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Sometimes I feel like a two year old in my relationship with God, like a small child begging for a cookie before dinner. He patiently and lovingly says to His persistent, irrational daughter, “I know you want the cookie, but it will spoil your dinner.” My two-year-old self replies, “Don’t care about dinner. Want cookie. Right now.”
“But then you won’t be hungry for the good food I am preparing for you”, He says.
“I want cookie!”
“Cookies are delicious, but they won’t make you healthy and strong. It’s okay to have one, but first you need to wait patiently while I prepare what’s best for you.”
“I want cookie!”
As a human parent, that would be the point I would want to start drinking. But God is patient and keeps loving me more than I love myself while I have tantrum after tantrum.
Being that I’m like a two year old in my relationship with God, I don’t always do a great job communicating with Him. Sometimes in prayer, it feels like I dialed the right phone number but I’m holding the phone upside down. I can kind of make out bits and pieces of what God might be saying to me, but He sounds far away and I can barely hear Him. I can picture the angels and saints in heaven screaming to me, “He’s trying to tell you the answer, just turn the phone around!” But I don’t seem to know how. It’s like it’s stuck upside down.
I tell God, sometimes as a thought, sometimes out loud, that I want my heart to be 100% available to Him. But there are things that hinder that:
- My not knowing what hinders it
- Knowing what hinders it, but not knowing how to overcome it
- Sin and weakness
Being that God is God, surely He can work with less than 100% of my heart. But He deserves 100% and that’s what I want Him to have. I think every other relationship would be better if I could do that.
I ask Him to butterfly my heart, to open it up completely to Him.
But there are days I pray it with so little enthusiasm that I apologize. So on and on I will go, as a little child who doesn’t usually understand and who often has little patience, until my Father is finished preparing what is best for me.
I started this draft so long ago, I don’t even know what the title means anymore.
Everything is temporary. I really wish I knew how much time I had left… 20 minutes, 20 years, 50 years or something in between. I think it’d be helpful to my mental state to be able to plan accordingly and to know exactly how much longer I need to persevere. When can I give up? Because life is hard. I don’t necessarily mean my specific life because there are many things about my life that are not hard. I don’t struggle to pay bills or buy food. I don’t have to fight for my survival. My life is not in danger at work or home. I don’t have family members who are gravely ill or injured. I have family and friends who love me. I am not alone.
Even when money, health, and safety issues are okay, I think life is hard because life is full of not having things that are wanted or having things that are not actually wanted. This takes many forms and is unique to each individual. Just because suffering isn’t seen or well known doesn’t mean it isn’t very real. People can suffer in ways no one else sees. Why would a successful entertainer like Robin Williams kill himself, while there are many poor people living in deplorable conditions who have not? No one truly knows what it is like to be someone else.
I read Peter Kreeft’s book, Making Sense Out of Suffering, and the same two things are as clear to me now as they were before I read it: Suffering is a mystery. And it hurts. The author said, “The only way to guarantee a world without evil is to create us unfree.” I get that. I understand that God did not create robots or slaves who are forced to love and serve Him. He imbued humans with the ability to make our own decisions, to desire to form our will toward His will or against it in every decision of our lives. Of course He wants us to make choices that express our love of God and fellow man, but He will not hijack our will to make us do so. So some people choose evil, and their choices affect other people, sometimes fatally. That’s not God’s fault. He’d much rather we all choose well and good.
I don’t believe in karma. Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross for me, for us. To me, that’s proof karma is crap. While it’s easier to understand why suffering exists when one person is the direct cause of another’s suffering due to free will, it’s much more frustrating to reconcile the distribution of suffering, when bad things happen to the innocent and when good things happen to bad people. Sometimes suffering is not the result of anyone making a bad choice. Suffering exists even when it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes bad people have “good luck“. Why is that allowed?
Firstly, everything that ever happens started with a choice, someone’s free will, at some point, even if it wasn’t a bad choice. If you get struck by lightening and live to tell about it, you chose to be in that place at that time, even if it was a perfectly logical, safe, smart, good choice. Maybe it was “bad genetics” that caused a child to get cancer, but those parents chose to reproduce. The child may have been perfectly healthy had he had a different mother (or father). Of course, then he wouldn’t have been the same person.
