Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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When the time is right and the soil is ready

God’s grace is often given when I least expect it. A couple of weeks ago I helped facilitate a retreat for women who have experienced homelessness and who are in recovery from addiction. (Read more about the Ignatian Spirituality Project.) I entered the retreat as a facilitator, hoping to be of some assistance to the women on retreat, but I also participated in all of the exercises myself. In that space of mutual openness, with God and with the other participants, I received an unexpected gift of healing.

Much of the retreat involves deep sharing, getting in touch with our fears and woundedness, and sharing them with the group. It’s both a daunting and a liberating experience. Even though I have written a bit on my blog about my experience of my mother’s struggle with alcoholism, and the subsequent healing I’ve experienced, I still find it hard to speak about it out loud. But speaking is freeing and makes room for greater clarity and a new perspective to emerge.

Listening to the group of women share openly about their struggles with addiction and the effects on their family life, particularly their relationships with their daughters, was a revelation to me. They spoke lovingly of their daughters but also admitted that they hadn’t been the mothers they had wanted to be. Their sharing spoke to a part of me that I realized hasn’t yet fully healed. As the women shared their stories, I began to see my own life story and my relationship with my mother in a more complex way and with greater compassion. Elements of my mom’s struggle became clearer to me and I could better understand the pushes and pulls she must have experienced. In the words of the courageous and beautiful women on retreat, I heard my own mother speak to me. Words that I have longed to hear.

The retreat was short, only a couple of days, but it gave me the gift of deeper healing and it has shown me that there are still some tender spots in my heart where my mother’s memory resides. Two weeks from now, on May 7th, will mark 15 years since her death. So much has happened in that time. My life has gone through many changes and I wish she were here with me, but I know that every act of healing is a reconciliation that brings her closer to me and me to her.

Every act of healing also reminds me that I am known and loved by God. In knowing and loving me, God offers me many opportunities to grow, to be made stronger, and to respond with love and gratitude. As we are on the cusp of spring right now, God reminds me, too, that healing is like the tender new life that emerges from the soil when the time is right and the soil is ready.


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Bearing Fruit

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I would like to follow up on a post I wrote earlier this year about being a child of an alcoholic. I wrote then about seeking transformation – shining a light on old wounds and allowing them to be healed. I am happy to report that I am making progress. It’s not quite the instant transformation I was hoping for, but a slow and intentional one.

I began meeting with a counselor in the summer. At first it was really awkward and difficult. Who wants to dredge stuff up again with a stranger? And I also worried that I was being self-indulgent. Things weren’t that bad. I can handle it on my own. It’s self-centred to be so focused on myself and my struggles.

But the more I think about it, and the more I see the counselor, the more I recognize how necessary it is. It’s necessary for my discernment, and frankly, necessary to live happily and healthily. I find it hard to put into words eloquently (I’m reduced to a cavewoman-like “Be me better: love more.”). Luckily, Anthony De Mello, SJ says it for me (again, taken from Seek God Everywhere):

…the child needs to receive love. That is what is happening to us, since so many of us are still children. We need to look after the child in us; we need to give ourselves the love we have been deprived of for so many years. Unless we realize that, we will jump into love with others in a forced and strained way. If I sacrifice myself for others, that is the most pernicious thing I can do because there is a subtle pride in that; there is a kind of resentment. I am not a cheerful giver. I am tinged with guilt, with an ideal. In reality, I do not love you, I love the ideal. When our needs are met and we have grown, the tree bears fruit. Love comes spontaneously, we do not produce it. George Soares said to us once: “The New Testament is against good works. Christ did not say, ‘I am sending you out to do good works,’ but said, ‘I am sending you out to bear fruit.’”

I am beginning to bear fruit – at this point I feel like a small wizened Rudolph crabapple, but in time I will be majestic.

*****

Also, I’m learning that it’s important to balance the serious with the light so here’s a video of Stephen Colbert living out my dream! Doing the whistle solo on Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard!!!


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distracted, impatient, and restless

I have been feeling very distracted lately.

When I try to pray, either my own personal prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours, or even at Mass, my mind struggles to stay focused. After a few brief quiet moments, my thoughts go off on a tangent and I get caught up in something unrelated to what I am trying to mediate on. I begin to notice whether I feel hot, cold, anxious, tired, energized, bored, alert, or restless. I’ve been feeling restless a lot.

Part of it may be a sort of spring fever feeling – I want to get up and move around and enjoy the sunshine whenever it’s out. I’ve taken up running again, and even though I’m sluggish and out of shape, it feels like such a gift to be outside and be alive.

But part of the restlessness is also related to what I am trying to pray about. I am still praying for healing. It’s hard. Even though, by the grace of God, I have made progress and I generally feel much lighter and freer than when I began, I know I still have a long way to go. My triggers still trigger anxiety and insecurity (confronting my negative self talk is on my current ‘To Do” list). And I feel impatient to just “be healed” once and for all and never have to worry again.

I met with my spiritual director yesterday and talked to her about this feeling of impatience. She laughed with me about it and could sympathize. As we talked, it became clear to me that God isn’t using the lightning rod method of healing with me because there’s more that I will learn from the slow and steady route. I think God wants to give me gifts that can only be received this way (even though it’s not my preferred route – instantaneous would be fine by me!). Perseverance is the key.

I desire so much to understand, really understand, what my life is about – what it is that I am called to do on this earth. It seems so hidden from me. Sometimes I feel like I am on the brink of understanding. I get a tiny glimmer, and a sliveriest bit of meaning, and then it’s gone and I am back to my usual restless self, sighing and impatient.

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My candidacy director has given me a book about the Catholic faith to make sure I know the basics before beginning the novitiate next year (although frankly each sentence of ‘the basics’ is a world of theology unto itself). For someone who has gone to Mass quite regularly throughout her life, and went to Catholic school, I am realizing that there is a whole lot I don’t know about the Catholic faith. I was probably taught more than I recall, but I can’t seem to retrieve that information from my memory banks!

Happily, this means I’ve had plenty of “eureka!” moments as I have been reading. And no doubt this is helping me along the road to understanding myself better (and my restlessness), understanding Jesus (and God) better, and opening me up to understand what it is I am called to do in this life. These passages have been roaming around in my mind for the past few weeks:

“Again, let us remind ourselves, Jesus was not putting on an act, or doing something extra. He was merely acting as a creature should act. He was simply open to the ever-present gift of his Father’s love. He let it enter and empower his every thought, feeling, word and action. It was what kept him alive: ‘Doing the will of him who sent me…is my food’ (John 4:34).

But if Jesus is already the perfect loving child of the Father, why did he have to die?

Because giving up one’s life is the total gift. Anything else would be less than perfect. There is nothing greater to give than life.

So Jesus had to give up his life because there was no greater way he could show his love of the Father. He had to give up his life because anything else would have been a lesser gift, and he wanted to do the perfect human thing.

But there is another reason Jesus had to die. He came to a world lost in sin. How could he save the world? By showing it how God acts in the face of hatred. God refuses to be vindictive. He wants no pound of flesh. He wants only to forgive, to heal, to reconcile.”

****

“No wonder we shy away from the cross. Our problem is not that it is painful, but that it is too great a sign of love. We do not love that way, and we are embarrassed when God does.

Our life of faith, it would seem, is a gradual coming to accept the unbelievable tenderness of God.

– Leonard Foley, OFM. Believing in Jesus: A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith.

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My mind has also been taken up with thoughts of seeing friends and coworkers when I am in Ottawa this week. I am really looking forward to spending time with people I love and miss.