God draws straight with crooked lines — which is damned inconvenient as far as I’m concerned. It’s impossible to say to someone, “Thanks for being God’s tool in my life by being such a jackass.”
That’s probably overstating the situation, but hyperbole effectively communicates the way I’m feeling at present — wryly aware of the way in which God used someone who failed to meet my expectations. Adding another layer of irony — or perhaps subtly — to the situation is my awareness that i also failed to meet this individual’s expectations, which undoubtedly contributed to their disappointing choices.
My thoughts arrived at this conclusion this morning because I was irritated with myself for failing to properly assemble some cheap bookshelves yesterday. I’m usually pretty good at the task because I’m experienced. Since moving into my current apartment alone, I’ve successfully assembled three sets. But, yesterday, my mind was on other things.
I was thinking about the spiritual director with whom I am no longer working. I approached her last week about terminating our relationship because we never prayed together and because she rarely — if ever — made a scheduled appointment. She would cancel at the last moment, telling me she would contact me about another time, and I wouldn’t hear from her for weeks. Eventually, I’d contact her and we’d get together, but little occurred in terms of spiritual direction at these meetings.
I think she had difficulty dealing with the fact I am unemployed. In October, I attended a retreat at which God opened my heart and I experienced a complete sense of surrender. I sat in front of the Blessed Sacrament with tears streaming down my face, repeating two words: “Anything, Lord, anything.” In reflecting upon the experience later, I thought God might be renewing the call to religious life, and told him I would go if he would take care of my student loan debt. (Religious orders want women, regardless of their age, to come unencumbered by debt.)
When I tried to talk with my spiritual director about these things so we could discern together what God was doing in my life, she said, “You have to come down off this mountain and get a job.” Through long hours of prayer, and a couple more powerful experiences of the heart, I eventually discerned that God had opened my heart in order to bring healing into my life and to create in me a clean heart, one that was not hardened by difficult life experiences and the shame of poor decisions, one open to doing his will.
Of course, yesterday, I wasn’t thinking of these things. I was pondering the possibility of giving my former spiritual director a little advice. Instead of paying attention to what I was doing, I was trying to find a gentle way to tell her not to agree to serve as a spiritual director to individuals if she didn’t have time to meet with them. Good intentions, I wanted to say, don’t help someone who is in need of reflective conversation. I also wanted to suggest that she pray with individuals when she meets with them.
With my mind wrapped up in these matters, I failed to notice that I hadn’t lined up a plastic peg with the hole into which it was supposed to slide. Before I knew what had happened, the peg broke. I spent the next half hour trying to figure out solutions to the problem. Eventually, I decided I would nail the two sections together, but one of the nails didn’t go in straight and i ended up splitting the shelf. I was incredibly irritated with myself for making a mess of such a simple job.
This morning as I was thinking of this, I realized my spiritual director was like my mom some ways. Mom has achieved the stature of sainthood in the minds of those who knew her because she died young, had numerous friends and was active in the community. Those with whom she shared her life missed her desperately after she died and tended to forget her human fallibilities.
The truth is that I couldn’t count on my mother — for the things that mattered to me — any more than I could count on my spiritual director. Just as my spiritual director was focused on me getting a job, and didn’t think the pilgrimage of the heart to which God called me was important, my mom was focused on trying to make me into her image of the perfect daughter.
She wanted me to be popular, an extrovert with boyfriends; I was a socially-inept introvert. Her advice — which felt like criticism — only made me more self-conscious and inhibited about normal human interaction. I used to hide in the closet to read; the only thing my mother read was the daily newspaper after supper in the evening. I didn’t show her my drawings or the poems I wrote because she would mock me in front of her friends when they had coffee together. I also couldn’t share my excitement about my academic achievements with her, because she believed guys didn’t like smart girls and would encourage me to spend less time studying.
In thinking about these things this morning, I realized I’m a big girl now — and I’m not talking about my physical size. I mean I realized I have allowed my mother’s lack of support to set the course for my life. When I was working to build an art career in the 1990s, I felt guilty for doing so and gave it up when the opportunity arose to do something my mother would respect. Granted, I only see this now. As recently as yesterday I would not have been able to explain why I gave up my art career. I only knew that I did and that I regretted it with a heartsick sense of having betrayed myself I could not explain.
So now, because I assembled a set of bookshelves poorly, because I had been thinking about a spiritual director who failed to actually provide spiritual direction, I know this truth. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Hopefully, with God’s grace, this truth will set me free to do the work He calls me to do with the gifts He has given me.
And, hopefully, the three or four faithful readers I have will hold me accountable and remind me of this when they notice I have forgotten.