In my July blog, I shared a story which opened my eyes, in a deeply personal way, to God’s unnameable love. It was a contemplation of the unending love that God pours into his beloved creations, namely us.
In this article, I hope to expand on that topic–contemplating our side of the story. How does one receive and return such love?
While it is easy for me to question how one tiny heart can receive God’s love and then return it in an impactful way, both the story I told last month and others like it convince me that God’s greatest desire is that we do just that. Simply stated, God wants an intimate, give and take relationship with us.
In some ways, it’s even harder for me to accept this concept than it is to accept the enormity of God’s love. Perhaps this is because I am keenly aware that I am not in God’s league when it comes to giving and receiving love.
I ended my July blog with encouragement to say YES to the love of God from the depth of your being. Once that is achieved, then what?
I am a proud mother and, like most moms, I think my daughters are beautiful. But sometimes when I look at them, I am overwhelmed by their beauty, both inside and out. My practical side says “What’s happening? I always find them beautiful, but this is even beyond what I’m used to seeing.” I have come to believe that in those moments, I am seeing my daughters through God’s eyes. God is sharing his depth of love for them with me. That’s quite intimate, when you think about it.
Perhaps a similar experience in your life has come to mind. A good spiritual director would encourage you to linger in that memory, wonder about my observation, and see if you find God in your experience, as I found him in mine.
This begins a process of noticing the love of God in your heart. You didn’t put it there, God did. But once we notice it, we can consider accepting it. If you remember from last month, God gives us the freedom to choose his love or not. Can you imagine how God’s heart would fill with joy if you chose yes? This is also intimate but this time it’s your doing.
“Prayer makes your heart bigger, until it is capable of containing the gift of God himself.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta
In a time of discord with someone, I remembered that our faith teaches us to “love our enemies.” I struggled with loving this “enemy'', who was so unwilling to resolve our differences. So a good friend nudged me to pray for that person.
Out of the selfish desire for peace in my heart, I prayed for my “enemy,'' and the result was surprising. I began to see that their life wasn’t very easy and after noticing some struggles my “enemy” faced, I began to feel compassion for them.
My “enemy'' and I never really resolved our differences, but my heart was at rest. When we pray for someone, we unite our heart with God’s love for that person. I can’t help but believe that God is touched by this union, however fleeting. It is a sharing with God.
I brought my ugly feelings for this person to God, whose enormous love melted my hard heart. Typically, I only share my ugliest self with those I love and trust deeply. Can you see the intimacy with God such a prayer provides?
Resting in God
“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
- St. Augustine
Resting in God sounds like a lovely idea! But how does one do that?
From my experience, resting in God is a three part process. This tiny summary is far from instructional. If you would like more informaiton watch this YouTube video on Centering Prayer.
Look inside myself and acknowledge my desire to rest in God.
Actively ask God for my heart’s desire.
In silence and with patience, wait for God’s response.
As you may know, waiting is my least favorite part. I have learned, however, that I can’t make God’s love happen; God does that. A Spiritual Director can help you with any struggles you may encounter with this kind of prayer.
Let me share an entry from my journal in which I relate the result of such a meditation:
My image of God the Father is not a visual one. It is a feeling that causes me to describe God as “filling every molecule, in every space, in all the universe”. I was wrapped in that feeling. I sensed that I was not seeing God, but being within God and that God was within me. I felt my own flesh become porous and God, as if water, flowed freely in and through me. This sensation created a happy mixture of security and joy in me. I was more than being held in the arms of God, I was the recipient of God’s entire being, and God received my being too.
This powerful experience happened after many months of meditating, and it only happened once. The memory, however, is enough to sustain me in the dry times when I can’t sense God at all. For me, this kind of prayer one way to rest in God, even when it feels like nothing is happening.
I think the main threads running through these observations are effort and surrender. Loving relationships require effort and it makes sense that a loving relationship with God requires effort too. This is what spiritual direction is all about. Spiritual directors constantly seek a loving relationship with God, and we accompany others on that same journey. Because of my humanity, my path is almost always a crooked and uphill climb, so the effort is considerable. It is very nice to have someone with me on such a trek.
My humanity also brings surrender to the front. As I said in the beginning, I am not in God’s league. My efforts are useless without God. So I try my best and then surrender it all, out of love for God. This is what it means to place something in God’s hands. This prayer of Ignatius of Loyola teaches me about surrender.
Take Lord, receive all my liberty
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
I sometimes ask myself the same question. Why bother trying so hard to have a relationship with God? I shared some dramatic stories above, but for the most part my efforts do not bear any noticeable fruit in the moment. So, what’s the point?
I think it’s in the little things. If I compare who I am today to who I was five years ago, I like my current self better. I am more comfortable in my own skin. Many of my trying personality traits are softened because of my relationship with God. Now that I’ve let those parts of me go, I am free; free to be happier and free to love better.
What I am most grateful for is that this inner peace brings me out of myself, so I can be more present to others. I enjoy that more than I thought I would, and it’s not because that is the Christian definition of discipleship. What I’ve come to see is that in sharing myself in a genuine way with others, I grow, and my world joyfully expands.
Uniting myself with others almost brings me back to the feeling of my skin becoming porous so that God can flow through me. Loving my neighbor feels an awful lot like loving God.
God's enormous love has magnified my tiny gestures and suddenly, these "little things'' don't seem so little anymore.