“I feel completely inadequate to do this. I am empty.”
Crying in a consultation room on the cardiac floor of a hospital in Austin, thus began my Confession with Fr. Francisco. As I accompanied my Dad in the fight for his life, all that had transpired in the five months before September 2017 was coming to an apex.
I was struggling to carry my cross. Visiting hospitals triggered high anxiety, and I was frequenting them while often alone with Dad. Modern medicine was a foreign language for this writer. My lack of patience reared up more readily as I was stretched. Caretakers and medical professionals seemed to care for a diabetic, cardiac, renal failure, wound care patient effortlessly while I wrestled with it. All I saw was what I lacked.
“This is what spiritual poverty means,” Fr. Francisco gently explained. “To be empty so that God can use you.”
Poverty. The world views that from the perspective of being insufficient and inferior. Our human inclination is to show strength through competency, knowledge, and activity. In the spiritual life, it is different. Our insufficiencies need not be obstacles, but opportunities for complete reliance upon God. It is God who supplies according to His infinite resources, regardless of our condition.
“From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace,”John 1:16
Out of a superabundance of grace, God extends us blessings and favor. For us to obtain it, we need to be in a posture of receptivity towards Him. If we hold on to our own will and plans, there’s no room for the Lord to pour out His grace to work in and through us.
The foundations of Christianity are built upon surrender. Letting go of that which we cling the tightest, our will, in order to become aligned with the will of God the Father.
“Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.Luke 9:23
Denying oneself can bring up those feelings of being deficient and inferior again. We cannot do what we want and must force ourselves to do what God thinks we ought. Christianity is a religion full of rules that impose on our freedom. But are people truly free if they allow their selfish desires and passions to rule them?
The notion of our freedoms being exploited by God goes back to the dawn of man. In the Garden of Eden, the Devil suggested to Adam and Eve that God was withholding something good from them.
“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.”CCC #397
Lacking trust in God’s goodness, this cuts to the heart.
Humans are often fraught with disordered compulsions to jump in and take charge, control, manipulate, make it happen, fix things, and go after all that we desire. This is not to suggest taking an unmotivated approach through life, but rather to embrace a more balanced approach between action and surrender, of doing and being.
While this may roll off the keyboard of a Type-A person like myself, don’t be fooled. My headstrong involvement, lacking in an eternal perspective, has hindered God’s plan many times. Trusting and letting go is so hard. Yet God even uses my sins and failing for His good. He’s revealed that much of my participation is accomplished through prayer, silence, listening, and waiting. Simple but not easy, these fundamentals continue to cultivate my trust in God. Then, when the doors open, I’ve been prepared and am more than ready to receive grace upon grace. And if I mess up, well, nothing is beyond God’s abilities to bring good from all things.
If we can stay in our roles as followers, we remain correctly ordered. It’s like riding the back of a tandem bicycle, peddling in the second position. We’ll only do it if we can trust the One in front to steer us safely to our final destination.
We can surrender when we trust.
One of my favorite books that I’ve mentioned here before is “I Believe in Love.” A passage that I frequent, to try and keep my feet set peddling in the second position, is regarding St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She received the promises from our Lord regarding Devotion to the Sacred Heart.
“Shortly before death, she had finally understood what he expected of her when he said to her, ‘Let me do it.’ ‘His Sacred Heart,’ she wrote, ‘will do everything for me if I let him. He shall will, he shall love, he shall desire for me and make up for all my faults.’
Like St. Margaret Mary, you may hear Jesus a hundred times a day, saying to you, ‘Let me do it.’ In your difficulties, in your problems, in all those things in your daily life which are sometimes so difficult, so distressing, when you ask yourself, ‘What shall I do? How shall I do it?’ listen to him saying to you, ‘Let me do it.” And then answer him, ‘O Jesus, I thank you for all things.’ And it will be the most beautiful dialogue of love between a soul and the all-loving God!”
“Let me do it.” Unlike the exasperated cry of a parent who is tired of you trying it your way, His is the gentle response of a Father that knows everything and wants to provide out of His fullness.
Jesus and Mary are models of perfection, in word and action, concerning this practice of surrender. Consider that their greatness was directly proportionate to the depth of the surrender they exhibited in every moment of their lives, embracing the Divine purpose and relinquishing their own wills to it. The following passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2825) further illustrates this point:
“Although he was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered.” How much more reason have we sinful creatures to learn obedience – we who in him have become children of adoption. We ask our Father to unite our will to his Son’s, in order to fulfill his will, his plan of salvation for the life of the world. We are radically incapable of this, but united with Jesus and with the power of his Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to him and decide to choose what his Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father. In committing ourselves to [Christ], we can become one spirit with him, and thereby accomplish his will, in such wise that it will be perfect on earth as it is in heaven.”
Unless we stay united to the Trinity, we’ll remain “radically incapable” of self-denial, surrender, and accomplishing the will of God.
Years ago, I attended a Youth Ministry event in Kansas City, Missouri, where I met Sr. Emmanuel, a young Nun with the Little Sisters of the Poor. In our conversation, she shared how God’s particular call was placed on her life and about her daily routine. I’ve never forgotten one of her simple daily practices. When she would wake up each morning, the first thing she said was, “Yes, Lord!” Every day anew, she gave the Lord her “yes,” demonstrating her willingness to surrender and fully embrace whatever He brought to her on that day. Sr. Emmanuel then prayed for the grace needed to follow through with her fiat that day. Such childlike simplicity, trust, and love.
Day by day, God gave me the grace to journey with my Dad until He called him Home. Amidst new challenges, I continue to pray for the grace to give God my yes and then follow through to the best of my ability each day. And I pray the same for you. We are not adequate by our own strength, so we must let Him do it. Free will is God’s gift to us. Giving our will back to Him allows Him to empty us, fill us, use us, and bless us.