Have you ever worried about God sending you on mission to deepest, darkest Africa if you yield your life totally to Him? And this when he knows you’d rather eat your own leg and have an arm for dessert! I have. I’ve worried He’ll insist I do something that goes so much against my nature that I’ll spend years living in misery, longing for the comforts of home until, one day, I die and get the reward of Heaven. Then He’ll pat me on the head and quite possibly deliver more of the same. I don’t have the heart of a missionary, a nun or a teacher and I’m OK with all those deficiencies, thank you.
There are lots of teachings available which encourage a Christian to ‘let go and let God.’ It sounds so easy. Until I remember Africa. What if I let go and God’s already arranged my flights? So I say things to Him like: ‘It’s up to you God only there’s no way I’m going to Africa. Send me there and the deal’s off.’ Or: ‘OK – we’ll do it your way. But only if it’s not too hard. You forget how weak I am … I can’t manage much … And no Africa, y’hear?’ Oddly enough, God has always gone along with me on this – not one mention has He made of Africa even though I’m sure that’s what He really wants. How strange that is.
He’s wrought other changes in my life though. For many years I’d felt that He wanted me to join the Roman Catholic Church. I’d drifted from one denomination to another (and sometimes to other faiths – or no faith!) for a very long time. For most of that time I felt like a jigsaw piece being forced into the wrong picture. I was sky trying to fit in as sea. When I first ventured into Mass I found a whole lot of other skies joined in making a beautiful picture. I knew this was where I belonged. So I started to research the faith more earnestly. I liked what I found until I was introduced to the concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist*. I ran away. And years passed while I drifted through a few more Churches, trying miserably to act like sea when I now knew I was really sky.
Eventually, I sat God down and told Him we needed to talk. ‘If you want me to be a Catholic, God, you’re going to have to make me believe in the Real Presence because I just don’t and I’m not a liar so I won’t pretend.’ Then I decided to let it alone. I was at the end of my own strength – I’d tried to believe, I’d tried to fit in elsewhere and I could do no more. I went to Mass sometimes, I went to other Churches. Yes, I drifted a bit more, all the while expecting a painful experience that would teach me God’s truth – whatever that might be.
There was no thunderbolt. There was no awe-inspiring display of strength. I didn’t go through some terrible season of trial as I’d expected. I just came to believe. No striving. No intensive study of Biblical texts. No hours spent on my knees on a cold chapel floor.
I can only attribute my conversion to God’s grace. And it is a gentle, tender grace. I was not forced to believe by might or by strength but by grace. I went to classes at my local Catholic Church and was received last Easter – with two other pieces of sky who’d found their home.
God says in Zechariah 4:6:
‘So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”’
God, in this verse is a gentleman. Perhaps He’s all too aware of the weakness of His creatures. If He’d chased me with thunder and lightening I would have run. If He’d tried brute force, I would have rebelled. Instead, he created within me the heart of a Catholic and allowed me to discover that faith for myself while the grace of His Spirit moved in and around me. I now know God as a gentleman. He does not violate free will – why would He have created me with that only to stamp all over it? That would be futile.
Is He going to send me on mission to Africa? I doubt it. But I do know that, if He does, He’ll first give me a missionary’s heart just as He gave me a Catholic heart before bringing me into the Church. Knowing this, I find that I am more willing to open myself to His will – His good and perfect will – with excitement rather than reluctance and fear.
*Catholics believe that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus are, in a special way, present in the bread and wine used for Communion.