Waiting, it seems to me, is a defining characteristic of the spiritual life. In my mid-twenties, I rediscovered God and eagerly adopted the opening verse of Psalm 63 as a recurring prayer.
“Oh God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.”
These words gave/give authentic voice to an aching for God in my heart that has yet to be fully satisfied. Still today, in prayer or simply in quiet moments, I echo the Psalmist’s words, and I wait.
In my early fifties, I endured a prolonged and, frankly, demoralizing period of spiritual darkness. While in the midst, I repeatedly called out to God for even a pinpoint of light to sustain me, but all that came was this familiar ache.
On the other side of that wrenching experience, I shared the details with my spiritual director. In frustration, I asked him why God had withheld consolation for so long. In his wise way, he quietly asked: “Have you ever considered that the aching in your heart was your pinpoint of light?”
Since that exchange, I have come to view the ache as my companion on the journey. Now, we wait together.
Upon the birth of a first child, someone among the new parents’ family and friends will most likely – and with the best of intentions – observe (about the baby): “It’s too bad they don’t come with an instruction manual.”
Parenting is indeed a learn-as-you-go proposition; however, looking back on our own steep learning curve, I wonder how Marianne and I may have benefitted from just such a handy tool.
When our youngest grandchild, Benjamin, was baptized, the administering priest, Fr. Raymond, used the opportunity to provide all in attendance with a strikingly beautiful catechesis on that foundational Sacrament. I remember leaving the church with the very clear conviction that Benjamin had just been “re-born” in Christ.
Thinking back to that joyful day, I’ve been doing a bit of prayerful reflection on what a post-Baptism “re-birth” instruction manual might contain.
If an instruction manual were to accompany a first baby, it would be written specifically for the new parents. A “re-birth” instruction manual, however, would be primarily for the baptized. Of course, if the “new creation” in Christ could not yet read or comprehend the manual, the instructions could temporarily be implemented by the parents and god-parents, but with the clear understanding that the new Christian must assume personal responsibility for implementation upon reaching maturity.
Please bear in mind that what follows is not intended to be comprehensive. These are just some of my “musings.”
Congratulations! You are a “new creation” in Christ. In order to experience fully the benefits of your transformation, please do the following, and repeat each step as necessary:
- Appreciate that, in all circumstances, you are loved by God beyond the furthest limits of your imagination.
- Know that you have always been in the mind, heart, and plan of God. And, at just the right moment in history, God purposely “spoke” you into the world.
- Recognize that God intends community among people and has deliberately woven us together so intricately that everything we do impacts the broader human family. You yourself are a communal being. Always keep this in mind.
- Confront, with humility and faith, the tragic reality of sin and its implications for you personally and for the world.
- Understand that, if you were able to conquer sin within yourself, you would have no need for a Savior.
- Always rejoice in the great Savior you have been given.
- Be grateful that God has gifted you with authentic power, significance, and freedom; but, also recognize that, because of these gifts – and the divinely-ordained communal nature of the human family – you must always act with discernment and love.
- Because all are sinners, you and your neighbors alike will often fail to perfectly carry out the instruction immediately above. Consequently, you will wound, and be wounded by, others. Never despair!
- Seek and dispense forgiveness liberally.
- Trust that God can bring good from even the greatest tragedy.
- Know beyond a doubt, however, that God never causes a tragedy to bring about a good purpose.
- At times, you may be tempted to see yourself as ugly, unlovable, a mistake, an inconvenience, a burden, a failure, a disappointment, etc. Recognize and absolutely reject these lies, which are designed to steal the truth of your identity and dignity in Christ.
- Cherish that God knows you intimately; and, rejoice that God wishes to be intimately known by you.
- Seek God constantly in prayer. And, when prayer is dry, persevere. And, when prayer is drier still, persevere further.
- Study God’s revealed truth.
- Recognize that God chooses to speak revealed truth through human agents; so, it is vitally important to discern the voice of God from the voice of God’s agents. Trust the Church’s guidance, as well as the noble work of scholars and theologians in these matters.
- Humbly seek a spiritual director to guide your journey in Christ.
- Appreciate that the created world is holy. So, when you observe the majesty of the mountains, the raw power of the ocean, the beauty of the night sky, or the miracle of a tiny wildflower, see God as their Creator, and know that God has perfected their beauty precisely for you.
- Richly and gratefully partake of the Sacraments of the Church, which heal, feed, and ennoble your interior life.
- Become an active member of a faith community. You will quickly discover that your gifts complement those of your brothers and sisters; and, you will experience life more completely.
- Be gentle and patient with your neighbors, who may be bearing a greater burden than you realize.
- Use your words to build up, but never to tear down.
- Make sure that your life of faith never deteriorates into an ideology that will set you at odds with your brothers and sisters.
- Learn to live serenely with things beyond your control, always trusting in God’s ultimate goodness and sovereignty.
- Share your time, treasure, and talent with great generosity.
- Listen, always, for the voice of God.