Ever since I dropped some packages off at the post office and the postal worker handed me a receipt for $6.66, and I looked at him and him at me, until finally he said, “I didn’t want to say it out loud” and I said, “Well, I am mailing religious books, so take that Satan!”...well, ever since then, things have gone incredibly awry. I will spare you all the horrible details that fell somewhere between the $600 cat surgery and the dead guinea pig, but let’s just say that I must be doing something right because someone down there is not happy.
Being a soldier of Christ Jesus is not for the faint of heart, my friends. Some days I wish I had chosen to become a soldier of anything else...like a soldier of lattes...or manicures…or sleep.
Sitting at my desk while trying to fight off all of the useless questions we like to ask God in times of suffering, questions like, “Why?” and “How long?”, I pulled up the first video for the Living in the Father’s Love Bible study, The Beauty Of A Childlike Faith. In this video, Lisa Brenninkmeyer lists three childlike qualities that God desires to see in each of us. I was most drawn to the second: Having confidence in God, trusting that only He can do what we cannot.
So, let me ask. Do you? Do you trust that He is in control? Are you confident that He has a good plan for you? When the ground is falling out from beneath your feet, do you trust that God knows what He is doing?
I’d like to think I have a firm trust in the Lord. I’d like to say that my confidence is not in myself but all in Him. But then...the cat’s ear blows up and I find the guinea pig hard as a rock and everything starts to crumble around me, and well, suddenly the obedient Christian life is not looking like such a great fit for me!
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever gotten to the end of your resources?
Have you ever looked at the path the Lord kept calling you to walk down and thought to yourself, “Good grief, Jesus, can I please get a new path? Or at least a scooter?”
Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you pray, how dedicated you are to being a servant of God, you are the one who continues to draw the short stick?
It is hard to have a childlike faith in the midst of the battle. Staying confident when the storms of life seem to pound and pound to no avail can feel unrealistic and impossible. And as I found myself in this place of doubt, I recognized that unless I physically move, I will remain spiritually stuck. So I took a walk down a long paved path, praying the sorrowful mysteries each step of the way. And I asked the Lord to please conform my will to His. I begged that He remove the doubt and desire to self-rely, and that I would have a firm trust in Him no matter the outcome; that I would still love Him just as much as I do on the mountain top as I do in the desert. That should He say “no” to my prayer, I would continue to say “yes” to whatever He chooses, out of love for Him.
Because here is the thing. When God chooses, He chooses from an eternal perspective. And I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to wrap my head around that. But I have just enough faith, sprinkled with a good amount of grace, to know that this is a leap worth taking. A true and free gift from God. I am able to accept this; that He has the bigger picture. Not me. And if He does not give me what I ask for, it must be for my good. That this very cross I want to lose is actually my bridge to Heaven. And as hard as this can be to understand, I simply do. Because if this isn’t true, well then, none of it is.
As I neared the end of the path, a vision of Simon of Cyrene came to mind. Simon was the man compelled by the Romans to help carry the cross of Jesus. He was pulled from the sidelines observing, and took action by positioning himself under the cross with Jesus leading the way. I’ve heard many a reflection on this encounter—usually pointing to the theme of discipleship, stewardship, and helping others carry their burden. But, for the first time, a different image came to mind. This time it was not Jesus asking me to go out and help carry the load of another, but very specifically, He was inviting me to help carry His. How could I not step in and help Jesus carry what was meant for me? How could I not suffer under the weight of my cross when He already did? How could I not offer to share in the suffering when I am the one who caused it in the first place? This image completely changed my perspective. What looked impossible to carry only moments ago now looked like a gift. A walk that began in anxiety and doubt was now completed in confidence.
If your confidence in yourself is stronger than your confidence in God, ask yourself: What path of obedience is God calling me to that I am afraid of? Then offer up your need to understand. Say, “Here you go, Jesus. Here is my heart. It is weak and it is imperfect, and sometimes, it is as hard as my dead guinea pig. But here ya’ go, it is all yours.” Make no mistake. This is not giving up hope. This is saying, “I love you so much that I am willing to say “yes” to whatever you choose because you choose from an eternal perspective, and you always choose what is good.” This is how we become like children. This is how we remain confident when the storms of life rock the boat. This is how, compelled by love, we get off the sidelines and take action, positioning ourselves under the cross and walking the path of obedience with Jesus leading the way.
