why struggle? Even if things don’t go my way, they can still turn out just fine.
Who guessed faith involved accepting reality?
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that you have everything under control.
Reflection: When have you found yourself fighting against God? What happened?
At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21
There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.
While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.
God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.
We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.
Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?
Why did the Israelites refuse to enter the Promised Land? They were afraid because they didn’t trust God to keep his promise.
When we reject the good God offers us, it’s probably for the same reason: fear. When we reject God’s loving plan for us, fear is probably involved in some way.
Let’s look at the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
- Pride is giving self-will priority over God’s will. If we believe God is all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving, why would we ever choose our own way instead of his? On some level, we must be afraid that God won’t do as good a job as we could or that his plan is not as good as ours, so we use manipulation or force to get our way.
- Greed probably involves fear that we won’t have enough or get enough or keep enough of whatever we feel greedy about: money, things, approval, attention. We grab for or hoard more than we need because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs.
- Envy might include fear that we aren’t good enough, or that we aren’t as good as others. Resenting what they have fuels our feelings of inadequacy. We don’t trust God’s love for us and the value we have simply because he loved us into existence.
- Anger, chances are, often involves thwarted self-will. Maybe someone or something threatened our fragile self-esteem, or we didn’t get our way. When our illusions of control are shattered, we get angry. We don’t trust that things can still turn out just fine-even if they don’t go our way-because God has it all under control.
- Lust, at least in part, may include the fear that we are unlovable or perhaps the fear of true intimacy and the mutual surrender involved in sharing love on a level that goes so much deeper than the physical plane.
- Gluttony might, in part, be connected to fear of discomfort. It might also involve trying to fill our emptiness in a self-defeating way because we fear that God’s love and his plan aren’t enough to sustain us, that his allotment of our daily bread won’t fill the gaping hole within us.
- Sloth, laziness, procrastination, might disguise a fear that what we do won’t be good enough. We’d rather not try at all, than try and fail. Underneath may lurk a fear that neither God nor anyone else could love us as we are, that we’ll be rejected unless we’re perfect or successful in the way the world defines success.
In all these options, we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the joy that comes from abandoning ourselves to God’s loving care and protective power. It’s risky to trust that he does love us, that he knows what he’s doing, that his plans are to build us up and to give us the future we hope for (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he will keep his promise. It’s a risk worth taking.
Prayer: Lord, lead me to the Promised Land you have in mind for me.
Reflection: How is fear blocking you from the joy God has in mind for you?
I replied, “Sovereign Lord, only you can answer that!” Ezekiel 37: 3
It’s okay not to have all the answers. There are some questions we can’t know the answers to, this side of heaven. There’s no shame in knowing what we have no way of knowing.
Why God asked Ezekiel if those bones could come back to life? God already knew the answer. Surely God also knew that Ezekiel didn’t know the answer. Why ask? Maybe God just wanted Ezekiel to pay attention to the issue, to consider the possibilities, and to do just what Ezekiel did: stand in humble silence and watch God’s power in action.
At the transfiguration, we’re told that Peter offered to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, although Peter really didn’t know what he was saying. The proper response when we don’t know what to say is to keep silent and listen. Then we will find out what we’re meant to know.
If we have questions, maybe it’s because God wants our attention so he can give us the answer or just demonstrate his power.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that when I don’t know, you do.
Reflection: What question does God want you to consider but leave in his hands today?
The entrances to heaven aren’t called the pearly gates for nothing. Pearls are created by an oyster in response to irritation. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain. Could it be that only broken hearts are open enough to let God in?
God’s grace can transform pain into beauty. The glorious Resurrection followed the crucifixion. God’s power and grace continue to bring good out of suffering today. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, by turning to God and facing their addiction, developed a program that has helped countless thousands recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Restorative justice programs invite victims and offenders, under controlled and supervised guidance, to encounter each other so that forgiveness and healing can emerge. God’s power and grace can transform our pain, too, if we’re willing.
When we experience pain, we have choices about what to do with it. We can wallow and remain victimized by it or we can surrender our pain to God and turn to him for strength, wisdom, and grace.
- Sometimes pain allows us to recognize our human limitations. Some of us just won’t stop until we’re forced to. It can be scary when we’ve reached the end of our own strength, but that’s when we have no choice but to trust God.
- Sometimes pain motivates us to change. When selfish behaviors don’t get us into too much trouble, we continue to indulge them. Only when the pain they cause exceeds the payoff do we become willing to give up whatever benefits our self-centered actions seem to give us.
- Sometimes we have no choice but to simply endure, as best we can. If we’re going to be in pain anyway, we may as well offer it to God and use it as an opportunity to exercise our faith, trusting that we’ll be given what we need-even when we can’t see it.
Any of these options can take us beyond the pain to a different level of being, to a different perspective, to a glimpse of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Prayer: Compassionate God, who brought good out of the cross, help us trust you to bring good out of our pain.
Reflection: When have you seen beauty brought from pain?
What does an obedience have to do with loving God?
Does God give us obedient hearts so that we’ll obey his command to love him? Or do we love him out of gratitude for the gift of obedient hearts that protect us from our own self-destructive tendencies? Either way, in God’s kingdom, it seems that love and obedience go together.
