Life is difficult. I don’t remember the first time I uttered these words, but my Gramma Rose always did. I don’t remember saying them because I was only about four years old when I first lamented about life to Gramma. I can only imagine what would have been so difficult at that age – my parents limiting how many cats I could have, or not letting me keep them in the house, having to share with my big sister – ahhh the plight of a toddler.
My Gramma never forgot those words I had once told her, though, and as a kid, I never understood why. Out of all the silly things I came up with, why was that what Gramma Rose remembered? Now that I’m older, I’m finally beginning to understand. Gramma always said those words to me with a smile, but behind that smile there was a woman who knew all too well just how difficult life could actually be.
Instead of telling me I had no idea what a difficult life looked like, she offered a smile that will never leave me; a smile that spoke volumes I didn’t have the ears to hear at four. A smile that now, I remember with more understanding. It contained the knowledge that sugar and spice and everything nice wasn’t all that made up a girl. There would also come pain, and heartbreak and troubles that I couldn’t have imagined. Yet through it all, I always knew I had Gramma’s understanding smile to remind myself that even though life may be difficult, God is always good.
Seeing God’s goodness through the difficulties is not always easy – and with that statement I win the gold medal for stating the obvious! For me, seeing God’s goodness in the midst of my pain is the most excruciating cross to bare. I know He is there, I know He wants me to come to Him so that it is not a cross I bare alone, but I also find myself wanting to wallow in my pain, wanting God to feel sorry for me so He never lets me feel that way again. Yet there is also a beauty, a Divine opportunity, that comes with life after The Fall. Jesus, who knows all too well what suffering feels like, invites us to an even deeper relationship with Him in the midst of our own personal road to Calvary.
To fully receive the intimacy that our Divine lover wants us to feel, we must trust Him, abandon our will to His, and love each other through the darkness that will eventually lead us into His Light. Taking our relationship with Jesus to the next level requires a complete and total surrender to God’s Will for our life; the Will that provides the road map to the home waiting for us in Heaven.
It’s at this point I feel it necessary to share a secret with all of you – surrendering my will to God has been the biggest struggle in my relationship with Him. So I’m still working at it too, but I’m humbled knowing that my struggles, and my desire to be the saint God wants me to be, can now be offered up as a sacrifice for the greater good of not only my own salvation, but all of yours. It’s time to travel down the road to our next step in this journey – trust and abandonment to the heart of our Beloved. I’m praying for all of you sisters, let us begin.
At a Catholic Young Adult conference I attended not too long ago, one of the sessions offered was about silence. As you already know from stories past, silence and I tend to be enemies, so I knew this was the session for me.
As I listened to the speaker give some great advice and enthusiastically took notes on his words that spoke to my soul, I looked forward to the promised Lectio Divina. If you are unfamiliar with this beautiful form of prayer over Sacred Scripture, it is the reading, meditating and pondering over God’s word in the Bible, spoken to us in our lives.
The speaker used Mark 4:3-9 for Lectio Divina that day:
“Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”
As I heard these words, read aloud the first time, I struggled to understand what God wanted me to hear through them. This is usually the case for me, so I wasn’t discouraged, knowing that God would come into the conversation in time. After hearing these verses the second time, I was given a very clear message; God wanted me to focus on the thorns. More specifically, the thorns in my life keeping me from Him. At that moment I knew, in order to obtain intimacy with Jesus, the intimacy my entire being so desired, I needed to identify and cull the thorns in my life that were choking me. I needed to abandon the fear that the garden of my heart was so overrun with weeds that it wasn’t worth saving. I needed to allow the Gardener who, with a loving hand, would make the soil become rich once more, rich with the love of the the Spirit.
So often when we hear this parable I think we tend to focus on the need to be rich soil. But what if you’re not? What if you find your heart and soul filled with thistles and thorns, what if those thorns have been growing so long they are filled with blossoms, that from a distance may look like a beautiful flower? What if you have been watering the thorns for so long, you don’t know how to stop, fearful of what the soil of your soul actually looks like, terrified that you could never possibly become fertile ground once more?
