Giving up the Fight

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.

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 1024px-Christ_Falling_under_the_Cross_MET_DP805728scrounging 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.

Essentially, surrender.

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.

And then?

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)

Does God Will Tragedy? Short Answer: YES. HOW AWESOME!

Everything that happens to you in life – not only the good, but also the horrific and the tragic – is by Divine design. In other words, it is God’s Will. If you’ve been taught otherwise, please read this.

It was cold. Slipping out of my car, I felt the frigid air maul my cheeks. With purse in one hand and keys in the other, I slammed the door of my little blue fearhatchback with my hip and began the short trek from the parking lot to my apartment, hunched over to protect my face from the cutting wind. It was only November, but Old Man Winter was asserting his authority with a vengeance. When I finally made it to the building, I was thankful there was no security system. With one fling of the door, I was all but inside. Just as the door began to swing shut, a young man came running up to follow me in. I remember thinking to myself that he was pretty smart, using a bandana to protect his face from the biting cold. I made an effort to smile back at him, grabbed the door again and pushed it open with my elbow, holding it a few seconds until he arrived.

After that, things happened in sensory images. Confusion as I was seized violently by this man to whom I had extended a neighborly act of kindness. A long stretch of blade against my throat. The chill of the knife as it lingered against my skin. Inhaling sharply in effort to keep it away; his anger at my retreat, the tautness of his body as he yanked me closer, the blade pressing into my throat, the heat of his torso like a wall of fire against my back.

I nearly lost my balance as he whipped me around to face him. But when he proceeded to drag me toward the door, something made me grab hold of the stair railing. I held on for dear life, assuring him over and over again, “I can’t see your face, I can’t see your face, I can’t see your face…” For some crazy reason, I thought that if he knew I couldn’t turn him in, he’d let me go. In the end, my resistance won out. There was only one door to the apartment complex, and the longer we struggled in the vestibule, the higher the risk that someone would walk in on the scene. Before I knew what was happening, he grabbed my purse and took off, leaving me without a scratch. But my purse was the least valuable thing he took that night. As he burst out that door into the frozen darkness, I felt a bone-chilling emptiness as I watched him escape with every shred of confidence I’d ever had. 

I learned later from detectives that the perpetrator was a serial rapist and that my hanging on to that railing may have saved my life, or at the very least, my purity. Yes, I thanked God that I was safe. And yes, there was a bit of “Whew!” when all was said and done. But not much. There was much more of “What if…?” What if I had not held on? What if he had forced me outside? What if he’d waited until I unlocked the door to my empty apartment? What if he’d sliced my throat? What if…what if….what if…?

Needless to say, from that moment on, I was fearful. For the first time in my life, I realized that I was NOT in control. That I was vulnerable.  I could pretend to be in control, but the reality was that I could never know what might be lurking around the next corner.

For years, I did not get on elevators with people I didn’t know. I was afraid to be alone outside at night. I refused to take the trash out by myself. I heard things when I was alone in our house, and I was very nervous when my husband traveled.

It’s not that I lacked faith. I believed that God would take care of me. Sort of. But when it came to violence, I believed in the doctrine of free will. In my mind, if someone committed a violent act, well, the God of the universe would stand idly by and let him (or her – not trying to be sexist here) commit the sin. Not that He lacked compassion.  But that was just part of the deal. If we could stop sinning, we wouldn’t have all the suffering and tragedy caused by free will. But here we sat. Still sinning. Still suffering. Just because there was a God didn’t mean I would always be safe.

The fear that wrought my peace, my calm, dogged me for years after that momentary encounter. In one fell swoop the realization that I am not in control trampled every confidence I had once known. My soul was uneasy, my courage shattered, my peace, nonexistent.

