Ahem. I am a fighter. Had I been on the Titanic, I guarantee you I would not have been the picture of peace, praying the rosary on the promenade deck. I’d have been scrounging up wood to build a raft. I might have gone down, but I would have gone down fighting.
In some ways, my fighting spirit has been invaluable to me. When I was young, I overcame what some would call “difficult circumstances” to become the first person in my family to graduate from college and obtain a master’s degree. Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I had a promising career as a marketing manager for an innovative division of a giant telecom company. And today? Well, at this moment I am wading my way through life with four teenagers and two high energy little ones, and have been homeschooling for the last 17 years (which definitely takes a bit of resolve).
All well and good. But frankly, while determination has served me well in this world, having a fighting spirit makes for a pretty crummy spiritual life at times.
You see, I’m a doer. If I have a problem, or if anyone I love has a problem, by golly, I won’t rest until I solve it. And if I don’t have the necessary knowledge at my disposal, I will go to the ends of the earth to find it. Or Amazon. Which is probably the same thing.
If you could see my selection of spiritual reading books, you might think you’d entered your local Catholic book store. And believe it or not, I’ve read most of them. But putting them into practice? That’s another subject altogether. Every book I have ever read on the spiritual life has advised me to “Be.” Be present. Be silent. Be open.
Surrender is not something I do well. That is unless I’m laid out on the floor with nary a breath left in my body.
Well…and then…it’s beautiful. There are no words to describe the peace that accompanies true surrender.
I have a feeling I’m not alone. Who among us had not endured pain so excruciating that at the time we could not even whisper our Lord’s name? It is in those moments that we most willingly lift our hearts to Him. When we can do nothing else, we offer whatever we have left. We surrender.
I think the most poignant description of this experience I’ve seen comes from Fr. Walter Ciszek, who spent some 23 years in Russian concentration camps during and after WWII:
I had talked of finding and doing his will, but never in the sense of totally giving up my own will. I had talked of trusting him, indeed I truly had trusted him, but never in the sense of abandoning all other sources of support and relying on his grace alone. I could never find it in me, before, to give up self completely. There were always boundaries beyond which I would not go, little hedges marking out what I knew in the depths of my being was a point of no return. God in his providence had been constant in his grace, always providing opportunities for this act of perfect faith and trust in him, always urging me to let go the reins and trust in him alone. I had trusted him, I had cooperated with his grace – but only up to a point. Only when I had reached a point of total bankruptcy of my own powers had I at last surrendered.
That moment, that experience, completely changed me. I can say it now in all sincerity, without false modesty, without a sense either of exaggeration or of embarrassment. I have to call it a conversion experience; it was at once a death and a resurrection. (He Leadeth Me, p. 78)
Which of us does not desire with all our heart to experience the resurrection?
I would venture to guess that most, if not all of us would give anything to unite ourselves so closely to Christ. So the question becomes, Why must we endure such excruciating pain before we can simply and without obstacle, raise our hearts to God?
According to scripture, …unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25. Or, as one priest used to summarize it, “No cross, no crown.”
Father Ciszek experienced this mysterious truth in a profound way: …it was at once a death and a resurrection.
Usually, I’m unwilling to die.
Except for those times when the suffering is so acute (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) that death doesn’t sound like such a bad alternative.
Thankfully, as I get older, I’ve noticed those times come more frequently. For me, desperation has not so much come from physical illness – more often I’ve been blessed with other types of battles. Regardless, with age has certainly come the wisdom to know that all the fighting in the world will not solve some problems.
So, while I have a long way to go, I do see a ray of hope in the distance. Eventually, I’ll either learn to give up the fight, or I’ll have all the fight knocked out of me. Either way, at that point (God willing), my surrender will be complete. In this world, many may consider that a cause for concern. But in the beautiful, complete and perfect world of God’s grace, it will be a good thing.
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Art: Christ Falling under the Cross by Charles Nicolas Cochin II (Wikimedia Commons)