Last summer my daughter died. The summer before that, I was in my first trimester of pregnancy. The summer before that I was in my third trimester of pregnancy. The summer before that I had a child attached to my hip that would eat all the grass he could get his hands on. All this to say that this is the first summer when none of those things apply, and as a result I find myself somewhat available to actually do some projects around the yard that I’ve wanted to get to for, oh, four years. Mind you, when I say “projects” I am not one of these people who builds retaining walls or puts in their own patio or something. My current endeavor is removing landscaping rocks (aka “weed holders”) and replacing them with transplanted hostas from other parts of the yard. I think I might get crazy and buy and plant a shrub or two as well.
Today was a perfect day to work on the task at hand. Cool, dry and I was home alone with Isaac anyway, and heck, kids need fresh air, right? I was pretty proud of myself, too, for devising a way for my eager preschooler to help. I had him get his rather large dump truck, and showed him where to dump the rocks. Then I would load it up, and he could drive the truck over and dump actual rocks onto a pile. Genius!
For about fifteen minutes. Considering this was about three times longer than he usually stays on a task I desire him to complete, it was pretty good. But there are a ton of stinking rocks in that rock bed, and to be honest, he was actually helping at the time he quit! After that, he piddled around, clipping things with the garden scissors (though not my highest priority weeds), throwing the rocks into a nearby bush, requesting my participation in a stick fight, and generally just being kind of whiny. My helper was not super helpful to say the least.
I couldn’t help but think that this is often how we are with God. Or, at least how I am. I begin with a burst of excitement to “help him” somehow further the Kingdom, and when it starts getting mundane or even slightly uninteresting or frustrating, I start to whine. Or I get a better idea, to go do something else. Nevermind if it is actually something God wanted me to do.
If you haven’t read Uniformity With God’s Will by St. Alphonsus Liguori, skip your Starbucks tomorrow and buy it (it costs about as much as a grande coffee of the day. Or better yet, buy it and read it at Starbucks. It’s not long). He talks about just this thing. To be really effective in living out our Baptismal call, we need to be doing what God wants us to be doing, not just some nice stuff that strikes our fancy. St. Alphonsus goes so far as to say that we shouldn’t just accept God’s will, but want what God wants. I’ve read this little book many, many times and fall short every time. It is a tall order, because uniformity is not something we “muster up”, it is the action of grace at work in our lives.
On the retreat I was on in February, at the height of my pity party and despair over the effectiveness of my ministry, a fellow retreatant received a word from the Lord for me. She said, “God wants you to be his useless instrument”. She explained that this did not mean that I was useless, of course, but that I only needed to do what was asked of me and not worry about the rest. In theory, I can imagine how freeing it would be to really live that kind life. That life of uniformity. Like John XXIII I could say every night, “It’s your Church, Lord, I am going to bed!” So, as we continue on this path of uncertainty about jobs and family and whether I can keep a transplanted shrub alive, I am praying for grace to align my wants more closely with God’s.
PS: Going back to Isaac for a minute… it would take a lot of trust and discipline for him to keep loading rocks for a few hours. He’s a kid who is uninterested in our house’s curb appeal. If he were to keep at a task he found brain-numbingly boring, it would have to be because he trusted my vision for the project and loved me enough to know that I was keeping him on task to complete something great, even if at the end of his little part, he didn’t see any results. (Okay, theoretically. Stay with me.) How much more so with God. It helps to see the big picture of what we are doing for him. For instance, a volunteer who bakes cookies for a youth ministry event realizes she is “sweetening” the kids up so they might be more open to hearing about God. But even in times when we can’t possibly imagine how what we are going through helps anything, we need to trust the One who can see the whole project, and understands exactly what our part is in that project. And in order to trust this One, we must believe that he loves us and has our best interest at heart. Let’s all pray to be convinced of that love in a deeper and deeper way. It makes all the difference in the world.