26 February 2017
Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of his trust. Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you, or indeed any human tribunal, find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgement on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts. Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.
‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’
I will not even pass judgment on myself.
Since the days of my youth, I have been told that I think too much. “You are over-thinking,” friends would say. I already knew from my childhood that I was a sensitive soul. Over time, I fought this description pretty hard, and soon, subconsciously had built a ‘sensible’ shell over my thoughts. If I did think too much, I was determined to reform those thoughts into wisecracks, profound insights, foresight, or even preemptive actions. Turn them to my advantage, not my Achilles’ heel, I reasoned.
It was in meeting St Thérèse of Lisieux during a quarter-life crisis that I found comfort in a kindred sensitive soul. Through the many relational and emotional afflictions, St Thérèse suffered a bout of religious scrupulosity as a teenager and believed it impossible to please God because of her many failures – perceived or otherwise. Her desire to please God burned so strongly that it produced a counteractive intense self-judgment of her humanness. As I read more about her, I realized that some of us who desire to love God more fully often reach a point of futility in our efforts. It is natural. This juncture usually comes after a season of extremely deep faith conversion, which turns a contrite soul completely to face the burning Sun. Repentance and holy grace then pours like a spring shower over the pruned heart, and what was once dry begins to plump up again with hope, joy, and rebirth.
Yet in order for us to grow more wholly, this season cannot remain and, as a loving Father, He might allow a drought of spiritual wilderness to visit such a soul. This can be the soul’s dark night (St John of the Cross), or a deeper realm of the interior castle (St Teresa of Avila) yet not crossed. These spiritual giants aside, this season is felt very much like abandonment or an intense period of acedia.
This is the Sunday before we enter into Lent, and how apt it is that I have finally come to recognize my own parched state of soul. A sensitive soul worries far too much about offending, considers far too seriously the thoughts of others, and thinks much too harshly of itself. It is a bind for which there is no neat remedy. This tends to be the fertile soil for weeds of perpetual self-judgment and discontentment.
Paul shares the neuroses of trying to be worthy Christians amidst society. In the 1 Corinthians (4:1-5) reading, we know that it will be difficult and our own standards are impossible to fulfill! “What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of [God’s] trust.” How is that possible? How can we, fickle humans, be capable of inspiring God’s trust in us? Paul acknowledges that he too has to consciously sidestep the murmurs of ‘any human tribunal.’ “I will not even pass judgment on myself [and, even if] my conscience does not reproach me at all, [it] does not prove that I am acquitted” for the Lord alone is judge of the secret intentions of men’s hearts.
As Jesus warns us in the gospel, this compulsive worrying over all aspects of life: sustenance, appearance, careers, even salvation, paralyses us all, especially more one afflicted with scruples. What if I choose career A over B, will God bless me if I end up making the wrong choice and it is not in His will? What if I unintentionally cause my friend to be jealous if I share this good news of mine? What if no matter how much good I do to try and please God, I may actually be choosing the lesser things? These questions might sound bizarre to most people, but St Thérèse would understand a soul who fundamentally desires to love God, yet stumbles through it trying to say “I choose all” to the hard things, in the path to sanctity.
Worry is not from God. It is a weakness that grace can redeem. Jesus simply tells his disciples to reorient their hearts, minds, and souls, onto the Father’s kingdom first and his righteousness first. Our definitions and GPS pin-drops for where his Kingdom is all fall short. God never forgets us even as we stumble. “In God alone is my soul at rest… he alone is my stronghold… trust him at all times. Pour out your hearts before him.” (Psalm 61). Ultimately, St Thérèse was resilient and faithful. No matter her despair at her own weaknesses, she poured herself evermore passionately into loving God with all her being. Her hard-fought choice was to reorient her soul towards remaining childlike in deep trust of the Father. Not to concern herself with how she would get to heaven, but to remain very small and surrendered, to love in her ‘little way’, and to allow the Child Jesus to pick her or leave her when he pleased. She held firmly to her loveliness in God’s eyes and embraced her vocation with a fiery spirit, turning her afflictions into flames of love.
Every seeming weakness within us can possess paradoxical strength and light, just as every seeming strength can prove to hide a profound darkness. We are made of many fleeting moments of fumbling and shining, and each moment is by no means a judgment of who we completely are. Self-compassion is a vital tonic for the sensitive soul.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Lord, help me to trust in your love for me, that I am always worthy of your love and trust and redemption.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many saints who struggled honestly and valiantly with their weaknesses, pointing for us the triumphant way to heaven by their heroic devotion to God.