Secondly, we all have to die somehow. Can you imagine living on Earth forever? Would you want to keep aging? Aging is the natural law. Why is aging necessary? Would it be more reasonable to expect the aging process to halt at some point? If so, at what age would it be reasonable to stay on Earth for all eternity, 15? 30? 60? (Women might think differently than men.) Would you work at a job forever? Would you grow weary of life on Earth after 2.5 billion years? What would you do and think if you had never heard of death and it didn’t even exist? Death from this world sounds like an okay idea, especially if there is something better that awaits us, which we have hope that there is.
Different kinds of suffering:
Suffering that is the direct result another person’s free will
Suffering due to choices I made, even if those choices were made a long time ago
Suffering that leads to death, because we all must die.
Even before the fall of mankind, there was temptation. I think to be tempted is to suffer. It is a confusion and mismatch of heart and mind over what one currently has and what one desires or thinks he desires. God knew ahead of time how it would end. He knew that to create people free meant to step back and allow them to mess up. Apparently, He was okay with that because He created us with free will and we sure do mess up, but He loves us in spite of our flaws and failings. He created us to love us, and for us to love Him. He wants our hearts, calls us gently to Him, and waits patiently for us when we’re away from Him. Our compulsion that drives virtually all our behaviors is our desire to be be fully, completely, and unconditionally loved and accepted. When we are imperfect or make a mistake, the people in our life may feel disappointed or angry, whereas God see our flaws and failings as opportunities for Him to show us mercy and give us forgiveness. God is unique in His ability to love beyond measure.
He is the one who died on the cross for us. He understands suffering. And He wants us to enjoy eternal happiness with Him in heaven, free from all suffering.
[This post has been in my drafts folder for two years. Read at your own risk. May cause drowsiness.]
I am amused by the concept of the “Edgar suit” as depicted in the movie Men in Black. Edgar was the jerk husband whose body was taken over by an alien. Although the man still looked like Edgar, albeit a creepy and distorted version, it was someone else who was seeing through his eyes and speaking through his voice.
I think we all have our own “Edgar suits” in that what we present on the exterior is not actually us, but only our “shell”. Not even your brain is completely “you”. What is truly you is the part of you that never dies, your spirit. Your soul.
I think our soul is expressed through our human person, but only to some extent. Having a human form is very limiting. Having a defective human form is even more limiting. Genetics and environment dictate what our physiology will be, so our true self only has so much to work with and through. We are all broken people.
Sometimes I entertain myself by pretending that my physical body is a costume. My spirit is “dressed up” as me, wearing my clothes and seeing through my eyes. My face is a mask that covers the intangible person behind my skin. This reminds me of the movie Being John Malkovich where various characters in the movie had the chance to enter John’s mind through a portal. It’s John’s body, but the visitors control him. He has no choice, and his will is not his own.
As I do the dishes, put on makeup, or type on the computer, my true self watches these mundane tasks through the peep holes that are my body’s eyes. My spirit experiences and appreciates all that my human form goes through. My spirit has to work hard to direct my human form in a lawful, moral, ethical way in all I think, say, and do.
While my spirit rejoices in God and wants to cooperate with His will, my human form struggles. Every good thing that comes from me is from God. My smile is His smile. My laughter is His laughter. My happiness is His happiness. As I pray in earnest, “Jesus, fill up a pitcher of the love and peace of the Holy Trinity, and drown my soul with it”, He works through me to bring His love to others.
And it’s a constant battle of wills between me and “me”.
Today is a big day! My youngest son was scheduled to have his High School interview this morning. I was so not worried about it that I didn’t bother to tell him about the interview until yesterday, and didn’t tell him until 7 pm last night that he needed to complete a student resume for it even though I’d known about it for months. He and I worked on the resume for a couple hours, digging deep to include his awards, honors and activities all the way back to preschool.
This morning, I made sure he showered. He wanted my help in choosing what to wear. I wasn’t worried about the interview, so I hadn’t thought to check his closet for suitable clothes until an hour before it started. Come to find out, he had no clothes that fit him. Since he wears a school uniform, I mostly just see him wearing that or his pajamas. He tried on every decent, long-sleeved shirt in his closet and every one was too short in the arms. He decided on a short-sleeved polo, even though it’s 10 degrees outside, because it was that or nothing. The polo is light yellow and he needed an undershirt with it. We were rummaging through his dresser drawers looking for an undershirt, but everything was too small. Like way too small. There was even his vacation bible school shirt with the year 2009 on it. I had to go to my closet and have him borrow my white tank top.
