God sees both sides: What we present and what we hide
February 13, 2018
As a Catholic who later obtained a special education degree, I take no credit for the intersection of these two realities eventually becoming my ministerial life: to oversee the disability ministry for the Archdiocese. I lightheartedly compare it to when chocolate and peanut butter were “accidentally” combined.
Truth is, the trajectory of my life was never accidental. Every moment has been movement initiated by God towards my current destination. The illusion that I was in control of my life had me believing that I was choosing for myself what I needed most and wanted to accomplish next.
I share this because Lent is an ideal time to pursue more arduously the spiritual task of relinquishing our (false) sense of control and instead allowing the Spirit of God to lead us. The Spirit of God is love; the love of Jesus Christ. It is constantly available and is always life-changing. As Christ’s life was led by the Spirit, so too are our lives. We may be sent to places we desire not to go. We may even resist.
Yet, those are the places where our growth and blessings frequently increase.
Being a Christian means that we follow Jesus Christ. Our identity is rooted in his life, teachings, death and Resurrection. Striving to live according to His will, not ours, means living a life of charity and knowing Jesus to be the Incarnation of charity itself. This is not an easy process as being charitable conflicts with our selfish desires; in essence our sinful humanity.
Living in this tension is what the cross is about. Our actions are not undertaken aimlessly, though it can sometimes appear that way. There are motives behind our behaviors and the decisions we make flow from the values we embrace.
Becoming a new child of God takes a lifetime of self-reflection and ongoing attempts to respond as Jesus would.
Striving to live a life of love entails a commitment to learning more about the life of Jesus Christ through Scripture, prayer, Church teachings and involvement in faith communities to do so. Living our life first and foremost in relationship with Christ transforms our actions and responses so that they more “automatically” flow from His loving perspective.
Lent is an ideal time to pursue more arduously the spiritual task of relinquishing our (false) sense of control and instead allowing the Spirit of God to lead us.
There’s a story of a couple who took a break from yard work to run an errand. Inside the store the wife noticed how the back of her husband’s shirt had enough holes to be a fishnet. When she mentioned it to him later, he joked, “But, there are no holes in the front.” When it comes to our spiritual life, God sees both sides: what we present and what we hide. Becoming closer to Jesus does not mean losing our identity, it means embracing ourselves with precisely the love of Christ. In doing so, we come to see ourselves as vulnerably as we are already known by God.
Not many people enjoy taking a hard look at their shortcomings. Unfortunately, human nature can lead one to think too highly or too little of oneself. Both extremes have pitfalls. The majority of us land somewhere in the middle: exaggerating some of our strengths and weaknesses while being unaware of other important assets and liabilities. Embracing a more accurate self-awareness is not easy. It takes time, courage and abundant honesty.
Even if we have never reflected upon the obscure places in our hearts, they are always visible to God. Ignoring or denying the battles we wrestle with can leave us spiritually bankrupt and far away from God’s will for us. Jesus said, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones” (Luke 16:10).
We win or lose based on how we deal with the little things that come our way. Life rises and falls in the small moments. The Christian principal of love increases when repeatedly applied especially in the seemingly trivial matters of each day. Conversion is an ongoing process that will only happen when we make an intentional choice to follow Christ. Therein lies the first necessary step; a desire to want to live in God’s will.
Temptations that lead us away from our spiritual goals can come into our lives in subtle ways. Consider the following reflection questions, based on the seven deadly sins, for use during Lent, or anytime:
(Pride) Are you willing to let go of your desire to impress? How difficult will it be for you to avoid conversations that slander others?
(Avarice/Greed) Do you hoard material goods? Have you ever compromised your values for the sake of money?
(Lust) How willing are you to avoid movies and reading materials that utilize explicit sexuality?
(Anger) Do you ever manipulate others with your anger? Does self-righteous anger leave you feeling superior?
(Gluttony) Do you continue to eat more food than you need? Do you drink, spend, or so on, to excess?
(Envy) How do you distinguish between authentic needs and unessential wants?
(Sloth/Laziness) How does a negative attitude help you to justify lack of involvement and irresponsibility?
We will always be tempted, even Jesus was tempted. Though He did not sin He showed us how to battle temptations. If we do not make an effort to resist temptations, they will gain ground and steal our peace. The gift we receive from owning the dimly lit places in our heart is the key to unlocking the person God intended us to be: one who has the ability and desire to love; first ourselves, then others.
Love is not the end it is the means by which we seek to bring about Christ’s love in the world. The Spirit of love is always leading us towards more love. Letting go of our own imagined desires opens us to receive the desires God has for us, which is a life blessed with grace, hope and of course, more love.
Charleen Katra is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.