The NAB translation of the above passage makes the connection clearer. Rather than “give” us obedient hearts, it says that God “will circumcise” our hearts. Physical circumcision removes a covering and exposes a very sensitive area. The procedure involves some pain. Thinking spiritually, you can imagine that a circumcised heart would be more open and sensitive than a heart covered over and protected. Circumcision of our hearts involves some pain, too, as self-will and self-centeredness are removed. When our hearts are vulnerable and exposed, we become more open and responsive to God, who loves us and has our best interests at heart.
We obey because we love and we love because we obey.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to your love.
Reflection: What keeps you from obeying God? If you were going to respond to God’s love today, what would you do differently?
Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1: 21b
When I was a little girl, my dad had a huge vegetable garden with carrots, radishes, cucumbers and more. I remember him showing me how to plant the seeds. First he had to churn up the hard-packed earth and loosen it. Then he dug holes or furrows. We’d put the seeds in and cover them lightly with soil. All the earth had to do was accept whatever seeds we planted. That sounds easy enough, but first the earth had to put up with being agitated, raked over, and having holes poked into it.
Sometimes it’s like that for us, too, when God plants his word into our hearts. It might take some upheaval to soften our hardened hearts, but they might not be receptive otherwise. The space created to make room for God’s word might first feel like a gaping hole, but we might not have room for God’s word if we’re filled with other things like pride, resentment, or self-indulgence.
When our lives turn upside down, that might be the shake-up needed to loosen our stubbornness in clinging to our comfort zone, and getting us receptive to new growth. When we feel empty or discouraged, that just might prepare our hearts to receive what God wants to fill them with. We don’t have to manufacture new growth on our own, we just have to accept what God plants and allow it to grow in our hearts.
Prayer: Lord, open my heart to your word.
Reflection: How can you yield to what God wants to plant in your heart today?
He saw the disciples were straining at the oars, because they were rowing against the wind; so…he came to them, walking on the water. Mark 6: 48
Jesus walked on water. He didn’t float above it. He didn’t sink under it.
He came to his disciples in the storm-tossed sea because they needed him. Jesus comes to us when we need him, too. He won’t allow us to sink under waves of chaos or pain, but he doesn’t call us to float above worldly problems, either.
We’re planted on this earth for a reason. There’s no use pretending we’re above practical concerns. We need to deal with reality, including challenges and pain. Denial is not a solution.
No matter how overwhelmed we feel by circumstances beyond our control, no circumstance is bigger than God. Like Peter, when we turn to Jesus, we’re lifted up—not that he enables us to float above problems. He doesn’t. But when we look to him, he meets us where we are. He gives us what we need to negotiate whatever situation we find ourselves in without sinking. What more do we need?
Prayer: Praise God, who meets us where we are.
Reflection: What storm in life can Jesus help you walk through today?
Farmers don’t constantly plow their fields and keep getting them ready for planting. Isaiah 28: 24
Preparation turns into stalling if we never move on. Why cover ground that’s already been covered? Fear, probably. What if we take the next step and it doesn’t work out? What if we fail?
IF we never actually take the action, we can always think we didn’t fail because we didn’t really try. The truth is, if we don’t follow through, we fail by default.
There’s no shame in failing if we do our best. A farmer planting seeds waters and weeds the garden. Beyond that, the results are out of his hands.
The same is true for us. We’re responsible for making our best effort, regardless of the outcome. This goes for our practical and our spiritual lives. Do we hear the gospel at Mass but never allow it to change us? Growth doesn’t happen just by hearing the word, but by doing it. Moving forward can start small. Bring canned goods to the next food pantry collection or attend a bible study.
We don’t need to keep polishing what’s already shiny. Ask God for the courage to move beyond your comfort zone. If you already spend quiet time in prayer, try volunteering for some service activity. If you’re always on the go, risk spending some time in silent meditation.
God will always guide us along the path he has in mind for us.
Prayer: Lord, show me what my next step should be and give me the courage to take it.
Reflection: What fields have you already plowed sufficiently? What’s the next step?
Then you will know that I am the Lord; no one who waits for my help will be disappointed. Isaiah 49: 23
How can God guarantee we won’t be disappointed when, so often, the things we pray for don’t happen the way we want or on our timetable?
The answer is knowing that God is the Lord. If our God is who he says he is, it’s safe to trust him. He is all-knowing. He is all-powerful. He loves us. We can trust that he knows what he is doing—even when things don’t go our way, even when we face challenging circumstances, even when we-or our loved ones-are in pain.
If we believe our Heavenly Father gave his only begotten son to save us from our sins, we can trust him. Jesus’ understandable request to be spared the cup of suffering was not answered the way he would have liked. He wasn’t spared pain and death, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Resurrection triumphed.
Our God can bring good out of pain and weakness. When we are in the midst of it, it isn’t easy to remember, but that’s what faith is. If we’re willing to wait, we’ve already demonstrated a faith beyond what our eyes can see or our intellects can understand.
Who can understand that when backed into a corner, a Red Sea can part? Who can understand that the death of Lazarus didn’t stop Christ’s healing power? Who can understand how God can bring good out of whatever we’re going through? Trusting God doesn’t mean we pretend things are fine or that we’re not worried about a sick child, a rocky marriage, or family crisis. It means we acknowledge the suffering but trust God to provide what we need to get through it. We trust God to provide his help—not the help we demand or the help the world tells us to expect—but the help of Someone who has our best interests at heart.
If we wait to see what God has in mind, we won’t be disappointed.
Prayer: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Reflection: When have you waited for God’s help? What happened?