Good Zeal

Facing a Future I Did Not Choose

From the outdoor Stations of the Cross, Station 9 Jesus Falls the Third TimeHow many of you have felt as if God did not get the memo regarding your preferred future? Starting at an early age, many of us dream, rationalize and strategize about the course our life should take to reach the ultimate goal of happiness, peace and fulfillment. Understandably those dreams change as we mature and learn more about other possibilities that life can offer. We make reflective and thoughtful decisions after weighing potential outcomes, advantages and disadvantages. Rarely do many of us rashly throw everything up in the air and chase a passing whim that promises us that all our dreams will come true—as if we were living in a Disney film. Whatever our dreams may be, we bear within ourselves some kind of expectation and preference about our future.

Considering what your hopes and dreams once were, how many of you are living today the “preferred future” you once imagined for yourself? How many of you have had the experience of watching your “preferred future” disappear from sight by life-altering changes that no one could have foreseen? It could have been the early death of a spouse, a child, a sibling or a parent. Maybe it was an illness or a freak accident. The pandemic threw a massive monkey wrench into the lives of millions of people worldwide. Lives were lost; jobs were lost; businesses closed—many of which would never open again. Educational opportunities were lost. A fundamental trust in social order and one’s neighbor fell apart. Masks, vaccines, and social distancing became ticking time-bombs in families and communities that led to nuclear fallout in relationships and work environments. There are so many factors that can rob us of the future we had hoped and prepared ourselves for.

In the economic downturn of 2008, many retired persons lost their life and retirement savings. Other people lost their homes. The opioid crisis and other forms of addiction have robbed families of their loved ones. Raging wild fires, massive droughts, devastating winds, and torrential rains wipe out entire cities and towns full of people whose lives will forever be impacted by those losses. When these life altering experiences happen to us, a prolonged period of disorientation occurs. We find ourselves having to face a future that is not the one we wanted, nor the one we thought we chose.

There have been multiple times in my life when I looked up and told God directly, “This isn’t what I signed up for!” In my solitary pity party, I run through my head all the ways that life seems to have taken a wrong turn. Then I think about all the ways that I might find an easy out. All the while, God lingers in the shadows, quietly listening to my ranting and scheming as if watching a toddler exhausting herself in a full-blown tantrum.

When my ego self has had its moment of unrestrained expression and yields to a calmer and wiser part of myself, the word of God silently responds, “Yes, you did sign up for this. This is the way of the cross. This is the way of laying down your life for others. This is the way of self-surrender and self-emptying.” The words of the Risen Jesus to Peter in the Gospel of John come to mind: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go….Follow me” (21:18-19).

These words of Scripture always are a wakeup call for me. The spiritually “young” or immature are those who insist that life conform to their own personal beliefs, preferences and opinions. On the flip side, the spiritually “old” or mature opt for the road to Calvary, walking side-by-side with the Savior who did not come to do his own will but the will of the One who sent him. Growth in spiritual maturity involves setting aside our own way of seeing and thinking and doing so as to be conformed to the seeing and thinking and doing of God’s will, just like Jesus did. It also involves acceptance of the trials and tribulations of life as they occur, not so much seeing them as God’s will for us but rather as the means through which we are called to become more of the persons we were created to be.

A wise and gentle soul once suggested to me that I ought to do one thing each day that I would rather not do. By doing this consistently each and every day, I will have developed a tolerance for it. Then, when the more difficult and unpleasant things in life happen, it will take less effort to accept the things I cannot change.

All roads somehow seem to lead us to the Paschal Mystery. It is through death that we find life. It is in our suffering that can become more united with Christ in the fiery furnace of holy love. We are to walk by faith and not by sight, trusting that the future is in God’s hands. God shall make all things well.

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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