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What does it really mean to give your life to Christ and trust God? (II of II)

February 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Faith, Fr. Bartunek, God's Will

Dear Father John, I have been grappling a lot lately with spiritual progress, and I think what it boils down to is trust. The whole idea of believing God is with me throughout my day, and even more so, the idea (or need) to turn everything over to Him… But what does that actually look like? How do you get there? I still have to go through the steps/tasks of life as a wife, mother, and other things… What exactly does the giving up of your troubles and the turning over your life to Him look like PRACTICALLY?  I want more than anything for His will to be done in my life… this pure wanting is such an answered prayer, but my greatest prayer right now is to be able to hear His voice and know what His will is. So, my struggle is a bit two fold… On the one hand, I think it comes back to my weak faith (getting stronger all the time, but…) and also, the ability to discern and to hear Him. Do you have any advice for me?

Part II: Growing in Trust

Part I of this series gave us a chance to reflect on the reasons why trust, confidence in God, is at the heart of the spiritual life. Now onto the more practical issues.  Every Christian has two basic sectors in life: our contemplative sector, and our conquering sector.

Contemplative

The contemplative sector touches our interior life, our prayer life, our constant interior journey to discover and experience more and more deeply this boundless love, goodness, and trustworthiness of God. You have had a great jump start in this area since your search began – God has been guiding you along and moving you pretty quickly! So, in this sector, you simply need to keep moving. Keep praying, receiving the sacraments, going on retreats, doing spiritual reading… It’s very helpful in this regards to have some specific prayer commitments, and to have regular spiritual direction to receive guidance in prayer. Specifying these commitments is a great topic for spiritual direction. God’s will for you in this sector is to keep moving forward on the path that he has already led you to.

And Conquering

The conquering sector touches our exterior life, our mission of making a difference in the world, of imaging to those around us the very goodness of God that Christ reveals to us. This has to do with living the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit in your everyday life: honesty, purity, patience, generosity, service, forgiveness, responsibility, faithfulness, courage, self-denial… It’s about being the kind of wife, mother, friend, etc. that Christ wants you to be. It’s about following the commandments, and most especially the one that sums up all the other ones: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This can also overflow into activities directly dedicated to spreading the faith (we call this “apostolate”) – like starting a Bible study or organizing pilgrimages, etc… Eighty-five percent of the time, God’s will for you in this active sector is really, really obvious: he wants you to fulfill your responsibilities as a wife and mother, as a friend and parishioner, with sincerity, love, joy… Doing that really is doing his will. Think about the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph during all those years when Jesus was growing up – and Jesus himself! They lived a very “normal” life from the world’s perspective, and that’s how they glorified God and grew in their friendship with him; God worked in hidden ways through their non-dramatic daily obedience, just as he makes crops grow little by little, in hidden ways, day after day.

The other 15% of the time we have doubts about what God wants of us. This may be regarding big life decisions (where to life, what job to take, who to marry, what to do with a problem child, how to deal with an elderly parent who can no longer take care of themselves…), or it may be regarding individual, personal decisions: Should I go on my parish’s pilgrimage to Rome?… In these cases, we have to exercise the virtue of “prudence.” By prudence, we ask God for light, then we reflect calmly about the pros and cons of the different options, then we get good advice from people we trust, and we wait for the decision to become clear, listening to our hearts.

As regards this conquering sector, it is very helpful to grow in self-knowledge through is called a program of life. You may want to consider doing a Spiritual Exercises retreat, during which retreatants develop programs of life. This is important because we sometimes get stuck in developing our trust in God because there are blocks in our emotional or intellectual lives that we don’t identify – experiences from our past that have left their mark, usually. Spiritual direction and a program of life are excellent tools to identify and gradually remove these hidden blocks.

Frustration Doesn’t Come from God

In your question, I detected some frustration, and maybe even impatience. Your desire to grow closer to God is so strong! This is a grace from God, and I am so glad you are grateful for it! But watch out – frustration and impatience don’t usually come from the Holy Spirit. You see, the spiritual life, our friendship with Christ, isn’t something that we ever finish. We can never check off “trust in God” from our to-do list.  It is a journey that lasts our whole life long – and it is full of incredibly beautiful discoveries (and some painful ones too). God is rehabilitating our trust, little by little. When he’s done, he takes us home. He is the doctor of our souls, and healing always takes time.  He is our personal trainer, and he knows what we need and when we need it, but we don’t always like taking the necessary time to allow his grace to produce results in our lives! So when you feel that frustration or impatience, ask yourself if, objectively speaking, there is more that God wants you to be doing. If you are making a decent effort (that’s all God needs from us) on both these fronts – contemplative sector and conquering sector – then rest assured that you are moving forward on this wonderful pilgrim path through earth to Heaven, and that God is pleased and excited to have you by his side!

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Guest

    Thank you Fr. John for this Post. Now, this has ruffled me somewhat. “But watch out – frustration and impatience don’t usually come from the Holy Spirit.”. I have in place what you explained as the Programme of Life regarding my daily Prayer schedule, Spiritual Readings and Worship through which I stay in touch with God throughout the day. However, should something crop up to – say, delay me for the 3.00 O’Clock Holy Hour Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament – or a commitment which will result in my missing the daily Evening Holy Mass, I will find myself feeling unfulfilled and in the evening, I will have a nagging feeling of having missed something very important. Whether the commitment which disrupted my day is reasonable or not, that nagging feeling won’t leave me and I will go to bed with it. Is that discomfort and that feeling of frustration from the Evil One?. Or have I become too scrupulous? I still have to find time to discuss this with my Spiritual Director but can you, Father, help me out in the meantime?

