The night before I started this second week focused on prayer, I awoke at 3 am with the zoo of thoughts in my head with which I am well acquainted. The lions roaring, elephants stomping and pythons hissing, all with the same question of just how I’m going to make a living following graduation. The ultimate outcome of the fear these voices expressed was undefined – I couldn’t see what bad thing might manifest – I was simply afraid that I would not have enough to take care of myself or that I wouldn’t find that path that brought me joy (because I still struggle with the idea that the paths that bring me joy don’t seem like ways I could actually sustain myself). Whether my fears are based in reality is not the point. In the moment, they felt real. More real than reality.
The theme of my prayer the next morning was “I abide in the love of Jesus.” My initial reaction to the word “abide” is one of discomfort. It recalls my former (and sometimes current but far less frequent) days of shame, of thinking that I was never good enough. I heard “abide” as the need to follow rules – all the don’ts that left me in constant fear that I’d end up in hell. I couldn’t even reach the love part. Yet the biblical understanding of “abide” is to dwell or remain in. So as I prayed I changed the word to rest. My Creator was calling me after my early morning freak out to simply find rest in the love of Jesus. And in those moments of prayer, I did. But when I stepped out into the world, I found that place of rest harder to hold on to.
The struggles I bring to my prayers are often answered through events of the week. In one class we read the rule of St. Francis of Assisi in which those who followed his rule, at least in the beginning, were to give up all of their belongings, they could work, but could not be paid. They couldn’t have their own homes, but had to trust in others providing them with shelter, with food. It was a radical surrender to trusting in God’s love. A sermon during the week spoke of Jesus telling those who came to him and wanting to follow him to not bury their father, not say goodbye to their family. To leave it all behind and follow this man. She asked how many of us could really take this level of surrender seriously. Not as a condemnation, but a reality check. I had lunch with a fellow seminarian from Kenya who literally lost everything when her husband died yet she still had two daughters to provide for. Out of her experience grew her ministry to widows and orphans. Many times she has been faced with wondering how she would manage to feed and house those who needed her help and every time her prayers have been answered. She is a living reminder of what it looks like to put all of one’s trust in the Creator.
I came to realize over the week that what I’m being called to is the bravery to surrender. To let go of thinking I can find security if only my bank account is full enough or if I have enough friends calling me. I can’t honestly imagine following in the footsteps of St. Francis or Ignatius and begging in the streets; heck, I’m still uncomfortable when friends buy me dinner. But I sure would love their bravery to surrender so completely to the point of giving up everything.
Thomas Merton said in his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, that he wanted to be a saint. I thought that was rather arrogant, but also strange. As with my response to the word “abide,” I understood his desire to mean that he wanted to be “perfect.” This week though I suddenly understood what he meant because I was starting to feel it too. It’s this idea of the freedom that comes from complete surrender, from letting go of all of one’s attachments. What would that really feel like? To simply stop worrying? What would it feel like to really abide in God’s love, both as a place of comfort, but also in following that call toward what brings us joy? In a later work Merton explained that being a saint means fully being oneself. Can I be brave enough to fully be the self that God has created me to be? Can I allow myself to fully abide in Jesus’ love?
I acknowledge that this idea of giving up attachments is not particular to Christianity. It is undeniably a spiritual truth that regardless of whether we follow the Jesus’ way or some other way is the path to freedom. True freedom. But boy oh boy is it scary. But what I’ve been learning also this week is that the way toward the courageous surrender of Saints like Francis and Ignatius is prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. So on I go.