Apparently I’m not a good teacher because he asked me again how to shave. He’s only ever shaved one other time, a few months ago. I had told him what to do, and kind of halfway demonstrated it without actually shaving my own face. Then I had gone out and bought him his own shaving supplies. But he hadn’t touched them. The bag of razors was still factory sealed. Not sure if my lesson this morning was any better than my lesson a few months ago.
I told my son what to expect at the interview. I told him he’ll be asked why he wants to go to high school there and what he would want his legacy to be. I gave him a heads up that he’ll have to pick a random question from a basket like “If you could go back in time and meet any person in history, who would it be and why?” or “If you found out you had 24 hours left to live, what would you do in those last 24 hours?” I told him I would be there with him, answering questions like, “What are your hopes and expectations from this school?” and “How do you see your child relating to the environment here as opposed to his current school’s environment?” My son was anxious, afraid of being rejected by this school. I was not nervous at all.
Phew, got him ready. But I was still in my pajamas, hadn’t even washed my face, with only a few minutes before we had to leave. I was not worried though, because although I wanted to look nice, I’ve been through this high school’s interview process two previous times with my older boys. I tried on a couple different outfits and settled on a sweater dress with leggings and my new boots. I brushed and flat-ironed my hair for the first time on a Saturday, did my makeup, brushed my teeth, and remembered to put on jewelry. Ready or not, here we come!
I drove 20 miles to the school, and we arrived five minutes early. Before we went inside, I reminded him to just be himself, be a good listener, respectful and polite, make good eye contact, and to just try his best. I told him it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” I suggested we pray before we went inside, and I started asking Mary for her intercession and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then we prayed a Hail Mary together. This seemed to calm him some, but he was still anxious. This is the first interview he’s ever been to for anything. He wanted to do well.
We walked into the lobby and several school personnel greeted us by name. Since my oldest son is a senior at this school, I know most of the faculty and staff. I was planning on small talk. I was planning on talking about how fast and well the past 3.5 years have gone for my oldest. I was planning on being included in the interview. But I wasn’t.
The president of the school directed my son to go with the Dean of Students for his interview and he directed me to the cafeteria for coffee and cookies while I waited. I was surprised and said, “He was expecting me to be with him. I told him I’d be there. I was there for his two brothers.” The Director of Admissions replied, “Oh we’re mixing it up this time!”
I sat down in the cafeteria and felt anxious for my son. I wasn’t in there with him like I told him I would be. I didn’t know how he was feeling or if it was going okay. What if he froze and couldn’t answer anything? What if he sneezed all over the lady interviewing him? And I sure wouldn’t have bothered dressing up or doing my hair and makeup just to sit at a table by myself in the cafeteria.
The interview was scheduled for 15 minutes, but he was brought back to me after only six minutes. Is that a very good sign or a very bad one? He didn’t even take off his coat! It was still zipped all the way up to his neck. He said by the time he realized he still had it on, it was too late.
Once in the car, he said there was no basket full of random questions, he didn’t get asked about his legacy, or any of the questions I had prepared him for. There were several other questions, like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “What do you like to do after school?” As he recalled the interview, he second guessed all of his answers and came up with a “better” answer that he “should’ve said” instead. He was disappointed. I told him he said all the best answers, the ones he was supposed to say, and that I’m proud of him.
On the way to lunch, he continued to express concern over the interview, even though everything he told me sounded just fine and great. His grades and personality are more than acceptable to get accepted to this school, but he asked what he would do if he does not get accepted. I told him he’d apply to another school. He asked what he would do if he got rejected by that school, too. I told him he’d have to go to public school, but I bet him $100 he will get accepted into this school.
As we arrived home, he asked if I think he’ll get in, and I reaffirmed yes. I told him the interview was probably just a formality, that they already know they’ll accept him. I told him that he will get in, and then he will owe me $100. He replied, “Hey, I never shook on that!”
When my kids were born, I was diligent (well mostly diligent, for the first three anyway) to fill out their baby books with all their firsts. Their first solid food, first word, first haircut, first step, and so on. But no one seems to care about the last times. There are no spots in the baby books for that. It’s hard to know when the last time comes, because you always assume there will be a next time. Until it’s been years and you realize there was never a next time.
