March 18, 2016
“Augustine said: ‘My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God,’ but when I examine the tortuous story of our own salvation, I see not only that we are yearning to belong to God, but that God also is yearning to belong to us. It seems as if God is crying out to us: ‘My heart is restless until I may rest in you, my beloved creation.’
From Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah, from Abraham and Sarah to David and Bathsheba, and from David and Bathsheba to Jesus and ever since, God cries out to be received by his own. ‘I created you, I gave you all my love, I guided you, offered you my support, promised you the fulfillment of your hearts’ desires: where are you, where is your response, where is your love? What else must I do to make you love me? I won’t give up, I will keep trying. One day, you will discover how I long for your love!’”
- Henri Nouwen, “With Burning Hearts”
Dear brothers and sisters,
As we approach Holy Week, we approach the remembrance of God’s free and complete giving of Himself to His people. We approach holy ground. Even when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We remember how God is the Initiator, we are the ones who must reply, receive.
In Confession, last week, I told the priest I was embarrassed because I confess the same sins most of the time, and he said (after the classic deep-breath-closed-eyes-let-me-think-about-this-one priest response) that I should not focus on my inconstancy, but God’s absolute constancy. This has really stuck with me, and has allowed me to see how there is no benefit in ruminating over sins after you have made a firm resolve to confess and amend. It’s so hard to snap out of this self-hatred or self-despising and into a calm knowledge of our own sinful tendencies, because the spiritual life does not involve evaluations or grades or any feedback like we receive from the world that informs how we think of ourselves. God’s mercy is complete, total, for everyone, available at all times, and every time. We don’t deserve it, we never will, but God will never stop offering Himself to His people. The decision is on us: God has chosen you, do you choose Him? And it’s not a one-time deal, it’s a continual choosing, receiving.
The lower we get, the more clear He becomes. The prodigal son understood redemption in a more visceral way than the faithful son, and the faithful son was bitter about it because he was still operating within the worldly system of work-input and achievement-output. The Father saw two sons with one love and one goal of relationship, whereas the faithful son’s vision of his Father’s love was blinded by a false view of his own constancy. When his unfaithful brother came back, his response was not to embrace, but to reject. He thought he had the power to reject because he had assumed a warped idea of power from his warped idea of relationship, but he was not the Father. The Father received his son back into his home, the son received his Father’s reception: this is the way love works, gift building on gift, freedom embracing freedom.
And the Father ran towards him when He saw him far off. This is the part that always gets me. At any small sign of repentance, any turn of heart, God rushes in to seize us a hundredfold more than our measly efforts to just lift our heads and look at Him. He has been waiting for that moment, as He will wait for you many more times in your life, the moments when we acknowledge His constancy of love over our constant weaknesses.
Marriage is a place where God wanted me to experience this dynamic of love. I have been blessed with a husband whose heart is tender and good, and very constant. This heart of his is helping me heal bad habits of “going inward,” closing myself off when I am sad, distressed, or repulsed at my own inconstancy; my sins are not just my own sins anymore (ok...they never were, but it’s a lot more tempting to think so when you’re single!). There’s this intimacy of knowing the fullness of another, and that intimacy in marriage starts with knowing the best of a person, but it is more intensely deepened by knowledge of and forbearance with another’s sinful tendencies and inconstancies.
This is where God wants to be with all of us, and this is the road he took long before we could even say yes to it. He took on all our sins, so that we might enter into a relationship with Him without fear. He is the Initiator, the Giver, the Lover, and we are His beloved. Allow Him to love you, and you will understand who you were meant to be. It’s the same feeling of holding in sadness throughout the day at work and finally getting home, having a roommate or spouse look at you, see something’s wrong, and immediately embrace you, letting you cry until you don’t need to. It’s that feeling of letting go into a safe cry, that place God wants to give you in His Heart.
Jesus, thank you for never giving up on us.
Thank you for your love that we don’t understand.
We will never be able to repay you, but you knew that from the beginning.
Change our hearts, make them like Yours, always constantly turning to the Father.
Thank you for never giving up on us.