    • Just me

      Might be spiritual gluttony? I think you should be able to give up your spiritual practices when commitments require, without feeling unfulfilled. Its another form of self-denial. Looking at it that way might get rid of the nagging feeling. Sometimes you serve God better by not going to daily Mass or Adoration or saying the Divine Office. He knows you want to do those things, but he also knows you are “in the world” and things will happen that prevent you from spending as much time with him as you would like. I hope you don’t mind my jumping in here, since you addressed your question to Fr. John and not to the readers in general.

    • Becky Ward

      My Dear Sister Mary,

      A friend recently shared that her confessor suggested she look for the grace ‘in the distraction’. Sometimes we can get too caught up in our routines, or what WE think we should be doing, and this can be God’s way of alerting us to this.

      I’ve had the experience of starting something, like going to adoration, because I know I should………….and eventually I come to enjoy it and want to be there……….yet this doesn’t always register consciously, and God has used distractions to make me aware of this growth. (You don’t realize how much something means until it’s gone…..)

      Everything that happens to us is either ordained or allowed by God, and so there is a reason for it………our job is to be open so we can learn what He’s trying to teach us. 🙂 (Easier said than done!!)

      Love & Prayers

  • Dbduggan_51

    Thank you so much. I have a meeting Friday with someone who could possibly become my spiritual director. Please pray for me.

    • Consider it done. I am sure others out there will do the same.

      • Dbduggan_51

        Thank you. He referred me to someone else whom I will meet next Tues. Thank you for you prayers and beautiful articles

  • Guest

    Thank you so much, Becky. You are a soul who seems to understand me so well. I will keep your advice in mind. Truly my Prayer Schedule is something cherish and I wake up each day looking forward to as I thank God for giving me yet, another Gift of an additional day in my life. At 72 you very well understand at such an advanced age, each day we get, we pray that God will guide us with His Grace to enable us to live it as if it is our last day on this earth. One can never thank God enough for the Gift of Life and the Gift of Faith and all the care and love He has lavished on us – unworthy as we are most of the time – all these years. God bless you my Sister in Christ

  • Gerard Mc Mahon

    I was reading last night from the Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello’s book…

    • Dear Friend – Thank you for your efforts to deepen this discussion. Because of the Vatican’s stern warning regarding Father Demello’s writings, we don’t encourage distribution of his materials. Here’s the recent post on the topic… http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2011/01/18/should-i-read-books-by-fr-anthony-demello-sj

      • Just me

        Do some of Thomas Merton’s writings stray from the faith also? I read Spiritual Direction and Meditation and he stated that when we meditate on Scripture that Christ sees us here and now, and that this “spiritual contact” with the Lord is the real purpose of meditation. He gave the example that if we were to meditate on the Nativity, that the infant Jesus would actually be seeing us, and that this isn’t simply visualization or imagination. I’ve never felt totally comfortable with this as I have always been taught that its fine to use our imagination to visualize scenes in the Bible to help us understand Scripture and to be open to whatever God wants to tell us through the passage we are meditating upon. But believing that we are truly and actually in Christ’s presence at that particular time, seems a bit of a stretch. And a little scary. How do we know that what we are making “spiritual contact” with is actually Christ and not something evil?

        • Dear Friend – I am working on a post on this for you?

          • Just me

            Thank you. I have been away from the computer a few days and not able to respond. But I would really appreciate a post on this topic!

          • Which topic?

        • Post coming soon!

  • Theresa Jee

    Thank you Fr, John. This is the post that disturbs my conscience and it is good because it means that I have been trying my best but temper and impatience is the close door to open my heart to God. I am going thru a lot of negative responses in me and I feel that each day is a hard time for me to pass thru as I think I have failed to reach God but after reading this post I am gaining my confidence back.

  • Guest

    Thank you Just me. Of course, I don’t mind you responding to my query. We are on this Website to walk together on our Spiritual journey helping and encouraging one another and I am very happy with your advice.

    You notice I asked whether I am being scrupulous when I get flustered if I fail some days to fulfill my Prayer Schedule as a Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy. In this Devotion, for those members who have time (which I have in plenty, being retired and at 72 years!!!!!) we have a daily Prayer Schedule. In my case, it is a great blessing from God that He ordained and planned my life in such a way that I am able to live in His presence throughout the day and follow the Eucharistic Divine Mercy Prayer Schedule as recommended. Those of our Members, who are in active life and with family, work or business responsibilities, do, of course, fashion their observance of the Prayer Schedule, the fulfillment of Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy of the Apostles, in accordance with the dictates of their life situations. I would not view my Schedule as spiritual gluttony. Rather, it is the fulfillment of the Prayer Schedule and Corporal Works of Mercy, some of which, due my life situation, I would not be able to perform. In such circumstances, we are advised to fulfill this requirement of Corporal Works of Mercy by converting them into, and combining them with Spiritual Works of Mercy by attending Daily Holy Mass, Intercessory Prayers for various specific needs/persons and intentions while praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet during the 3 O’clock Holy Hour Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Praying the Stations of the Cross at this Hour on Fridays. The Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy are required to perform Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and daily pray the essential Prayers for the Sinners, the Sick and the Dying along with one’s persona/family Intercessory Prayers.

    The re-assurance I was seeking from Fr. John was with regard to this quotation: “But watch out – frustration and impatience don’t usually come from the Holy Spirit.”.

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