When I was a kid, I remember watching game shows with my grandparents, making forts with furniture and blankets, climbing trees, playing hide and seek, swinging on the swing set in my back yard and at Karen’s, playing our tether ball (the only thing I was ever good at that involved a ball), digging in the dirt with my mom’s fancy engraved silver spoons, playing Atari (and then later Nintendo). I walked to the neighborhood pool where I would play pretend underwater tea parties, then eat cheese curls and lick clean my water-soaked and wrinkly fingers. I rode my banana-seat bike (The Praire Flower), played in the nearby creek, and caught fireflies (and took their lights out to decorate my arms, yuck). When I got older, around 13, I would sneak out of the house, out my bedroom window onto the porch roof, climb down a tree we aptly named the “bag-worm tree”, go pool hopping, egg houses, and hide from cops. Some “lasts” are a good thing.
But it all stopped one day. Not all in the same day, but over time, one-by-one, it ended. And I didn’t know to relish it then. Instead, I went on to the next thing, oblivious to the chapters of my youth ending.
I think about my own kids’ “lasts”. The last time I pushed my youngest in the stroller. I have no idea when that was. I didn’t know that moment was the last time she’d need that, the last time I’d get to do that. The last time my oldest reached up to hold my hand. The last time Joseph needed his stuffed animal to go to sleep. The last time I tied their bib or filled their sippy cup. The last time I gave them each a bath. The last time I played tooth fairy. And the last time I didn’t play tooth fairy because I forgot. I didn’t know I wouldn’t get the chance to remember next time.
But time marches on. Children grow, and adults grow older. Change is the only thing that stays the same.
Being an anxious person by nature, I have a hard time making easy decisions sometimes. I just want someone to choose for me, so I don’t have to decide. I wonder if that’s a way for me to avoid feeling responsible if the choice doesn’t turn out to be the “best”. I’m not sure, because to me there are so many “best” choices that it seems unfair and confusing to choose one “best” over another, and who knows how life would have been different had the other “best” been chosen instead.
Sometimes when I can’t pray, I mutter in my head, “Lord, Lord” or “My Lord, my God” over and over. But that makes me feel unsettled every time because I think of Matthew Chapter 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Then I think, “But I can’t do any better; that’s all I’ve got in my head.” But then again, maybe I’m just being lazy and I could do more. But it really does seem difficult to muster up anything substantial or sincere. So while the verse says not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven, maybe God would make an exception for me because I’m naturally deficient and not doing it out of spite or a lack of faith or love. But I don’t know, because it seems pretty clear that “…only the one who does the will of my Father”… But how do I know the Father’s will? He knows I’m not good with subtlety.
I’m anxious about discerning God’s will. I mean, how hard is that for someone like me who is a big-time second guesser? It’s a neurotic’s jack pot contemplating all the things God wills for me in every aspect of my existence 24/7. So I got this great idea in my head that I would fervently pray for God’s will for me to become my own will. I prayed and sincerely told God that He has my permission to transform my will into whatever His will is for me, to fill my will with His, to overshadow my will with His. How perfect would that be, if only God would grant me this — My will and God’s, the same! No more agonizing decisions, no more anxiety, no more regrets, because if my natural will is God’s will for me, then I can’t go wrong. It really seemed like the solution, that God fill my heart and mind with His will.
In the book, Searching for an Maintaining Peace, the author Fr. Jacques Philippe says “… this desire to know what God wants sometimes hides a difficulty in enduring a situation of incertitude. We want to be released from having to decide by ourselves.” He goes on to say that “…frequently, the will of the Lord is that we do decide for ourselves, even if we are not absolutely sure that this decision would be best.”
God’s will is for me to decide?!
God didn’t create us to be robots. God cares about our intentions. He knows our limitations and weaknesses. He is pleased to see us want to please Him, and He is certainly able to draw good from any error. I agree with Fr. Philippe when he says, “…we would love to be infallible, to never be wrong, but there is a lot of pride in this desire and there is also the fear of being judged by others. The Lord loves him… who abandons himself with confidence to God as to the consequences, rather than the one who torments his spirit unceasingly in an effort to know what God expect of him and who never decides.”