“A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and most mortifies his will.”
–St. Francis de Sales
During my dating fast, I learned quickly that healing and growth happen in layers, like the peeling of an onion. Gently, God pulls one layer back at a time, cleaning and cutting as He goes. One day, I made the mistake of forgetting the importance of humility and was faced with dealing with the thickest layer as of yet. I called my spiritual director (“SD”), complaining about prayer and wondering if God would answer mine. “God isn’t a vending machine, Betsey. You don’t throw up a prayer and get what you want out of Him. That isn’t how prayer works.” Of course, I knew this. I was very aware that God isn’t like a genie, granting our wishes whenever we take the time to toss them His way; yet, I was learning a valuable lesson beyond the meaning of prayer: the importance of God’s will and how that is reconciled with our own.
We are each faced with a battle of wills each day; some are clearer than others. In the fight between good and evil, decisions are fairly easy to make. These can range from obvious to not so obvious; but the more one grows in the spiritual life, the easier it becomes to discern between good and evil. Yet, the more challenging aspects of the spiritual life involve discerning between God’s will and our desires. How do we know what He is calling us to and how do we reconcile that with what we want?
This issue is unique to each of us at different points in our lives. Often, the most challenging moments of discernment occur when another person is involved (i.e, a sick family member, infertility, dating and marriage, and job applications). In fact, how challenging it is for us and what a toll it can take on our hearts when we want something so bad yet God has a different plan in mind.
I was discussing this reality of reconciling our desires with God’s will with SD and what that says about trust and detachment. One of my favorite writings is Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus de Liguori. He stated, “Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: ‘Charity is the bond of perfection;’ and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.” Indeed, true love of God is expressed perfectly in the acceptance and desire of His will and ultimately, in the detachment from outcomes. Meaning, to desire God’s will above our own leads us to detachment from what will happen in our lives. Said differently, we trust in His plan above anything else, and we embrace it as it comes.
Of course, all of this is easier said than lived. Throughout my dating fast, I was given one opportunity after another to prove my trust and desire for His will. In fact, there was one situation I knew would present itself during the fast simply because, well, that’s how life works! His grace is sufficient, His love is enough. I find myself repeating often that God only gives us the grace we need for the very moment.
One of the hardest lessons of my life, if not the hardest lesson, has been detachment from outcomes. When SD and I were discussing detachment, he told me that God sometimes has to break our fingers to pry things out of them that He doesn’t want us to have at the moment (or ever) if we won’t let go.
Ultimately, detachment matters because we are each called to surrender to His will. “Jesus, I trust in You” wasn’t the easiest, or most truthful prayer of my life…until I let go. One of my favorite images is the moment of prostration during the profession of vows for priests and religious sisters. What incredible imagery to keep in the forefront of our minds to remind ourselves of our ultimate calling—complete surrender at the foot of the cross.
“All things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8: 28
**St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!**