Let Go

[I wrote this back in 2013 and never posted it because it felt unfinished. Well, too bad. Here it goes….]

Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only great hardship will bring out the truth. Only under hardship does he discover it himself. ― C.S. Lewis

After I gave a talk on discerning one’s personal vocation the other day at a local high school, I was speaking to a young man I’ll call “John” about his personal journey of faith. He shared with me a really stirring story and so I asked him, of course, if I could share it with others for teaching purposes. He kindly agreed.

He loves to act in plays, is a sax player in a jazz band and wants to be a playwright one day. He was telling me he had tried out for a particular play last year that he was very excited about, but did not get the part he had really wanted. He said,

When I found out who got it, I was totally depressed and felt that the guy who got it just was not the best pick for that part. I knew I could do it SO much better. Yeah, it may have been true, but I knew it was pride talking. I was mad and took it personally.

I had prayed to God to help me get this part before the final selections were announced, but after’s a different story. I was so upset I just quit praying for a while. I was like, God if you’re gonna dis me I’m gonna dis you. One day, a girl friend of mine sent a text to me saying she was really sorry I didn’t get the part, that I deserved it more than so-and-so, and then totally trash-talked him. That made me feel bad for this dude and I just lost it. Ashamed of myself. I saw that my attitude was shallow. It wasn’t fair to him. He worked hard, he got it. Fair and square.

And then I prayed. I said something like, “God, whatever, ok, so look, I want what you want. If he’s the best man for this, so be it.” God and I were cool. It was a total God-thing. I was feeling 100% at peace. I’d just let go of it all and felt so much better. And then you know what happened? Freaking craziest thing ever. It almost spooked me. Like 20 minutes after I let go of it all, and God and I were good, I got a text from the play director saying: “John, because [the other guy] can’t make all the practices now, you get the part. Congratulations.” I was like FREAKING losing it! Are you kidding? I was so happy, major endorphin rush. But I knew right away: God, man, you made me wait till I could accept what-was-what before you’d give me what I wanted.

That’s how I saw it, at least. God is so cool. Yeah, it’s really a small thing in the scheme of things, but it was big to me.

Unheard of maturity for a 17 year old. He held in his hand one of the golden keys for discovering God’s will, the sine qua non of discernment. As I noted in my journal at the end of this story:

If you can’t see God’s will in the present moment, right where you’re standing, and embrace it then and there, you’ll never discover it for the future. You can’t receive it.

This is why in the Our Father, which is the model for all prayer, the first three petitions, all in the present tense, require an unconditional embrace of God’s will: “Thy Name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Only after saying “we accept” are we ready to ask-seek-knock for more in the last four petitions: “Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.” Before I can receive tomorrow’s sacrament of divine Providence, I must first worthily receive the sacrament of the (real) Present Moment.

Many years ago when I was struggling to manage the grave responsibilities of my full-time graduate studies, full-time employment and full-time family, I fell into a rut and became obsessed with looking for an escape-hatch. I started quietly searching for other job opportunities and began to think about what kinds of jobs I could get if I quit school. In this fantasy, everything seemed so much better! I went to my spiritual advisor and shared with him my alternative plans, certain he’d see my impeccable logic. He listened patiently, and when I was done explaining my plans he said:

Tom, you already discerned this path you are on. Carefully. Your wife discerned it with you. There’s no more discernment. This is a temptation. We can discuss how to make the specifics more livable, get more support, trim out fat in your schedule, but bolting is not the answer. You’ve set your hands to the plow. No turning back. Once you know the path, your prayer is not: God, grant what I ask! Your prayer is: God, grant what you ask. Give me all I need to be faithful.

I wrote in my journal that night:

Damn! I hate when people pop my fantasy bubble. When he said that to me, it was like shingles fell off my eyes and I saw the temptation. Fear of the cross. Fear of commitment. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of reality. Funny, counter-intuitive, but after he popped the bubble, instead of deflation I felt a rush of grace fill my soul to strengthen my commitment. Like Quikrete was poured in my soul and immediatly created a solid core. The grace I received did not say: “I freed your shoulders from the burden,” but “I strengthened your shoulders for the burden.” Whoa.

When it’s tough in the “now,” when Today offers me a bitter sacramental Host, my character’s mettle is really tested and laid bare. And it ain’t pretty! Thank you, Lord, for loving my mess and building my temple out of scraps and rubble.

Three years later, when I faced a final temptation to abandon the journey, God would re-infuse that same grace when my wife seized hold of my tie, looked me in the eyes and said: “You were made for this. Be a man.”

