The other day I was washing our fruit bowl and this caused me to realize how tremendously patient, merciful and humble God is in His relationship to me. I am quite slow to have things really sink in. He is masterful at teaching, though.
The fruit bowl was a wedding present. I was 31 when we married, so I'd already lived on my own for a decade. Unwrapping all those gifts, I noticed a sharp difference between all this fancy stuff we got and the old, random junk I was used to using for daily living. Somehow, because of these gifts, an arrow of intuition shot through me that told me marriage was ultimately about being called to serve others. Not just my husband and presumed family, but the great social beyond. I didn't really have any social beyond at the time. So this intuition was like a nudge, telling me a different life was ahead.
Looking back I see that I treated this nudge at the time sort of like one treats a waitress who comes by after dinner and says "Would you like dessert, or maybe an after-dinner drink?" It's an interesting prospect, and maybe it makes me feel momentarily enthused, and maybe I even respond positively, but the bottom line is, it's all about whether I want extra goodies added on to my goodie-laden experience or not. What will please me?
The other day I held this bowl and I realized how much my life has revolved around that question: What will please me?
Oh. So that's where all of my unhappiness has come from.
God is not opposed to our happiness -- that's a stupid notion, though one I wrestled with for years. God absolutely is all about our being happy. (Here's proof.) In fact, He's really the only one who knows how we get there. It makes lots of sense for us to pay heed to His direction if we are serious about wanting happiness.
But we have this stubborn thing, this intentness on staying attached to our own plans for our own happiness. It's a sort of entitlement sense, I suppose, this cry, however buried, that insists that we have the right to our own happiness, our own way. We're sort of right, except for that last part. If we don't surrender to God and His way, well, we can kiss that chance at happiness goodbye as we get all the more frantic at trying to make it happen ourselves. It's that whole "He who loses his life will find it, and he who saves his life will lose it" thing. Heads, you lose; tails, you lose.
Here's an illustration from my life. Shortly after we got married, I really wanted to become an RCIA catechist. I had my almost-finished Masters in Theology degree and my plan that I entered grad school with -- I was going to go teach people and save the world. What better thing to do than to serve God and His Church, right? We even changed parishes so that I could do this. I slogged at it for five years. I made a lasting friendship with the then-director, but for the most part I was a lousy catechist. I mean, I tried my best, and didn't teach anyone heresy, but my efforts were like a lot of chaff flying around.
There was some value to trying to serve God the way I wanted, but the value was mostly in me seeing how ineffective it was. I thought it would please me to live out this vision of me "serving God."
A few years later, I actually felt called by God to step up for music ministry in my parish. This was not my vision for myself, and I was hesitant at first. But later, ohmygosh, I was so happy. Amazing things happened. God started blessing me so much it was almost like being high. It pleased me very much.
Just over a year ago, the Lord asked me in no uncertain terms to put it all back in His hands. And I did. This was all an interior experience of prayer. It was actually like another degree of high. But nothing changed on the outside. This year, God has broken in again far more profoundly in ways only He can with this most disturbing question: What pleases you more? Spiritual consolations, insights, revelations, favor, healing.... or obedient service to Me?
Who is this about?
Who is the One all worthy to be pleased?
Who do you love more: yourself, or Me?
You know that it is God posing choices like this to your soul when you need to actually stop and consider it. And really, really wrestle with the desire to yell, "Me! I really only care about me! What about meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?"
That's a good time to revisit the facts about God being the author of all that is, and the only one who really knows our path to happiness.
There is a losing that is gaining. You gain everything. All the good stuff. You just have to trust Him enough to die.
To die to the question What will please me? and instead ask, What pleases You, Lord?