Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Stories of Our Lives

Someone recently slapped me back to reality and helped me realize the curious way I look at the world. We all need a friend (or even an enemy) to do that every once in a while, eh? These kinds of realizations are certainly the most painful, but also the most meaningful, because as prideful, fallen human beings, we do not want to be told that our paradigms are misguided. It takes a great amount of courage and humility to look at ourselves objectively and to honestly consider the reprimands (or, even rarer, compliments) offered to us by our family and friends. Ultimately, it is up to us to decide whether or not to implement their advice.

As an English major and bookworm, I love words and stories. So when funny little things happen to me during the day, I subconsciously fit them into a story in which I am the heroine and all events in the plot of my life revolve around my character. Although this is amusing to some extent, it can quickly escalate and morph into a selfish and manipulative activity.

My so-called story goes like this. I am a rather shy and quiet sophomore on a residential campus. I dress somewhat conservatively, don’t party, and hang out with a very small and specific group of Catholic and Christian friends. At the moment, I don’t feel called to the religious life, so my only other options are single life or married life. Since none of the men on my radar have given me the slightest romantic hints, and I had better darn well quick find a man before I graduate college, I should probably prepare myself for the single life since it is by far the most logical turnout of events. After I graduate college I’ll go to the University of Minnesota, or, if I’m lucky, the University of Malta to study some more English and hopefully get a Master’s degree in something useful. Then, if I am not married by then, I will live by myself as a freelance author on a small rural farm, supporting myself through my writing and raising all the farm animals my parents would never allow me to have. I will teach piano lessons and hone my crafty skills of drawing, cooking, and needlework. It will be a nice, quiet little life. End of story.

Perhaps making up stories about myself is fine, but I often find myself creating little plotlines for my friends and family too, trying to figure out how their lives will end up and how their stories weave into mine. What will happen to my little sister when she comes to college next year? She will major in Music and Spanish, travel around the country and possibly the world with the college orchestra, and will have no trouble finding a nice man since she is a hundred times more pretty and likeable than I am. What will happen to my senior friend when he graduates this spring? He will work all summer long to get money to pay off his student loans, slog his way through the seminary for 6 to 7 years, and then go back to Alaska once he’s ordained a priest, and I will probably never see him again.

I have come to realize that I have spun a story, or a script if you will, for almost everyone in my life. But no matter how you analyze it, it all boils down to wanting a sense of control. The funny thing is that this puts me less in control than I ever was, because when things don’t go according to the script, I become completely thrown off-course. Perhaps my senior friend will drop out of seminary his first year and go to graduate school instead. Perhaps my sister will never date a man in her life, become a doctor and go on to medical school. Perhaps I will fatally slip on the ice this afternoon and die before any of this happens.

But how these events occur, or even if they occur at all, is not the point. The point is that I am wasting a lot of mental energy on the future, which technically does not even exist. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that all of our worrying and planning is really a subtle way of being our own God.

One of Satan’s most effective tactics to distract us from the present battle is by coaxing us to dream about the future or dwell on the past. But a good soldier does not think about tomorrow. He does not allow himself to long for the safety of the past in the midst of combat. He is completely focused on the task at hand, taking every day, every hour, every minute as it comes to him, trusting that a higher power will supply the grace and the ammunition.

This is how we can truly live: not shackled to the mistakes of the past, not entranced by the shimmering cloud of the future, but enjoying and loving each moment as it comes to us. It is hard, because we want to know what’s going to happen next. We want to maintain a death grip on what we think we know, and to release that grip takes a very deliberate act of faith, a choice to surrender every day, or every minute, to the loving providence of Jesus. This is not a one-time altar call where we tell Him “All right, Lord, this is all Yours now,” and then expect that everything will be uphill from there. Trust, surrender, and faith are all daily choices. There will be challenges, some of them almost unbearable. We will be distracted, discouraged, and disillusioned nearly every minute, but we can also make an act of faith and offer it up to Jesus every minute. And He will always take it. Nothing is too much for Him, and He is so eager to help us. I can’t imagine Jesus ever saying “You expected too much from me.” 

Finally, to put a nice scripture cap on this epistle of a post, let us remember the beautiful words of comfort Jesus gave us in the sixth chapter of the gospel of St. Matthew:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”


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