Grace in my face.

My grandfather wrote to me in a letter back in late 1987 after he’d heard I’d broken up with the girl I thought I would marry. Here’s a few snippets:

You have to be able to find peace within you and not rely on circumstances. Even in a war zone, your soul should be a sanctuary. If you can’t find peace here, now, inside, you’ll never find it anywhere. If you ain’t happy now, you ain’t never gonna be happy then …“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.”  … But you must choose this. God has made you Captain of your own destiny … “If only” is a declaration of defeat. If you don’t see opportunity where you are, in every moment, no matter what’s going on, you won’t ever see it … You only get to keep what you’re ready to give up. You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t have what you aren’t ready to let go of. The tighter you squeeze water in your hands, the faster it drains away. You see, it’s all free, Tommy, and it’s all meant to stay free. You got to take it like it is … This is a secret to living from this old poetaster, gained from his almost 80 years of life. It’s up to you to take it or leave it.

8 comments on “Let Go

  1. Anne says:

    There is a reason you wrote this in 2013 but did not post it until now. It is b/c God knew that on 2-14-17 (4 yrs. after you wrote it!), I desperately needed to read this. God’s providence and timing never fails to astound me. …. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights. Your words never fail to reach me where I need it the most. For a girl who clings so desperately and ridiculously to the illusion of control , this post reminds me that all God desires is that I “let go and let Him” — anything other than that entraps me in frustration, worry and pride. Thank you for heeding the prompting of The Holy Spirit and posting this 4 yrs. after it was written and please know that your blog is absolutely, divinely inspired. There is no other explanation for the timing and wisdom of your posts …

    • Anne: I have had your words here in my heart all week. What gratitude. When God uses me this way, how humbling. Thank you for making that known to me. It is THE reason I write. To accompany others on the journey. Thank you for allowing me to walk with you, Anne. May God bring to completion every good work He has begun in you.

  2. Nos. says:

    Great advice from the old sage ( grandpap) , to the one day young sage tommyboy, ha ha ha I love it. Your grandfather’s advice sounds a lot like yours Tommy. . . As is the case with almost all of your posts it has again made me realize how disobedient I am … I so often put my willfullness ahead of the MASTERS . . . let it not be so dear LORD . . .

    P.S. Tommy when you finally meet the boys in the band ,i.e. ( 21 pilots) ,tell them a good leather belt is a great addition to one’s wardrobe…L.O.L. not. . .

  3. Nos. says:

    Prayers to you Anne ,your honesty resounds with humility , thank you much… and may your prayers fall at the foot of the alter of our GOOD GOD. . . Peace Be With You + + + + + + +

    • Anne says:

      Nos. — Thank you for your prayers! I am most grateful! I will admit, I am going through a rough time right now and covet any prayers said on my behalf. In this process, God is revealing to me my weakness and frailty but as only He can do, He is revealing these deficits gently and with love so that instead of shirking from them, I am trying (key word — trying!) to correct them. Ahhh, what a painful yet liberating process!

      Re. your reference to 21 pilots — I, along w/my daughter are huge fans. Far from being offended by their pant-less acceptance speech, I found myself inspired by the story behind it. What a fabulous message to us all!

  4. DismasDancing says:

    Bro Tom:

    Exactly what Anne says! I know there are a lot of folks out there who follow you closely and will never post a comment. But like Anne, NOS, Jen, and so many of us who stay close, we thank Our Beloved Creator that His Spirit uses you and your wonderful talent as a theologian and writer to send His “I care; I’m there!” messages to us every day.

    Thanks, Anne, for your beautiful post. Be assured of my prayers for you as well. In Galatians, St Paul tells us to “2 bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ.” (GAL 6:2) May we all lift you up to the Lord that you find peace and comfort in His presence in your life every day. May your heart be at peace in Our Lord’s Mercy and Love always.”

    DD

    • Anne says:

      Wow, DismasDancing, your kind words and anticipated prayers bring tears to my eyes! Thank you for such charitable and encouraging words. I can’t help but think of the day when faceless names who support one another in this journey will see one another face to face in Heaven — what a good God we have who uses and inspires us to pray for and encourage one another in this vale of tears. Thank you for your prayers and concern. I am grateful for the kindness of those I have never and most likely will never meet. Very touching…

  5. AMDG says:

    Amen to all these comments which are half the gift of your blog.

    By God’s great Mercy we will worship Him face to face together in heaven.

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