Thursday, July 21, 2016

I Want Things My Way

A couple of times in recent years, I have felt God speak strongly to my heart.  It seemed He wished me to do something --- but I failed each time.  Looking back, I know I tried to do His will, but MY way.  I saw the problems placed before me, and resolved to fix them --- in my way.  But my way, judging by the results, was not His way.
This gift that He has given us, of freedom, is a most difficult gift to use properly.  It’s like getting a toy train and running it in the middle of the highway.  It will soon get crushed; it was not meant to be used that way.  Often gifts come to us with instructions; too often we don’t read them.  The problem is that we think we know how to do things, but we don’t.  “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” 
How easily we forget.
This morning on the radio the news was all about a politician speaking: “I want things my way, and I will do things my way.”  And then he spoke even further:  “And you should do things your way, too.”  And then in my mind I heard echoes of something similar I had meditated on last week, about the ‘60’s, and how the world then began to say:  “You have a right to do your own thing” --- and I recalled where THAT has gotten us.
 I have no doubt that the politician was speaking from his heart, in freedom.  Perhaps He thought He was doing God’s will for him --- as I did in the past.  Perhaps he thought: “listening to your conscience” was the same as “Listening to God’s will.”  In my personal experiences, however, (as I sadly referred to above) I often find that in trying to do God’s will I do mine instead.  Instead of trusting in Him, I trust in myself.  I presume I know the mind of God completely, and I forget: “But if that were true, that would make me God, wouldn’t it?”  And I am not.
Scripture says: “Go out and proclaim the Good News.”  Note that it says it is not OUR Good News, and also note that it clearly does NOT say: “Go out and condemn the bad news.”  No, the key commandment in the Gospels is to love your neighbor --- all your neighbors.  Each of us is created in the image of God; there is NO ONE whom you cannot speak of in love, even those who won’t do things our way.  Over and over again, we are reminded: “Do not judge,” for if you do, you are saying “I’m better.”  But as a recent Gospel said, only God is “The Better Part.”
I wrote recently how God seems to have put in my heart a perception of His heart:  the world is using its freedom in the wrong way; it is choosing to be The Prodigal Son.  Everyone is choosing to do “his own thing, in his way,” and not the way the Father taught them.  And my heart is heavy.
It seems that each day I hear more things about how far astray the world has wandered.  A study says that 80% of Catholic kids leave college --- after learning the ways of the world there --- and never go to church again.  It reminds me of the Judas Goat, the one that leads the lambs to the slaughter in slaughterhouses --- that seems to be the role of our colleges today.  It also reminds me of the recent political events surrounding an FBI investigation.  A radio commentator noted that it used to be that in Ethics classes in college you were taught to avoid even the appearances of impropriety.  Now they teach you that you must not be caught.  And in light of the recent FBI findings, perhaps THAT will be changed to reflect that getting caught is okay, as long as you can avoid prosecution.  That’s our country.
One of the Bible Study guys commented last week: “There seems to be so many television shows these days focused on saving the world.  Whether from zombies or crazy animals or global criminals or aliens: someone must save the world!  It’s like our view of our country today:  75% of the people say we are headed in the wrong direction, but no one seems to know the right direction.  We are just lost.  Someone needs to save the world.”  He stopped short of saying how those shows end:  Someone says “I know the way.”  At the end of every show there is someone saying “I know the way.”  And I thought about that politician speaking last night, and of each person saying “I want to do my own thing; I know the way.”
It seems so silly that we can’t see what’s happening.  Imagine if the cardinals elected a new pope, and afterward a cardinal came forward saying: “But that’s not who I wanted, so I won’t follow this pope.”  I think we would all say: Well, who do you think you are?  You did not elect that pope alone, AND you prayed for God’s help in the selection (or at least you mouthed the words).  How DARE you say you won’t follow!  But when a politician says the same thing, many in our country, our culture say: “Right on!!  We have a right to do our own thing,” and vote (again) for whom we think is best ---- and if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll say that is US.  We’d all vote for ourselves to lead, and there would be chaos.
