Through all of these years of personal growth and letting go of control, I continually fall into an illusion that I can somehow perfect life by always doing the right thing. Time and again, I’ve had to realize the trap I’d fallen into and slowly, intentionally return to a place of surrender and rest in God. Part of acceptance is learning not to shame myself for this pattern. Instead, I try to be gentle with myself and return to the mindfulness techniques of prayerfully letting go of my thoughts and allowing my feelings to come and go.
I recently finished Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which I marked up extensively! Reading it, I a similar feeling that I had when reading Ronald Roleheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Merton expresses such simple but profound truths about the human condition and our relationship to God. One quote that I highlighted with an “Awesome!” comment in the margin was: “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God,” (p. 128). This reminds me of when Rolheiser said “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, p. 20)
These simple statements ring with such truth in my experience! The further I stray from God and being mindful of His will and ways, the more I focus on myself and strive to perfect the world around me (as if it was within my power to perfect anything!). Merton also says:
In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.No Man is an island, 120.
God is so mighty and righteous that our feeble minds scarcely can conceive of His greatness. There is a deep peace that only comes from recognizing God’s perfection and our relative weakness. Our society generally sends a message of self-actualization that, while attempting to empower us, actually intensifies our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. We cannot do it all, have it all, or be it all in this lifetime. Recognizing our limitations and resting in God’s provision for us brings such peace.
Merton describes this concept of Christian humility as “first of all a matter of supernatural common sense.” He goes on to explain that “it teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are.” I love this! I find such irony in the fact that embracing my limitations, weakness and sinfulness provides the peace and security that the world fails to impart through self-esteem and self-empowerment. Merton concludes, “If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God.” Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we discern God’s will in our lives. He calls us to act and fulfill vocations within His kingdom, so we clearly have to do more than simply rest! Being present and really seeing the people around me is the best way I know to love and serve them. Prayerfully maintaining this supernatural common sense that reminds me of my neediness for God, also allows me to extend grace and love to others.