This spring I’ve been reading a number of biographies and autobiographies of Christian men and women mostly from the mid-nineteenth to the later twentieth centuries; they have taught me a lot about what it means to depend only on God in every circumstance. From John G. Paton, a Scottish missionary, who stood up to armed cannibals ready to kill him in the New Hebrides at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century and told them how God loved each one of them. To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, who knew from the beginning the evil in the Nazi messages. He was killed in a concentration camp right at the end of World War II for his resistance to everything Nazi. To Fr. Walter Ciszek’s story of being a newly minted Polish-American priest in Poland at the beginning of World War II. He was captured by the Russians and spent 5 years at the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow where he was questioned relentlessly and tortured by the KGB. Then he did 15 years at hard labor at a camp in Siberia. Even when he was released he was only allowed to be in Siberia until he was swapped several years later with another American for two Russian prisoners held by the Americans.
Here is how Fr. Ciszek describes his total conversion to God’s ways in his imprisonment: “Across that threshold I had been afraid to cross, things suddenly seemed so very simple. There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God’s will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. To discern this in every situation and circumstance, to see His will in all things, was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. Nothing could separate me from Him, because He was in all things. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him.
“The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring. The past, with all its failures, was not forgotten; it remained to remind me of the weakness of human nature and the folly of putting any faith in self. But it no longer depressed me. I looked no longer to self to guide me, relied on it no longer in any way, so it could not again fail me. By renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life and future destiny, I was relieved as a consequence of all responsibility. I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul.” [www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/739435-he-leadth-me]
Fr. Ciszek served mass secretly to other prisoners in the labor camps and set up secret worshipping communities when he was released. He worked hard in every circumstance, because, from his point of view, he was serving God. The other prisoners did as little as they could get away with.
Of course, it is not just men who are courageous in the face of danger, there are lots of stories of Christian women who faced danger and difficult circumstances over the centuries from Joan of Arc to Mother Teresa. Some men and women live the message of the Exodus story to be “strong and courageous” as God instructed Joshua after Moses died[Joshua 1:6-7] no matter what. They do not turn from God in facing whatever is before them. We do not have to be in such extreme circumstances to see God’s will in everything that happens and align ourselves with his will.
But I have learned so much from these stories about faith and total participation with God in whatever is before me. I lean so much more on God now than I ever did, ready to trust that He will be with me, no matter what. We may have to face armed cannibals or be killed in a concentration camp or be confined to a forced labor camp in our lives, but the task is the same—to courageously face whatever is before us with God.
I complain less about what is going on in my life or in our country as I read these biographies and autobiographies. When I read about 19th century people, I am struck by how often they are sick or how many of their children die. And I marvel that we do not suffer in that way for the most part because we have antibiotics and good medical care, both of which we take for granted.
It takes a leap of faith like Fr. Ciszek’s to discover God’s will in everything. What if, every time we feel challenged, we were to discern God’s will for us in each challenge? What if we were to dive into the challenge so as to learn what the lesson is that God wants us to see in it? What if we were to embrace any kind of suffering as God’s will for us, not as punishment for whatever we have done or failed to do, but as how God heals and transforms us, how He hones our skills so that we can be so much more productive in his work? What a difference that shift in attitude makes in our relationship with God and in our ability to discern his will!
The four lessons I have learned from reading about these courageous people are 1) “renouncing, finally and completely, all control of my life ad future destiny”(Fr. Walter Ciszek); 2) facing our enemies and greatest fears with God’s love foremost on our lips; 3) being “strong and courageous” in standing up to any evil (Joshua 1:7, 23:6); and 4) discovering God’s will in everything that happens to us. By taking these lessons to heart we move into a complete reliance on and trust in God. And that makes all the difference in our lives. Let us see what God can do with us then!
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I aligned with God’s will in everything that I do? Do I have that as a priority in my life? Am I “strong and courageous” in facing fear and danger head on? Do I stand with Christ Jesus in every circumstance? Do I hear what God is saying to me in every circumstance? And then do what He suggests?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who seek his will in everything we do. May we align ourselves with his will always. May we be agents of God’s love and forgiveness with everyone we meet.
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