But that is where our culture and our country largely are focused:  “We have a right to do our own thing!”  Our family is wrong, so we won’t talk to our siblings.  Our church is wrong, so we’ll choose another.  Our company is wrong, so we’ll sue or leave for another.  It’s as if we’re back in the Garden of Eden:  Our God is wrong, so I’ll do my own thing.  We seem to have forgotten --- or have been taught to forget --- the good things of that sibling, our family, our church, our job, our company, or our country.  We judge:  if one thing is wrong (not as I want it), it is ALL wrong.  There is NO good there.  But God teaches unconditional love, even of our enemies.  There is SOME good in everyone, everything, and we must love THAT, even if there are bad things there also. 
I recently saw that movie, Spotlight, and how Pope John Paul II gave Cardinal Law a prized position after he had failed the people of his diocese in Boston --- and I thought that was wrong.  I recalled how Pope Benedict XVI punished priests “accused” of wrongdoing, without any due process --- and I thought that was wrong.  And I see how Pope Francis seems to be making light of homosexuality and divorce, and I think that is wrong.  Those are things I think, but I recognize that they are what “I THINK”, not God.  Perhaps He has a bigger plan in mind than I, or perhaps it is just that these popes are men; they fail even as I fail --- often.  I will not judge them as men, NOR as popes.  I will choose to love them and follow their leadership, with the Church, knowing that the Church and MY WISHES are not the same.  I must lead my life as best I can, following God’s will as best I can, but I can’t lead the Church nor my siblings nor my city nor my country.  That is not for me to do, but as a community of peoples, I will join together with my neighbors as best we can in those groupings.  And we will love our neighbors, even if they are not perfect.
So then, if we shouldn’t forcefully judge others in the use of this gift of freedom, how should we use it to act in a way we sincerely believe, especially on important matters?  What now, Lord?  And I recalled a novel I recently read.
The mystery novel begins with a woman at a neighborhood block party.  Her thoughts are interrupted by a small child who walks up to her and asks: “Can I have so soda pop?”  In the book I read that the first thought which came into the woman’s mind was: “she didn’t say please” --- the child didn’t act as the woman wanted.  But she trudged to the kitchen and got a pop for the child, and as she turned to give it to her the child said: “No, I wanted a cherry pop!”  And then the woman burst out loudly: “Who do you think I am, your mother?” And the child was shocked.  And then the woman thinks to herself: “Wow!  Where did that come from?  I need to apologize.”  And so she turns to give the cherry pop to the child, ----- but the child is gone.
And the child is never seen again, by anyone.  Years later the story picks up with the woman remembering how, in some unintended way, she caused the child to disappear --- because she so wanted things her way.
In recent weeks I’ve caught myself reacting just like that woman, irrationally angry at others because they didn’t do things my way.  These compelling thoughts, of wanting to change the Church, wanting to change politicians, wanting to change the world, were put into a proper perspective when I read that mystery novel.  Acting out the way WE want things can have many unintended consequences beyond US.  Wanting to change the world?  Heck, I need to be honest, it’s much easier --- and perhaps more important --- that I change myself, and stop judging others and the world because “I want things my way”.
The great insight I believe the Holy Spirit recently gave me, to see the world as it truly is --- and how sad God is with it --- was followed in a couple of days by another insight, which eased my anxiety somewhat:  the first thing I must do is to do as Jesus did (and said):  Love my neighbor, the one not across the world or in Washington, but the one right in front of me.  That is the most important thing I believe God wishes me to do.
But then why did He give me those deep insights into the larger problem in the world?  Did He not open my heart to these things for a reason?  Well, I don’t believe He speaks anything to me without a reason, but as I began this posting, I remembered that I had strong insights such as this in the past, after which I chose to go off and create MY solutions to the problems --- and I failed.
This time I’ll consider/pray more deeply on how my thoughts --- and, I pray, God’s thoughts --- are leading me to respond.  But in my heart the path seems clearer:  “I don’t want to do my thing.  I don’t want the world to be as I want it.”
- - - - - - - - - -
Again this morning, parts of my Morning Prayers seemed to emphasize these matters to my heart, but perhaps none more so than these words from the mass:
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.  Grant us peace.


