“God’s gift is often not what we expect. And sometimes it takes time to grasp that what we are experiencing is a resurrection. …And it’s usually difficult to describe, because it’s your resurrection. It may not make sense to other people.” (James Martin, S.J., Homily on Luke 14:25-33)
Later this morning, I will finish my morning devotions and block out a new painting before immersing myself in what I consider to be the business of each day — job hunting. But right now, I need to tackle the difficult task of setting out — as much for myself as anyone else — the way God is working in my life.
It’s a resurrection, I think, or maybe a return of the prodigal daughter, though a nearly inexplicable return. Inexplicable, and requiring me to stretch the way in which I usually think about the parable (Luke 15:11-24), because it’s not really a return to God; my journey of faith has been central to my life for a very long time. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there’s ever been a time when I wasn’t aware of my relationship to God. During the dark years, I found comfort in the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11); surely if the anointed of God could do what David did and be forgiven, God would forgive me when I got my life back on track. During my spiritual but not religious years, I tried to live with a generosity of spirit that reflected an awareness of God in all things.
Once I returned to the Catholic Church, my life was about consciously living my faith. Two mystical experiences shaped that way of being. The first occurred over ten years ago when I went to the church to pray. I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice say, “It’s together we’re the body of Christ.” When I turned to see who had spoken to me, I found myself alone. The other happened two years ago at the diocesan women’s retreat in Custer. As I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic Adoration, I was so infused with a sense of God’s love for me that I could do nothing but surrender without reservation. I sat there, saying over and over, “Anything, Lord. Anything. Anything, Lord. Anything.”
In thinking about the latter experience, I am always filled with wonder. In 2006, five years earlier, my confessor had given me the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Charles deFaucauld for penance, and I had incorporated it — with great reluctance — into my daily devotions. “Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will,” it begins. At the time, I was in shock at a breach of trust that had altered my whole life, and interpreted that to mean I was willing to continue being victimized by others. And yet, something in me knew surrender was necessary if I was to grow in my faith. I lived in that neverland of confusion for a very long time, knowing I needed to surrender, but fearing that surrender equally as much. And then, suddenly, in a heartbeat — without conscious volition — it happened. I was like a feather cast upon the breath of the Spirit, entirely willing to let God’s will be done in my life.
During the past couple months, I have been given glimpses of the way God has worked in my life. Even that breach of trust which turned my life upside down was revealed as God drawing me into a more intimate relationship with himself through human hardship. While I can’t pretend to understand the full sweep of God’s action in my life, I do know this: that he has been at work bringing me to this point where the desire of my heart is an inchoate longing to be a co-creator in shaping my life. I see now ways in which I was like the prodigal son, squandering the gifts he gave me, but not necessarily through licentiousness. Setting aside my art career to help a floundering nonprofit, for example, was not necessarily immoral, except for the toll it took on my spirit. But, I have made too many decisions like that over the years, too many decisions in which I tried to be someone other than the person God created me to be. What an abominable waste!
And now, because I have wasted so much, I find myself facing the future with little but serious questions: Where will I find the financial resources to meet my obligations? Can I find meaningful work at my age? Will I be able to find a decent and affordable place to live? Will all of this come to pass before I wear out my welcome with Sara and Brodie? Each day, my work is to address those questions, primarily through job-hunting. Sometimes fear threatens to overwhelm me, though. What will happen if I can’t find a job? If I can’t pay my bills?
Prayer is my life raft at those moments. I find myself appropriating the prayer Pope Francis suggested for the Church: I ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the renewal taking place in my life. And it is a renewal, a new beginning, an opportunity to use the gifts he gave me. Through Ignatian spirituality, I am learning to see those gifts differently than I did in the past, when I cast them aside with little consideration for what that would mean. Like the prodigal son, who cried out as his father ran toward him, “I am not worthy,” I am acutely aware that any good that comes into my life at this point is entirely undeserved. But, I have to believe God would not have placed this longing in my heart or created these circumstances in my life if he did not intend to allow me to come home in a deep and profound way.
That knowledge has been the fruit of my surrender.