December 5, 2014
Part of ministry involves helping couples navigate some of the challenges of married life. Those of you who are married or have been married know just how difficult it can be. Sometimes men and women seek me or someone else out to share and discuss some of their relationship issues. Usually it’s just one spouse who first comes initially with his or her concerns. In those situations I almost always try to set up a time when I can speak to the other spouse in private. As you can probably guess, the two stories I usually get are very, very different from each other. However, they are often similar in one regard. The majority of the time each spouse is convinced that they are doing their part, that they are fulfilling their end of the “bargain”, while their mate is failing to do his or hers.
It may not be obvious, but the truth is sometimes we have that same attitude toward our relationship with God. Many of us find ourselves dissatisfied with God, convinced that God is not living up to his end of the “bargain”. I’m basically a good person. I’m not doing terrible things to the people in my life. I attend Mass. I pray from time to time. I give to those in need. So how come . . . . .
. . . I didn’t get that job I really wanted?
. . . I pray for certain things, but never really get what I ask for?
. . . my family has had more than its fair share of illnesses?
. . . others in my life don’t always treat me as I would like?
. . . I can’t find that perfect person?
. . . my life hasn’t gone as I had planned?
It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I’m doing my best to do what you’ve asked of me. How long must I wait for you to do your part?
How long must I wait?
You’ve heard over and over again that Advent is a time of waiting. That may sound as if there is nothing for us to do during this season, no part for us to play in the drama that is unfolding. That is far from the truth, for Advent does not demand that we be passive, that we simply stand by waiting for God to “do his part”. It is a time of eager anticipation, a time of preparation in which we do all that we can to open ourselves up to everything the Lord is offering us, his love, his mercy, his joy, his guidance, his very self.
Notice the readings for this week do not say, “Prepare the way of the Lord so that he can make straight paths.” It is an invitation to each of us to “make straight his paths”. That should tell us something about the spiritual life and this season in particular. God always does his part, not once, or once in a while, but always. We are the ones who must also do our part, opening ourselves up to the transforming love of the One who is Love.
That’s what we are preparing to celebrate, a God who is willing to do anything and everything for us, even going so far as to become one of us. The celebration is not simply for something that happened in the past, nor is it for something that will happen down the line. It’s a celebration of gratitude for what God is doing right now, in this time and place, in every human heart and in every situation. God is doing his part, fulfilling all of his promises to us even if it is sometimes difficult for us to see. This is the kind of God we have, a God who continually pursues us, seeks us out, looking for ways into our hearts, minds, and souls; a God who never stops no matter what direction we’ve gone, or how far we’ve strayed.
So while in a certain sense Advent is about hopeful waiting for our God, it’s also about God waiting for us, being patient with us as he waits for us to open wide the doors to our hearts, to rid ourselves of whatever stands in the way of our God “getting” to us, to level every mountain and fill every valley. The “highway” that allows God to penetrate the deepest recesses of our being and transform each us is not built in the ‘externals” of our lives, the outside “stuff” we achieve. It’s a highway built within the human heart, a clearing of the debris that’s keeping us from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace.
Once God is able to “get to us” in the fullest way possible, things will begin to change, we will begin to change and we will begin to experience life in a whole new way, in a God-centered way. When that happens the difficulties of life, the disappointments and the sorrows, will no longer drive us to bitterness or despair. Even in the toughest moments of our lives we might just find ourselves able to see the hand of God comforting us, sustaining us, healing us, and guiding us. No longer will we be waiting for God to change the “externals” of our lives, or, in our minds, “to do his part”. Instead we will continue to feel God’s love each step of the way, knowing that we are not facing life’s challenges alone.
That’s the challenge of this holy season, to somehow not let the disappointments in this life have power over us. Let’s pray that we each may come to understand and believe just how much God loves us, so much so that he became one of us. May that profound truth enable us to truly prepare ourselves to receive all that Lord wants to give us, in order to be more, to forgive more, and to love more.
What’s getting in the way of God getting to you? As I continue journeying and preparing this Advent, I hope to begin to discover the answer for myself. May each of you strive to do the same.