  1. St. Francis heard Our Lord say, "Francis, repair my church, which you see is falling down all around you." So he began repairing the walls of San Damiano.

    Only in retrospect can we see the true call. It took centuries to implement. Francis only saw the beginnings of the result of his work while alive on earth.

    But can you imagine the state of the world and the Church in those times that God should say such a thing to one poor little man trying to follow Him; a young guy seeking His will? The Church was falling into ruin. Everybody could see it. Everybody knew it. Some with power imposed their will to fix it. But not Francis. He admitted he had no idea how to fix it, and no power to do so anyway.

    He fixed it not by conceiving of solutions and implementing them, but by being a tool in God's hand, because the problem was so big and so widespread and so complex only God could fix it. So Francis simply did in the world what God told him to do. And it probably didn't make sense. How could a little guy living in the forest with five other guys change the world? What possible impact could he have by just living the life most closely imitating Christ he could think of? How could simply practicing the religion to it's most exacting standards in places most people couldn't see it being done make any difference at all to the orchestrations of all the worldly kings and powers?

    Francis didn't have to know the answers. He only had to do his part. Only his part; not God's part. It's like a guy working construction. If the boss says pour a one inch concrete slab, he pours the slab. If the boss says put a layer of gravel on top of it, and pour another two inch slab, he does it. Because presumably the boss knows the plan, and the worker implements it, and doesn't need to know the outcome except in the most general terms.

    We grow up being problem solvers. We learn solving problems is rewarded and we get trust and power based on how well we do. We like that. It feeds our pride and self esteem. It's well earned. But sometimes, we begin to believe we're supposed to be the boss in all situations and not the worker. We don't trust that God has "got this." We actually think we are supposed to fix what we cannot fix, what no one can fix but God. When He tells us what to do to help fix it, for instance through Our Lady at Fatima, (pray the rosary, do the First Saturday devotions) we don't believe it and don't do it. We just don't see how that is going to help.

    And so it goes.

    (cont. next post)

  2. (cont. from last post)

    If you ask me, God is driving you down a path to see very clearly the problems faced by the world and the mess it's in so you get to a point where you realize your own helplessness and inadequacy in the face of it, and in your frustration and overwhelmed state you throw up your hands saying "I CAN'T DO THIS!" (And He says, "No kidding.") :-) THEN He can use you. When you stop trying to build the roof when He told you to pour concrete, you become useful to Him. When you let Him be the boss, then the work can begin.

    St. Francis went about his business praying and working in the forest, practicing the religion, minding his own business, the business God gave him to mind - only that. With the Faith of that one man and his little group, God changed the world. GOD changed the world. Not Francis. God.

    Tom, I love how you so willingly and openly share your journey with Our Lord. I connect so much to your struggles and insights. I'm sure your writings here are only a shadow of your life and how it goes, but know there are many workers out in God's fields, seeing what you see about the world, worried about it, and pleading to God to fix it. Even if we are so few that others would laugh at how powerless and little we are, and how hopeless is our goal, what do we care? God bends down and crooks His ear to hear our little voices; the pleadings of his little children. I am absolutely confident "He's got this." Will we do our part in His plan, even if it seems stupid and useless? Will we?

    Thanks for posting here Tom. I get consolation from what you write, knowing you are working hard for the Kingdom in your own little corner of the world.

    God bless. ~ Fran
    P.S. Another long, wordy response to what you write! Hope you don't mind.

  3. I liked your PS: a wordy response to a wordy post. It certainly is all right.

    These thoughts are not simple to put in words, and in trying to describe what I perceive, little bits of more concrete things give partial description to these subtle thoughts. There don't seem to be simple words to describe my thoughts. I once read where a scientist commented on various scientific theories: He said if the formula is simple, he is sure it is closer to the truth, like E=MC squared. The truth of creation is, at its core, simple. God is like that, so we use words like Truth and Love to describe Him, which are probably closer to an accurate description than any creeds.

    I'm glad you understand my ramblings, Fran. I do enjoy your comments.