The saying that God is a God of surprises is often quoted when life takes a direction that has neither been planned nor anticipated. As I begin the 21st year of writing this column and my third year as a columnist for the Liguorian, I can attest to the truth of that statement.
Writing was never a profession I’d considered, so when I was asked to write a column for The Catholic Virginian, my immediate response was, “I can’t do that. I’m not a writer.”
I was working for Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia at the time, and in celebration of the 2000 Year of Jubilee, the executive director, Margie Robertson, and Charlie Mahon, editor of the diocesan newspaper, decided that penning a column on everyday spirituality would be a good way to highlight the year.
Since my graduate degree was in formative spirituality, I was deemed the likely candidate. After a bit of cajoling, I finally agreed to what I thought would be a one-year commitment. Little did I know that it would open doors for me that would set my life on a very different trajectory — a blessing that I have come to appreciate only in hindsight.
The fact is that God knows us far better than we know ourselves. When life happens, occasions or events that are sometimes perceived as a challenge can be a blessing when we trust God to guide the process.
Like many lessons learned, they are often recognized only in retrospect, but that, too, is part of God’s plan. When we are mindful of our limitations, we are more apt to trust in the grace of God rather than rely solely on personal skills and ideologies.
One of my early spiritual directors cautioned that if my life was going exactly as I planned, there was a good chance I wasn’t being open to the Holy Spirit. His words remind me of another pearl of wisdom, which is the adage, “Let go and let God.”
Admittedly, I remind myself of this on a regular basis because it’s easier said than done. Letting go is not so much about non-attachment to material possessions, but about letting go of perceived limitations, ideologies or hurts that keep us from being open and trusting the Holy Spirit.
The beginning of the new year is always a good time to take inventory of our spiritual progress. With the holidays over and the weather conducive to staying indoors, why not pour a cup of coffee, or tea if you prefer, and have a fireside chat with God. Hopefully, the following questions will offer food for reflection:
1. How has God has surprised me during the past year or years?
2. What challenges did I encounter that turned out to be blessings in disguise?
3. Have I been surprised by what I was able to accomplish when I trusted God’s grace?
4. Has the experience led to an increase of faith and trust in God?
5. Am I clinging to hurts or misunder standings? If so, can I give them to God?
6. What can I do to better let go and let God direct my life?
You may wish to journal about the questions or simply take them to God in prayer. Either way, we can be certain that God will speak to us in the stillness of our heart. Only God has the power to heal and help us keep things in the right perspective.
No one knows us better than the One who created us. When life’s challenges loom before me or when the path before me is not always clear, I take comfort in a prayer Thomas Merton wrote:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself. The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
“But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have the desire to please you in all that I am doing. I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
“Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”