The next step in falling in love with Jesus, descending into His warm embrace, is reflecting on our lives, our day to day choices, identifying the thorns and killing them without pulling the good seed too.
Identifying the thorns that we’ve allowed to flourish may cause a few scratches; for some of us, finally culling the thorns may lead to deep cuts, but if we unite our sufferings with Jesus, and the suffering He endured and knew all too well for our sake, we can find that even the deepest wounds and the darkest scars can give life to true beauty, and ultimately, true and lasting intimacy with God.
Identifying the thorns in your life may initially seem like an easy task. I think we all have things we know we succumb to that keep us from God. Right off the bat I see the time I spend on my phone, my over-consumption of social media, and the other things I allow myself to be distracted by at the top of the list. Those things are easy to be aware of and easy to identify. The problem is, some of the thorns in our soil may look like flowers to others, and even ourselves. Just identifying the thorns at the surface won’t help us to kill them, we need to get to the root of the problem.
When I look and reflect on my own life, it’s very evident that a lot of the things I busy myself with are distractions, distractions of an absolute jerk. That jerk’s name is Satan, and it’s about dang time I stop dating the Devil. Why would you want to answer the door for a self-centered prideful looser when you could save yourself for an absolutely stunning man, whose desire is to give you the sun and the stars, the mountains and the oceans, and an eternity filled with beauty and happiness you can’t even begin to imagine?
I invite you to take the time to reflect on your own garden. If the Sower came today, ready to plant, what would He find? I think most of us would find at least a thorn or two, or maybe two thousand, but that doesn’t mean you are too far gone. There is no soil that God’s infinite mercy can’t fertilize. We just have to let Him. One step at a time, one decision at a time, we need to allow God to work in our lives, and most importantly, we need to be willing to let go of the thistles.
When I look at my life, I see so many thorns, so so many. I think back to the parable and realize, I don’t know that the seeds would even be able to hit the ground, they would get caught up in all the mess. How then, am I supposed to get those thorns out without compromising the goodness that God wants for me?
I look to my use of electronics and social media. Maybe each day I find a way to not let them distract me. At night I can put my phone on airplane mode and set it across the room instead of next to my bed. I can still have my alarm for the morning, but I’m not distracted by what might be going on in cyberspace when I know I need to say my nightly rosary and get to sleep.
I can fill my shelves with good books, books about Saints who have already won the battle against Satan, or books by other Catholic authors who want to help us get to Heaven, so when I’m “bored” I go to a book instead of Netflix. I can invite a friend out for coffee or over for dinner, talking about what’s going on in their lives instead of just liking a status. I can schedule time to pray throughout the day so I can re-center my focus on what really matters instead of trying to find the best craft or recipe on Pinterest. Simple little steps that can make a big difference in my spiritual well-being. Simple, but not always easy.
I guarantee you, I still go on Facebook more than I should and I succumb to scrolling through Instagram for the millionth time instead of picking up a book. I don’t give up, though, when I fall victim to the Devil’s distractions, and neither should you. It takes constant effort to tend to a garden; the garden of our soul is no different. Time, love and effort are needed to create a masterpiece; a manicured soul takes exactly the same. Good and proper spiritual direction can also help with this. I had an unfortunate experience in college but having a spiritual director can be a wonderful gift and a powerful tool in growing towards deeper intimacy with God.
I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of the distractions we are faced with today make us feel inadequate. We live for the “likes” yet when we have the opportunity to show someone we actually like them – by spending time with them, many of us choose not to. Or worse yet, when we are with other people, we pay more attention to our phone than we do to the company we are with. This sends a clear message to those around us – you aren’t worth my time and attention.
I think we have become so used to being able to show only the best of ourselves on social media that we fear what will happen when we actually spend time with someone. We won’t be able to hide all our flaws from those around us, so we put up a wall of false advertising and don’t want to let anyone see through it. How can you be truly happy if you’re living a lie?
