I go to a convent once a month, if you can call it that. In reality, the ‘House of Prayer’ is a little Spanish style home tucked into a residential area near my kids’ school. Sister Mary and Sister Margaret, both in their late eighties, minister by letting non-Catholic strangers like me rent a room from them for $15 a day.
The first time I went, I was seeking spiritual direction for a crisis that had manifested in my life. Sister Margaret invited me into her office. Her demeanor and voice were gentle, but shaky – fragile like a bird. She spoke softly, deliberately. “What would you like to talk about?” she asked me.
I told her all about the difficult relationship consuming my thoughts. The words tumbled out: how I knew I needed to set firmer boundaries so I didn’t feel angry and taken advantage of, but I was questioning how to do it in a Christ-like way. How do we follow a death-to-self Savior and death-to-self gospel while in some instances preserving ourselves? I wondered aloud. How do we find that line? I felt confident that here, in a convent, surrounded by real religious people, a solution to my problems could be found.
She regarded me, her pretty face tilted atop a wrinkled neck. “Can I tell you a story?” She asked me in her lilting singsong voice. “Yes!” I said, grateful for the insight about to come my way. “I am not the type . . . to receive visions,” she said slowly, thoughtfully, “but one morning I woke up before dawn and I laid quietly in my bed. I heard the Lord speak to me. He said, ‘Let Me love you.’”
I waited expectantly. I think my mouth might have been open. I was ready to consume a torrent of holy insight. After a few moments, it dawned on me that the story had finished. I searched frantically for an appropriate response. She took my pause for a final reflection and said, “Would you like to close with a song?”
“Uh . . . ok” I said. So we did.
Sister Margaret’s words clung to me, heavy and cumbersome, like a sleeping child on my back. I carried them wherever I went. They threw me off balance and disoriented me. When I sat down to pray they poked at me and in true childlike form, did not let me be until I did what they asked of me. “I let You love me,” I scoffed one morning as my way of opening prayer. “Of course, I let You love me.” Silence.
Nothing came. Day after day nothing came and the anger that had been festering over this one isolated relationship began to spill into other relationships. The angrier I got about my relationships the angrier I felt toward God who put these terrible people in my life in the first place. And the more I leaned into my anger toward God the more I felt fear – fear that my anger toward Him would eclipse the love I had for Him, and then where would I be?
There were no fireworks, no waterworks, not even a whispered vision lying in my bed in the predawn hours. But there was a crack in the door and a tiny dawn of realization that my love for God was not nearly as strong as I wanted it to be. And instead of feeling shame that my love for God had waned, there was only curiosity. Do You love me, God? How? Why?
This posture of quietness and receptivity began to align the fault lines of my soul, seemingly without much participation on my part. I couldn’t explain how. The edges of my anger softened. My patience with myself and others seemed to extend just a minute, then a second farther. My heart felt like it finally had some room to expand inside the freedom that I couldn’t love God well enough and was never expected to.
Recently, a friend of mine marveled that I left my kids for 10 days to take my dying mother-in-law on one last overseas mission trip. “Last summer you wouldn’t leave them overnight because you were too anxious. God is working on you.”
Who can explain what happens in transformation? I don’t know, except I think it’s the same thing that happens in any type of miracle. What transcribed in the bottom of the baskets of loaves and fishes? I don’t think it was all dumped down from heaven in one slimy pile – God has never wrought a miracle for me in one lump sum. What were the ingredients for the miracle except what was already on hand? Fish, loaves, time, and the inescapable love of God.
We take what we already have and trust it is enough.
Even in miracles, maybe especially in miracles, it takes all my faith to reach into the basket, praying my hand will not come up empty. Maybe that is all transformation is, reaching in for the love of God again and again, our hands never grazing the wicker bottom: one more fish, one more hunk of bread, one more illuminated day. Taking what we’ve found in there and passing it around. We step back and take a wider view of filled bellies and heaps of leftovers and wonder where it all came from.The ingredients for a miracle are what we already have on hand and the inescapable love of God. Click To Tweet