I was looking at an old family photo hanging on my wall and noticing the smiling faces of my 4 oldest girls. They looked downright joyful, with a sparkle in their eyes and not a care in the world (other than the perceived hideousness of the outfits I made them wear). The photo was taken pre-cancer… pre-death… pre-trauma. In that moment, I was tempted. I was truly tempted to give in to anger and despair and resentment because the cross they have been given to bear is just not fair. The cross I have been given is not fair either, but at least I’m a grown-up. They are just kids. It’s not fair that we couldn’t shield our children from the world, so they could be simply children. I hate that their smiles don’t always reach their eyes. I hate that tragedy has worked on breaking them at such a young age and the effects have rippled through our family for these past few years. ‘Something’ was really tempting me to give in to ugliness and evil.
But I didn’t, and I never will, and I will tell you how and why. Giving in to that would be akin to taking the morsel Jesus dipped in the bowl at the last supper.
I will never understand how Judas actually took that piece of bread from Jesus. How could he choose darkness when he had been walking with the light for three years? Why would anyone want anger, hatred, and resentment over Love, Peace and Joy? Why doesn’t Love always prevail?
The answer is age-old.
Satan has dangled the carrot of power and control since the beginning. He did it in the garden,
“The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gn. 3:4-5
And tried it on Jesus in the desert,
“the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Mt 4:8-9
And uses every moment of suffering and vulnerability in us, still to this day!
Every once in a while it hits me that the hand we have been dealt is just so unfair. I look at those beautiful happy souls in an old photo and can’t stop the negative resentful thoughts. It’s easier to overcome this temptation when all is well and going according to my own plans, but when things are not looking so rosy, it’s tempting to feel like we have been thrown to the wolves and the deck has been stacked against us. It is imperative that as quickly as those thoughts surface, I take control of them by an act of my will. And therein lies the how. The gift of our free will is powerful – that is how we never have to give in to temptation. Of course the deck isn’t stacked against us. Jesus says as much in scripture,
“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13
We always have all that we need to overcome temptation and evil. Period. Judas had the power to overcome it as well, but he chose to reach out his hand and take that morsel instead. The God I know and Love would never stack the deck against us and He certainly didn’t set us up to fail. To the contrary, He has stacked the deck highly in our favor. He stacked the deck for us during His ministry on Earth when he established the sacraments and the priesthood and set Peter as the first in line to lead His church. He stacked it when He promised that the gates of hell would never prevail. He stacked it from the cross when He gave his final earthly gift; his Mother. He stacked it by opening the gates of Heaven and sending his Holy Spirit to be with us always. He stacked it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself.
When we face trials there is often the temptation to turn away from God. I hear it said again and again; “If God really loves me then why did he allow (fill in the blank)?” When evil and suffering are at work, we blame God and question why. At the first sign of trouble we demand God show himself and explain. When that happens we have bought into the lie and are playing right into the hand of Satan. God can stack our deck all day long but it does us no good if we only play our own game by our own rules. We need his church. We need the sacraments and the wisdom of the church fathers and the saints who have gone before us. We need every single tool at our disposal because we are under attack. As long as we live on Earth, we constantly have to fight the temptations that our human nature is susceptible to.
God never abandons us in our trials and temptations, but I think sometimes He allows them just to show us how strong our free will is. We have to know our strength in Him in order to become saints. And in order to know our strength we first have to be humble in our weakness. Nothing teaches humility like realizing, through our trials, that we are not in control. We cannot control life and death, sickness and disease, poverty or wealth, or the choices others make, but we can control our response to them all. We can control whether we rise up to the challenge and respond with faith, trust, and surrender to God, or whether we fight (kicking and screaming) to maintain some illusion of control. That is why Love and peace and joy do not always win out. Our desire for control, and belief that we have it, is the great temptation. Wanting that control is the ‘something’ that was coaxing me to give in. As a parent I want to be in control of what my children are exposed to and what trials they have to suffer. (If I were, I guess they would suffer precisely nothing.) Naturally, I want to protect them and shield them, but giving in to anger, despair, and resentment is just plain silly and only hurts myself. And therein lies the why. Our trials are good for us. They help form us into the saints we are all called to be and this is true for my children, too. Sainthood should be the desired goal of our entire lives.
In this modern age, being in control has become increasingly ingrained in us by our society. We are so self-reliant and self-sufficient that it’s easy to forget we need God, every single minute of every single day. Every minute that disaster doesn’t strike us we should be thankful for the grace and protection that is keeping us safe. Anna’s date of death, March 2nd, happens to be the feast day of St. Charles the good. Shortly after she died, a friend sent me one of his quotations that has stuck in my mind ever since: “We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God.” Unfortunately, the modern view tends to be just the opposite. We have the expectation of controlling as much as we possibly can and when disaster strikes we are angry and upset that we didn’t see it coming, or that God didn’t protect us. How differently we would view suffering if we lived a more God-reliant way of life! If we stepped outside of ourselves and practiced letting go all the time, and not only when we are forced to, it would be easier to do when we need to. So, if the goal is sainthood, we should be thankful for our trials since they give us the opportunity to relinquish control and trust more fully in God.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Cor 15:10
The gift of my free will is powerful, but it does not give me control over life and our circumstances. Disease will strike. Accidents will happen. Trials will come, but in my weakest moments my free will gives me the power to tell Satan to go to hell and to let God be God.
When I look longingly at the Joy of days gone by, temptation to despair may arise, but I know that it holds no real power. Instead of being bitter and angry about what has been lost, I choose to pray in utter surrender,
“Jesus, I trust in you. My kids have been broken, but you are the divine healer and can restore us, Lord. I didn’t ask for these trials God, but you can use them for your good. We have lost so much, but as long as we have you, Jesus, we have everything. I am Thankful.”