No Retreat, No Surrender*
In thinking about the Lenten season, I have been dwelling on the Ash Wednesday Gospel text (Matt 6: 1-6, 16-21). This is the passage about not seeking outward reward by showing the world how pious you are in your prayers and alms giving; but to rather trust that our “Father who sees in secret will reward you”. The text concludes with the justly famous verse “For where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”
The first lesson is fairly easy to grasp. Do God’s will for your life, as best you can without making a splash about it. In short, do the right thing for the right reason. It’s the second lesson I want to focus on. What is our treasure? Is it our money? Our time? I would argue that our treasure is the sum total of all that we are and do in life. Easy enough, right? Oh, except that doesn’t really answer the question of what we are to do with all that we are and everything that we do.
I can’t tell you what God has called you to do, only you are in a position to answer that; although it I would suggest listening to the people God has put into your life, as they likely want the best for you. I would further suggest that whatever it is that you are most passionate about is one strong way to discover how God is calling you. Maybe it’s working in a food pantry, maybe it’s working with youth or teaching Sunday School. It might be that you have a story of recovery from addiction that you can share. Maybe you have a gift for organization or are handy with tools. There is really no end to the need that exists in God’s world. Whatever fires you up is likely a good indication of the Holy Spirit calling you in a particular direction. Again, I can’t answer this for you, only suggest that you stop and listen to the “still small voice of God”.
I am saying however, that you do need to decide. I have again and again beat the point home that God calls us all RIGHT NOW and fully expects us to do our best to have His Kingdom break into this world, in whichever way He calls you. What God never calls us to is either silence or procrastination. There is only one direction He would have us go and that is forward.
What holds us back? I would suggest forgetfulness. We forget the promises made by us or on our behalf at our baptism. We forget the vows we made when we affirmed our faith at confirmation. We forget the renewal of our faith at other inflection points; Christmas, New Years, past Lenten seasons, Easters gone by and so on and so forth.
Frankly, it’s easy to forget. We get older and as Bob Seger said a lot less bolder. We grow tired, we want to slow down and rest. We look around this world that we seem to have irredeemably screwed up and we want to just quit. We are sick of pounding our head against a brick wall and exasperated at the lack of any substantial change or progress.
It is also very easy to slip into a place of quietism and contemplation and tell ourselves that some sort of monkish existence is what we are being called toward. There is, of course, a time and place for contemplative prayer, just not all the time. We can too easily convince ourselves that the battles of the world are not ours to fight. We may look at the struggles as being between various groups of heathens and say, “what has this to do with me?” The struggles of everyone is of concern to God as we all belong to Him, whether or not the heathens know this. We want to retreat to a world of dreams in a safe Christian cocoon, only interacting with church friends and pushing the wider world away. It is, however, the wider world that is most in need of the Good News, however we are called to deliver it. The wider world is our mission field, isolation for the faith is nothing short of shameful and sinful. I for one am not ready to cave in to the idea that the followers of Jesus have grown so old and tired that we have run out of energy to proclaim release to the captives and the glorious news of the Resurrection.
We need desperately to grow young again. Who or what can do this for us? God can, through the exemplar of His son Jesus. He never quit, He never stopped, all the way to the Cross and the empty tomb beyond. I know, I know, that’s JESUS, what can mere mortals do? Well look toward mere mortals then. Take the example of Mother Teresa. After her death her journals were discovered, and we found out that she was belittled by doubt almost the entirety of her life. How could she not be, given the abject poverty in which she was mired for her whole ministry. Yet she never quit. What made her a saint was not the acts she performed but that she faithfully persevered. There is almost no end to the progress we can make as humans if we just show up and never stop. You can probably think of many examples like that in your everyday life. Use those gifts from God as inspiration in your own life.
We do not need to stay “old” in our faith. God offers us renewal every day. Drink deeply from the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior and you will soon find that as Bob Dylan wrote in his song My Back Pages, that “Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now”. If we remember that our treasure is all we have in our life and live accordingly then that is where we will find our heart. In this way we can become renewed in our faith, we can reclaim the vow that we made, to always remember, no retreat, no surrender.
*with all acknowledgment to Bruce Springsteen
Praise Be to God