Give to everyone who asks of you. — Luke 6:30
When our first son, Michael, was born, my paternal grandfather wrote my wife and me a letter with his advice on parenting. It is a treasure. Among his many insights, this one leapt out with particular power:
Tommy, anyone who tells you you “become a father” when your child is born is a liar. You don’t become a father, your child rips fatherhood out of you! With every cry and smile, every success and tragedy your children will make you into someone you never were. They will call out of you the best you have to offer them, and more…
That was 22 years ago, and the truth of his words not only reveal the deeper meaning of fatherhood and motherhood, but of life. Of vocation. Having reflected on his words endlessly these years, I can see so clearly that every divine vocation is, in its deepest structure, a call to “give to everyone who asks of you” in the parameters and limits established by your calling.
In my marriage, our covenant promise binds me to my wife’s “asking” for absolute fidelity, honor, love. As a father and mother, our having said “yes” to accepting the gift of children binds us to our children’s “asking” — by rejoicing in their coming-to-be, feeding them, giving them drink, clothing them, tending to them in sickness, seeking them out when they run away, forgiving them, teaching them, suffering for them, dying for them. In a word, by becoming God-like to them.
Someone said to me the other day after describing a mess of relationships and circumstances in their professional and personal life, “I don’t know what God is asking of me.” I responded with the St. Benedict quote I love so much, “Age quod agis, ‘Do what you are doing.’ God’s voice is all around you, eloquent and clear, and the Gospel is your Rosetta Stone…”
Well, yes, trying to discern what particular direction to go here and there, what job to take, what state of life to enter, what prudential judgment to make in a project is all important. But vastly more important is to confront every moment, in the ambiguous confines of every mess and muddle, with a will to Christ-love. To choose in each moment to be as honest, just, patient, courageous, forgiving, kind, merciful as you can. Especially when others are not. Then repent for the ways you inevitably will fail, knowing even that gets taken up into God’s grand design as precious building material.
Live with that End in mind, and the present becomes pregnant with possibility.
My deepest calling is to hear in every circumstance a Voice asking: “I am hungry, feed me. I am thirsty, give me drink. I am in prison, be with me. I hate you, love me. I sinned against you, forgive me. I lied to you, lead me to truth. I am irritating, be patient with me. I am irresponsible, correct me. I am ignorant, teach me. I am in chains, liberate me. I am un-ideal, deal with me.”
While living in the dark, don’t curse, light a candle, even if it seems futile.
The only absolute certitude we can have in doing God’s will is to love in our place, to trust that, regardless of how Egypt-like or Calvary-like our circumstances, there is found God’s will to respond with the Heart of Christ, leaving the uncontrollable rest to the providence of God who raises from every ugly catastrophe “offered up” a beautiful new world.
A dear friend of mine who has had a life of many sorrows once said to me, when I commented on how she never ever complains, “Why complain? No one listens anyway. [we laughed] But God, I complain to God plenty. Because He can actually do something about it. No, He will do something about it. Not usually the way I tell Him, but He knows best. What does the Holy Scripture say? ‘Trust in God and He will act.’ I complain, then I trust. But if I ever make it to heaven, I have a few questions…”