A month or so ago my Mom was recounting to an acquaintance part of our family’s history, I listening in. It was the part of the story that took place when I was thirteen or so, when my Mom was asked to take over direction of the religious education program at our parish, then a large one with Liberal-Fluff-leaning factions. She and my Dad hesitated over the decision, but finally agreed to take the job for a year, feeling that God was asking it of them. It was a hard year for our family, both because of the time my Mom had to take from home to organize and run the program and because of the persecution we received from those who felt that things like Confession and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist had no place in a Catholic religious education program and we should all just sing some nice songs and talk about belonging to the Family of Friends instead. But the following year was much harder. A few months before my Mom resigned the religious ed. job, my sister’s vague anxiety problems exploded into full-blown OCD, and our family was thrown into mental-health chaos for many months. I was old enough to comprehend some of my parents’ pain then, and more afterwards: their sense of abandonment and helplessness, as if God were no longer running things; as if He had responded to their generosity by leaving them to their own devices.
On hearing the story retold, I could not help comparing it to my own experience of a year and a half ago. The two-month walking pilgrimage I made with a friend of mine was a very different thing from my Mom’s running the religious ed. program—no one asked it of me, for one thing—but it was the same in that it was something I felt I must do for God, even though I could have refused; and it ended likewise in chaos, confusion and pain, when the depression I had been stubbornly ignoring for years exploded in my face, leaving me unable to do the very thing I thought He had asked of me.
Someone said recently that when you respond to God’s call, He blesses you, and sometimes He blesses you by taking away the very thing you were doing for Him. Even St. Francis, before he died, had to watch his own order being taken over by others and changed to fit their ideals. I think it is because He wants us not to be attached to anything, even to His own gifts, but only to Him, because to be attached to anything else is to refuse to share it with Him, and He wants to share all, even the pain of our disappointment. “God is a jealous God,” said Rich Mullins, “and He will not share us even with our best ideas about Him.” We will keep trying to stuff Him in a box, and He will keep gently taking the box apart, to our confusion. “But I worked so hard to build that box, Lord; can’t You just fit Yourself inside?”
In nine days I am going back to school, a decision I have struggled with all summer, not because I was afraid it was not His will—I knew it was—but because it meant letting go of the idea of going on pilgrimage again, which I had clung to through all the months of my depression. Ironically enough, such clinging caused me to all but forget the very thing my pilgrimage experience had most taught me: that God will provide for every need of body and soul at the appropriate time, and in His way, if we trust Him. Financial worries, health worries, and fear of failure were my main excuses for not wanting to go to school, and I clung to them with all my might, lest in trusting about these things I should have to trust also that God knew what He was doing with my life. Three days ago, on the feast of Saint Clare, the words God will provide came back to mind in force, compelling me to trust that this venture too will be all for Him, and as He wills; that even if I fail as I failed before, the failure will be for Him. My friend Chiara must have been pulling some heavenly strings. Thank you, dear.
And, ye readers: pray for me.