You need to be honest with yourself, and I am going to be honest with you right now – You are worth loving. Right now, at this very moment, just the way you are, you are worth loving. Jesus thinks so too. This doesn’t mean you are perfect. I’m not saying that you should wallow in your vices and never try to improve yourself. But your worth doesn’t depend on your physical appearance or the zeros on your paycheck. You aren’t more or less of a woman because you are married or single, or a mother or not, or any of the million other things we find about other women to compare ourselves too. Your value in the eyes of God doesn’t change based on your mood, or if you ate ice cream when you promised yourself you were only going to eat salad today.
Jesus loves us regardless of our flaws because His love isn’t dependent on anything that we are, but rather, on everything that He is. This is a reality I have always struggled with, but when I finally accepted it, what a relief. I didn’t find myself being complacent with all my faults, I found myself wanting to be better for the Man that loved me so much. Instead of condemning myself for my flaws, I suddenly became so focused on Jesus that all I wanted to do was to become what He saw when He looked at me – complete.
That’s the beauty of good relationships, they make us want to be better. They make us want to be the person that our partner sees in us. What Jesus sees when He looks at you is a beautiful woman, a woman His Father created for a purpose. A woman who can set the world on fire with her tender heart, someone who can love others in a way no one else can, because she was made unique. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy 30:19:
…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse, choose life…
When I read this verse I hear God speaking so much more than just words. My heart is stirred at everything that “choosing life” entails. In the same way that our biological life involves a wide array of molecules and cells all making up our body and working together, choosing life in our hearts comes with many facets. It’s as simple as taking the time to help someone pick up their things if you see them drop something, or as emotional as hugging your mom before she heads out the door on the way to the hospital to have brain surgery. Its letting people know you care about them in a variety of ways, from a smile offered to a passing stranger, or holding your tongue when someone is trying to pick a fight. It’s loving your neighbor as yourself even when you don’t want to, because how we love others is a reflection of how we love God.
Abandoning our will to God, having a flourishing garden in our soul instead of an overrun ramble of thorns gated off from the rest of the world, may be one of the hardest things we do, so why not do it together? Many hands make light work – hey that’s why my mom had 9 kids (ok, maybe that’s not why)! Think of how light your work, your burden, could be if you let other helping hands in. We can do this by choosing life, by choosing to love, and becoming the helpers we were created to be, but we must also let other people love us.
Think of all the thorns that could be removed from your garden if you chose life every day. God is the source of life, so that choice means choosing our Father. It means willingly being part of a family – the family of God. A large part of the dynamic in a family revolves around love – loving others and allowing yourself to be loved. This is modeled for us perfectly in the Trinity, – Father, Son and the outpouring of their love for each other – Holy Spirit.
As difficult as it may seem to allow Jesus to have an intimate place in your heart and conform your will to that of the Father, love, and the life that love allows, is what gets us to that place. Allow the Trinity to consume you in Their love, open your heart to the fruits that that love will bring. The garden of your heart can bloom with an overwhelming amount of joy and grace if you allow the Master Gardener to pull away the thorns – you just have to let Him.
Taking your relationship with Jesus to the next level doesn’t have to be scary. Over and over again in Scripture we are told to be not afraid. What is it in your life, what thorns are you still cultivating, that is keeping you from abandoning your will to that of the One who loves you? What difficulties are blinding your sights and shifting your focus from life to death? Take some time to think about those questions; really think about them. What may seem like a flower, may actually be a weed. Ask God to help you find the thorns, and allow Him to help you get rid of them.
Choose life every day and ask Jesus to help you get back up if you stumble. He will be waiting there with open arms. Don’t be afraid to let yourself fall for Him, because when you do, your whole life with change. Let yourself be loved. You, beautiful woman, are so worth it. Don’t believe me? Go take a look at the crucifix. Those arms are outstretched waiting to embrace you every time you decide to come home.