“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”Matthew 6:34
A New Year is upon us. It’s that time for us to make our resolutions, to hit the gym in January and stop going sometime in February. It’s that time to give ourselves goals to engineer “new” selves. But how much of life can we really plan for ourselves?
One goal I gave to myself in this past year was to run the Chicago Marathon. A couple of my friends had likewise registered, and our registration fees were nonrefundable, so I was highly resolved to do it. My initial training plan had begun in the late spring, with my intention being to finish in a time I would brag about. On July 2, I suffered a severe ankle sprain while running, and even heard a “pop” when it happened. For over a month I was barely walking. Even though I had had friends who dropped out of marathons due to injury, I never thought that the prospect would ever fall upon me. The closest I could come to training during that month of hobbled walking was to tell God: “I still want to run this marathon, and I’m willing to do what’s needed to get into shape in the time I’ll have, but Thy will be done.”
What little faith I do have comes from God, and He alone knows how whiny I would have been without it.
By August 17, my ankle had healed adequately enough for me to run half a mile on flat surface. I drew up a new (and rather intense) training plan, with under two months time to prepare (most marathon training plans are upwards of twelve weeks), banking on the hope that I wouldn’t re-injure my healing ankle while building up to 20-mile runs which would include hills. I bought a pair of compression socks which I had always thought looked “stupid” when I saw other runners wearing them.
October 13 was the day of the marathon. I finished it. I didn’t finish in the time I initially aimed for, but my goal was met, and I got to barhop in an amazing city with amazing friends afterward, and I have God to thank for it. But even this plan, a personal goal for myself, was improvised due to an unforeseen circumstance. I wasn’t in complete control, even though I, a sinner, so often wish that I were.
The Illusion of Control
If we can barely plan our short-term goals, then what about our long-term goals? And what about our very lives?
Control, our control that is, is an illusion. How often do we fail just to control ourselves? How much evil has been the result of trying to control others? The scale of such can be massive: ideologies, from Nazism to Communism to political correctness in our current day, are built upon the assumption that people can be controlled. And, spiritually speaking, how often are we guilty of trying control God through our prayers? How often do we miss the beauty of the present moment in desire to control our past or future?
The extent to which we try to control ourselves, to control others, and to control God, reveals how deeply pride penetrates our own hearts. We can set ourselves up for so much frustration by failing to realize this. How can a “personality” or “identity,” a mere assumption of who we are that is built upon the countless lies which a gullible world buys into, ever control anything? God alone is sovereign. God is always right and true. It is only by the Grace of God that we sinners, in spite of ourselves, take in each and every breath that is a gift from God.
We men often have greater difficulty accepting our lack of control. I suspect that has much to do with why women attend church more frequently. The husband who rolls his eyes at his wife for planning out each hour of their vacation day could just as well lose his mind if he knew just how little control he has over his very life. At least a day can be (barely) planned.
Our lives do not belong to ourselves, and they never have. Must this be so frightening? What if the God who created us has also set a purpose for each of us? Is it God’s Will for anyone’s talents to go to waste? Would we thwart His plan with our own ambitions? Is living Our Lord’s perfect plan something we sinners do? Could it rather be something we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us? What if allowing the Holy Spirit to take control is, in fact, one of the only things we can control? How much peace and calm would be available if we but accept His gift of faith?
“And ye shall know the truth” says Our Lord, “and the truth shall make you free.”
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.Luke 18:18-19
Holding Our Plans Lightly
What are your goals for 2020? Some of us shall meet those goals. Some of us, in our great fortunate, won’t.
I’d guess that if you’re reading an article about faith, one of your goals may well be to inch ever closer to sainthood. Is it? It’s a very noble ambition, pleasing to God, and the one ambition that places all worldly ambitions in their rightful order. But how does a sinner plan to become a saint? By being active at church? By volunteering? We can force ourselves to do chores, in holy “fake it till you make it,” and merely be do-gooders. There are canonized saints who confirm this. The world has plenty of do-gooders, and plenty of do-gooders who do tremendous harm by insisting what everyone else “should” be doing. And do-gooders can be so annoying!
God knows how much of my own Christian journey has been spent being a do-gooder, as a Christian who still understood faith as the Muslim is taught to, and asking the same dreaded question over again: “am I doing it right?” There are no words to fittingly describe how dependent we are upon God. And yet Love ever knocks upon the doors of those unjust judges that we are (Luke 18:1-8). We can do nothing, and yet we can allow everything. We Catholics even have the Sacraments, including Reconciliation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, to guide us in realizing who we are, and who we really are.
The person who says “I give my concerns to you, O Lord” could find himself the same bundle of worries as he was before he said it. That same person may feel a tremendous rush of peace when he gives up on any notion of being capable of actively doing anything, even surrendering himself, if he would just sit himself still, and say: “here I am, as I am. I don’t even know how to give you anything, but just go ahead and take what’s yours, what’s always been yours.” This is because we Christians have a supernatural faith, not a natural one.
Saints know that they can do nothing and yet God can do all things, and that in allowing, paradoxical seeking of the Kingdom of God, they receive the thrill of seeing the face of Christ in every sinner. A saint is someone who means it when he or she says: “Thy will be done,” and in so, finds his true identity as a child of God. From there, he cannot help himself but serve the kings and queens all around him. The chores of the do-gooder are the privileges of the saint.
“Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” the saying goes. We start ourselves sprinting, always in a hurry, without giving consideration to the vast distance of the course. The Holy Spirit knows the proper pace with which to finish, and He’s ever ready to be our strength and our endurance, if we but hand the baton to Him. “I’ve got this,” we so often snap at Him, carrying on with our mistakes, necessary faults, “everything’s under control: I’ve even got a plan!” But soon enough, we tire out. All too many of us collapse in exhaustion. But blessed is he who yields his plans and says to the Lord: “I’m tired: You take control,” for he shall know that the Lord has sustained him all his life, and shall sustain him through eternity. And when the Lord has taken control all he has to do from there is enjoy the scenery: of the Kingdom of God that is all around him.
May we take our plans lightly, O Lord, and from there, may we take ourselves lightly, that we may fly like the angels, saying always: Thy will be done.
Have a blessed new year!
With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.Matthew 19:26
Zubair Simonson, O.F.S., is a convert who currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order. His written works include The Rose: A Meditation, a narrative guide through the rosary now available on Kindle. The story of his conversion, and admiration for G.K. Chesterton, is included in the book My Name is Lazarus, published by the American Chesterton Society.
Follow Zubair on Twitter: @ZubairSimonson