I can’t help but to think sometimes God thinks more highly of me than I do myself.
Well, of course he does, and that’s a great thing!
Really, when stressed out, when challenged in ministry, when any kind of struggle pops up in my seminary formation, I should take it as a kind of compliment from God. He knows what we can handle, and he does not make mistakes. And he gives us everything we need to come out of it stronger.
This last weekend made this a lot clearer to me. Especially when a 1st Year Confirmation retreat, that’s supposed to begin at 9pm Friday night, becomes a struggle just to get the teens and leaders to the retreat center by 2:30am, and finally falling asleep at about 5am, just to wake up by 8am, Saturday morning (did I mention there was a retreat to begin, too!). Oh yes, it’s really easy when things don’t go quite according to plan– like when the bus full of our friends from Divine Savior Parish in Los Angeles takes a wrong turn coming up the mountains of Santa Barbara, gets stuck on Painted Cave Road in one of it’s narrowest switchbacks (my bike fits up that road just fine, but not a bus!) looking right off the edge of the cliff, the leaders already at the retreat center need to make the 23 mile round trip four times each to get all 46 teens in the middle of the night and early morning from the bus to the center, the retreat can’t be started until the next morning and so many parts need to be cut out and adjusted, and then the retreatants are so excited by it all that they don’t want to go to sleep until the sun is practically coming up already– to blame God and merely fight for survival through the weekend retreat.
But, you know what, it was such a great retreat. I think we did more than survive, but in many ways we thrived! I felt sure of it from the very start, while driving with my truck stuffed (safely and legally, of course!) with scared and excited retreatants and while driving back to the bus by myself a number of times, that God was looking very kindly on us. It may not have seemed so to anyone else watching our well laid plans fall apart. But the truth was that God trusted us with this challenge, and he is too faithful to put us through that only to make it an awful retreat too! At least that was my hope, ha!
And our God is indeed faithful. It’s all over the story of the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 5:41-42, the new Church, the men and women who knew Christ and knew how serious God was about dying for us and rising for us, rejoiced in their suffering. They even saw how in being accused and imprisoned and tortured, they were favored by God. It’s not because God loves pain and wants us to suffer, but because God himself, in Jesus Christ, entered right into our pain and loneliness, and showed us that when we suffer, God does not leave us. He comes crashing right into our lives, climbs up onto that cross for us, and takes it on himself.
So no, we’re probably not being imprisoned for our faith, let alone tortured and berated (although some Christians are; pray for them!), we can’t deny that we’ve got our own struggles. Here at the seminary, just as it is in your own classes I bet, we’ve all got our deadlines and stresses that can keep us away from prayer; we’ve got friends who are really struggling in their faith, and we might be too; and there might not seem a whole lot of relief in sight. But that’s just it. The early Church knew it, I got a glimpse of it in this weekend’s adventures, and God himself knows it very well through Jesus Christ: struggles come and can tear us down, but God stays faithful; there are crosses for all of us to carry, some heavier than others, but crosses nonetheless, and with every cross there can be a Resurrection. Sometimes we just have to drive a little farther, stay up a little later than we expected, or let a few of our plans be changed around to be a witness to it.