But ten years after that evening, I came across a book called Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Saint Claude de la Colombiere. A tiny little book that packs a world of wisdom and peace into the palm of your hand. Digesting the pages for me was like inhaling inner peace. Here is a sample of what Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure has to say about evil:

A doctor…orders leeches to be applied. While these small creatures are drawing blood from the patient their only aim is to gorge themselves and suck up as much of it as they can. The doctor’s only intention is to have the impure blood drawn from the patient and to cure him in this manner. There is therefore no relation between the insatiable greed of the leeches and the intelligent purpose of the doctor in using them. The patient himself does not protest at their use. He does not regard the leeches as evildoers. Rather he tries to overcome the repugnance the sight of their ugliness causes and help them in their action, in the knowledge that the doctor has judged it useful for his health. God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of well-being, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God, who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above. – Trustful Surrender of Divine Providence, pg. 22-23 (TAN)

Here is what I got out of that. God does not will sin. But He does Will everything that happens to us, even if that act was committed in sin.

Think about the death of His Only Son. Did God Will the evil that crowned Him with thorns? That pierced His Hands with nails? Ultimately – YES. While God did not cause the sin, God allowed the sin that He found stirring in men’s hearts to manifest itself in our salvation. For Christ even says,

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” —John 19:11

There is no power on all the earth but that given from Our Heavenly Father. 

If we could but understand that simple truth, life would be much more palatable, even in the face of great evil or tragedy. The only way to experience the peace that we have been offered is to follow Christ’s example and hand our wills over to Our Father in heaven. We must trust that He is in control. Not only of the good. But of bad. Of natural disasters, or evil. Until then, we will huddle in uncertainty; in fear. Frankly, in great confusion.

Unlike those who are horrified to think God would Will our harm, I am comforted by it. Before you leave in a huff, consider the alternative.

If my son gets in a car accident, and his life is spared, I thank God for his protection. But then if my son gets in a car accident and he dies, I’m wondering, where was God? Why did He let that happen? Why is one person healed from cancer while the next suffers to the death? No doubt each person had prayers galore offered for their healing. You watch the news. You have loved ones who suffer. There is so much suffering and tragedy in the world that you, like me, must have questioned at some point the apparent random nature of God’s protection. Believing that God does not will bad things to happen causes great confusion and even despair. How can we be at peace, believing that He has the Whole World in His Hands, when we are taught that He really doesn’t? This great thing? God certainly had a hand in this! But that terrible thing over there? That was certainly not God’s Will. 

God does not put evil into the mind of a criminal. God does not cause him to calculate evil and carry it out. But God has TWO wills. An Active Will. And a Passive Will. He CAUSES certain things to happen. And by His inaction, he ALLOWS other things to happen. None of it is random. But all of it is for our ultimate good. 

“All that happens to us in this world against our will (whether due to men or to other causes) happens to us only by the will of God, by the dispose of Providence, by His orders and under His guidance; and if from the frailty of our understanding we cannot grasp the reason for some event, let us attribute it to divine Providence, show Him respect by accepting it from His hand, believe firmly that He does not send it us without cause.” — Trustful Surrender, p. 17-18

God was not standing idly by when I was attacked. He was right there. He was the doctor that I needed, doing surgery on my soul. He allowed me pain to the exact level He deemed necessary for my ultimate good. Once I understood this simple truth, I knew that even if something terrible happened, things would be OK. I could be thankful even for that evil that was hoisted upon me, because the Eternal Doctor felt I needed something special at that moment in my life, knowing that ultimately, it would bring me closer to Him.

In order to understand this truth, it is so critical to remember that life is not about these 80 years or so on earth. Life is about eternity in heaven. So whether life here is five days or 100 years, whether it is filled with trinkets or tragedy, this world is merely a journey toward a destination. It is not the destination itself. 

To know that God was there in my tragedy; that God is there in yours, allowing your suffering or the suffering or death of someone you love for the betterment of you, of them, of all – takes the confusion out of the world. It makes suffering less random. It helps us to know, that while we are indeed, NOT in control, SOMEONE IS. And that Someone seeks only our eternal happiness and salvation.

Fear no longer holds me hostage. I have found peace. I finally understand and even feel warm when I hear the song He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

May you recognize His hands cradling your whole world too.


Art: People Frightened by Tide, Auguste Delacroix, Wikimedia Commons



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