I might have signed myself up for something really stupid or totally life changing. I won't know for sure until it is over.
I, Laura Phelps, a gifted rambler, lover of my own personal space, and unwavering in my belief that without my presence, my family will fall apart, will be attending a three-day silent retreat. I will have no cell phone. I will share a room and bathroom with a stranger. A complete and total stranger with whom I cannot speak.
What on earth was I thinking?
Here is what I was thinking:
I am a spiritual mess and I never stop talking. I am co-coordinating a WWP parish program, traveling the country to speak about God and what He has done and continues to do in my life, and writing on the side. Simultaneously, I am striving to be a good wife and mother by setting a holy example of Catholic marriage and parenting-while feeding the dogs, cleaning the guinea pig cages, and buying large crickets because a bearded dragon was exactly what my life needed.
And I am failing, sisters. I am stretched thin, utterly exhausted, and drowning in the chaos. What is making me even crazier is the fact that I have no idea if I am following God's will in all these aspects of my ridiculous life. Am I doing what God has called me to do? I think I am because everything on my to-do list is gift wrapped in ministry paper and tied with an evangelizing bow. But just because I have said yes to a million and one things that point to Jesus, does not mean Jesus was pointing to me while handing out the million and one things.
Feeling totally confused, and knowing confusion comes from the enemy, I recognized the spiritual danger I was in and did something stupid. I asked a priest for spiritual direction. What I thought was going to amount to a one-hour meeting with him every Tuesday morning, where I'd bring lattes, we'd pray on soft couches, and he'd find me both holy and hysterical, turned into me agreeing to and registering for a three-day silent retreat.
I cried about this to my friend last night. “I am already dreading it. What have I done? This is so not the time for me to leave my family! I want to throw up.”
She responded in her typical, gentle way by asking, “Have you asked the Lord if it is His will for you to go?”
Now, I love my friend. But seriously? Have I asked the Lord? What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I asked the Lord!
Okay. So I didn't ask the Lord. But here's the deal. Do we really think if I asked the Lord, “Hey, Lord...I have this opportunity to let go of everything, sit at your feet, and give you my undivided attention for three whole days where for the first time in...oh, I don't know...maybe in forever...I shut my mouth and listen to You. Is this something you would like for me to do, Lord? What was that, Lord? You'd prefer I stay home and continue to believe that I am in control of everything and that I should never stop talking at You because that's been working out so well? Okay, great-thanks. Phew...that was close! Almost made a mistake and went on retreat!”
Not by coincidence, in my struggle with the Lord's invitation to leave my family and go on a three-day silent retreat, I found myself praying with the story of Jonah-a story titled Disobedience and Flight. I read how Jonah fled far from the Lord when He asked him to set out for Nineveh. Jonah hopped on a boat ignoring God's will and tried to get as far from Him as he possibly could. I closed my eyes as I pictured the violent winds that hurled upon the sea. I imagined Jonah waking up in the hold of the boat and, upon hearing the mariners ask, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God!”, recognizing what he had done. The storm was the consequence of his disobedience. Jonah asks the others to throw him into the sea, and as they do, the seas calm. You would think that Jonah was going to drown but he doesn't. Instead, the merciful Father rescues him. “For the Lord sent a large fish that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:1)
Invitations from the Lord can be so hard to receive. But you want to know what's even harder? Fleeing from them. What is the Lord asking of you that you are running from? Where is He inviting you to go that has you jumping on a boat, sailing far away, and going to sleep? Perhaps it is time for you to accept the Lord's invitation. To rise up, call upon your God, and silence the storm.
Now if you will excuse me, it is time I jump off of this boat and quiet my own chaos. Once afraid that my family would drown without me, I am realizing that perhaps this retreat is the very thing that God intends to use to save us. And isn't that just like the Lord? Just when I think I am in over my head, He sends a large fish.
Silently praying for you from the belly of the fish,