"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, what have we explored so far? First we worked on realizing that all our blessings, again both joyful and painful, come from God because He loves us beyond measure. Second, we committed to love God back, not in only in words but in service, because Jesus tells us that to love Him is to love one another. Third, we explored God's promise of spiritual gifts, which we all have, and committed ourselves to using those gifts to the service of God. We also recognize that if we don't know what spiritual gifts we have to share, we will rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us to uncovering them through our work. What now? Now the hard part begins. Don't stop reading yet, because the hard part is also the most exciting.
What does that mean, to totally trust God? It means many things and, if we were writing a book, it would be a very long one. But for the purpose of becoming good stewards, today we will discuss three important ways we must totally trust God:
The best way to explain the steps above is to share with you an experience that will forever affect the way I trust God. Many years ago on a Sunday, my family and I were attending a party in Sierra Madre. My oldest child was scheduled to altar serve the 5:00 Mass that evening. We had agreed to split our Mass schedule that day, with my spouse and other children attending Mass in the morning, and my oldest and I leaving the party for an hour or so to make the 5 p.m. Mass.
The presider at Mass that evening gave a wonderful and moving homily about the Gospel reading we discussed in Step 2 - when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. our priest challenged everyone sitting in the pews to feed someone in the coming week - literally feed a stranger we otherwise wouldn't even notice. He said it three times. I thought the homework assignment was wonderful and I decided to undertake the mission with my children who were scheduled to end school at noon the next day. I thought we could buy lunch for ourselves and a homeless person in our community.
At the conclusion of Mass I collected my altar server and headed back to the party. On the way there, I noticed a homeless man in the parking lot of the hardware store on Sierra Madre Boulevard. He looked ragged and was leaning on a shopping cart containing all of his life's belongings. I heard Father in my mind with his challenge, "Feed someone."
Eager to return to the party, I kept driving and said to myself, "Where would I buy a meal now, anyway?"
A half a block later, Kentucky Fried Chicken appeared on my right. Did I stop? No, I kept driving. I told myself I would look for this man the next day, when it was more convenient for me to buy him a meal.
The next day when my kids got out of school, we headed for In-N-Out Burger. I bought us all hamburger combos and purchased an extra one for that stranger we would feed. I first drove Sierra Madre Boulevard to look for that man I saw the day prior. He was nowhere to be seen.
Other homeless regulars came to mind and I drove to their hangout spots to find them, but, oddly, they weren't there either.
Frustrated, I resorted to driving to Pasadena. I knew that at almost every freeway exit there was a person holding a sign that read, "Homeless, please help" or something similar.
I exited the freeway at Lake. When I could not locate a homeless person there, I got back on the freeway and exited the next off-ramp. No homeless person. Where were they all? Did they take the day off?
On and off I drove the freeway in search of a homeless person. No luck. Not a single homeless person could be found. How could this be? There are always homeless people at the exits and onramps!
An hour later and very disappointed, I headed home. The burger and fries were long cold, and the ice in the drink had long melted away. I felt numb as I neared our house, not thinking of anything at all. That's when I received it.
Before I go on, I just have to share that the only time I am really able to hear God speak directly to me through the Holy Spirit is when I have no thoughts clouding my head, when I am what I call numb. This is a very rare state of mind for me, for I am always thinking of what I have to do, when I have to do it, what orders I have to fill at work, when I have to pick up the kids, how to balance work and home life, etc. It is very rare that I do not have a single thought in my head. But this was one of those times. And when the Spirit speaks to me, I hear it in a single moment. There are no series of words, no sentences, no chain of thought, just the instant message.
At that moment, God told me that I blew it. He needed me yesterday to feed that man He put in my path but I decided the party was more important.
As soon as the feeling of failing God came upon me, the Spirit sent me another message. "For whom the Lord loves He corrects..." (Proverbs 3:12) Before I could even feel too guilty, I felt blessed. The thought of God disciplining me by placing homeless people out of my path on the day that fit into my schedule was unbelievable. Who was I to God for Him to take time out of His busy schedule to discipline? But it was true. I blew it. I knew it. I was sorry, embarrassed, and blessed at the same time. And I knew God would give me another chance.
Mother Teresa is a great source of modern wisdom for me. I began reading her work when I came upon her quote, "In the silence of the heart God speaks." This statement caught my attention because it is exactly the way I hear God speak to me. I'm sure many, many other people hear God the same way. It also explains why our priests encourage us to come to church when Mass is not in session and to sit and listen, to be completely silent and open to hear the voice of God. It's not easy, but practice really helps. So, when all other things are tuned out and we are moved to do something good, it must be God telling us to act, to extend His love to someone. We need to trust God when He speaks in the silence of our hearts.
We know that what we do and how we do it should always be in line with Jesus' teaching. Thank God for the Bible because if I had to rely on the silence of my heart to hear God's direction, I would only do good things a few times a year. On the day I was supposed to feed that homeless man by the hardware store, God spoke to me through the Gospel reading I just heard at Mass and through our priest's homily as well. How could I be so hard-headed? I didn't trust God in His Word or in the message his priest spoke for Him.
Do what He asks of you, even if it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. This point doesn't take too much explanation, as I'm sure all of us have encountered an opportunity to serve God but have chosen not to because it was uncomfortable or didn't fit into our schedules. I can't count how many times a priest has challenged us in his homilies to stretch out of our comfort zones to do God's work. We need to trust God in His promise that He is with us always, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. And He will help us do His work through the spiritual gifts He has planted in us. God qualifies us to do His work. And what if it is an inconvenient time? When God calls, it's always a convenient time.
Sometimes we do God's work and the benefit of that work is not easily seen. We may offer help to someone who grumbles or yells at us. We may keep smiling at a neighbor who doesn't appreciate that we take in her trash cans every week. We may be kind to someone at work who constantly questions our motives. We may donate money to an organization that misuses it. The list goes on and on. These frustrating situations sometimes may make us put our hands on our hips and look up to the sky and say, "I did what you told me to do, God, and look what happened!"
It can be easy to get discouraged in serving God, or even to get mad at Him, if we think that the benefit of that service must be made known to us. The truth is, we may never know the true benefit of our service at the time we perform it. It may be realized when we have long left the scene. Or, it may be that our service was just one piece of a very large puzzle of actions and the other pieces have yet to be put into place. It may be a complicated situation beyond our understanding, or it may be so simple that we miss it. Sometimes, like we discussed in the First Step, we don't see the outcome of a blessing until days, months or years have passed.
You see, we cannot rely on our own understanding for we are human and cannot see beyond today. God, on the other hand, sees into forever. He knows the benefit of our service when we don't. So, let us not get discouraged in serving God. And, let us definitely not get mad at Him. Instead, let us totally trust in God to bring the benefit of our good deeds to those we serve, and to the ultimate goal of bringing praise and glory to His name.
When we resolve to trust in God in this way, we open ourselves up to hearing Him more clearly. It seems to me that the only thing I did right in the whole situation of failing to feed the homeless man by the hardware store was to not get mad the next day when I couldn't find someone to feed. I could have grumbled over the money I spent on the food or gas, or the valuable time it took out of my tight schedule. I was disappointed, but definitely not mad. And, thanks be to God, He explained it to me.
Let us think about how important it is to totally trust in God. Let us reflect on those times when we failed, not for the purpose of feeling guilty, but for the purpose of learning how to do things better the next time God calls -- Because there will be a next time.
We've got two more steps to go. Hang in there with me.
(c) 2011, Holy Angels Church.