God May Send Hardship But Also the Means to Use It for Good
By Dan Valenti (Jun 12, 2012)
Recently, I spent a weekend catching up on yard work. I mowed, swept, shoveled, raked, and weeded. Call it spirituality amongst the dandelions.
I marvel at the variety of plants that pop up in my yard. No one planted them, cared for them, or showed them any favor. They found their way as seeds, perhaps dropped by a bird or carried from somewhere else by the cat. They received no attention other than what the sun, rain, and soil provided. They grow and prosper.
God's Will Must Be Discerned, Acknowledged, and Acted Upon
We tend to think of weeds as a nuisance, and we get a chuckle from the many worried homeowners who panic at the sign of one dandelion weed, or sorrel, or plantain. It's funny and no accident that I mention these plants, because I saw plenty of them in doing my chores. I not only didn't curse them. I welcomed their presence. Each of these plants — which most either detest or ignore as "a weed" — is a superfood, a loaded, herbal pharmacy of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They [are] available for free. They give of their goodness freely. We only have to learn to identify them and accept what they offer.
The same is true with our relationship with God. Often, He will send us hidden gifts, disguised as burdens and sufferings. As with the edible, wild plants, until and unless we learn to identify their true nature, we will miss their value. God's will for our lives, expressed as love and best handled through and acceptance of His mercy during the many times of hardship we will surely face, provides valuable life lessons and steers us along the oft-trying path of goodness.
For example, the life of St. Faustina was characterized by tremendous hardship, suffering, and heartbreak. God gave her abundant supernatural graces, but — as He will do to those whom he has given much — He asked for much in return. He asked for her very life.
Like Mary, St. Faustina Said 'Yes'
The key is that St. Faustina listened to what God was saying, a process called discernment. After determining God's will for her life, she obeyed, first by accepting her vocation to the religious life, second by remaining open to what God asked of her, and third, by acting upon His direction. Like Our Lady at the Annunciation, St. Faustina could have refused the plea of Jesus to be His secretary of mercy (see Diary of St. Faustina, passages 965 and 1160, for example, where Jesus refers to the saint as a "secretary"). She didn't refuse. Like the Blessed Mother, St. Faustina said yes.
Part of my weeding included removing stray plants that had pushed their way up in the driveway, mostly where the tread of the tires does not mark or press the surface. The driveway is finished with small, loose pea stone. The coming and going of cars over the years has compacted the tire lanes. No plants grow there, but plants are smart. They have figured out where it's safe to grow, and they randomly gain tenuous but visible foothold. They must be pulled, one by one.
It's a laborious task, but for some reason, I enjoy this kind of labor. Perhaps it's because, as a writer, I live the life of the mind. The thoughtless repetition of weeding the driveway induces a calm, meditative state. The mind, though, wanders, and one thought, as random as the weeds, hit me: The parable of the sower (see Mk 4:3-9). Each of these weeds could have found a long and full-flowering life, except it landed on the rocky soil. They grew but did not flourish. They were seen but were not wanted. They were pulled.
For the Word of God to take root, as the Sower parable so brilliantly illustrates, it must land on good soil. As creatures of free will, we can choose to prepare good soil, often through the compost provided by our difficulties, trials, and suffering.
She 'Raised Her Game' in the Face of great Suffering
If there is one repeated theme that strikes me over and over when reading The Diary, it's how St. Faustina "raised her game," time and time again, to match what God was asking of her. The greater the pain, suffering, and sacrifice Jesus required, the more willing St. Faustina's acceptance. She turned conditions into opportunities for goodness and virtue that would drive others perhaps away from their faith.
The Diary is loaded with examples.
Saint Faustina's sufferings were physical, as in Diary entry 1089, where she reports searing pain from her lungs (later relieved by the Lord in that same passage). Saint Faustina's sufferings were mental, for example, when she records Jesus telling her, "My child, you please me most by suffering. In your physical as well as mental sufferings, My daughter, do not seek sympathy from creatures. I want the fragrance of your suffering to be pure and unadulterated" (279). Her pains were empathic: "I suffer with those who suffer. I am consumed with sorrow at the sight of those whose souls are cold and ungrateful (481).
Saint Faustina also endured a horrible form of spiritual suffering know as the Dark Night of the Soul. In the Diary, there is a remarkable passage, 77, that deals with this terrifying spiritual affliction, wherein one feels God mainly through a sense of absence. Saint Faustina titles this passage, "Darkness and Temptation."
My mind became dimmed in a strange way; no truth seemed clear to me. When people spoke to me about God, my heart was like a rock. I could not draw from it a single sentiment of love for him. When I tried, by an act of will, to remain close to Him, I experienced great torments, and it seemed to me that I was only provoking God to an even greater anger. It was absolutely impossible for me to meditate as I had been accustomed to do in the past. I felt in my soul a great void, and there was nothing with which I could fill it. I began to suffer from a great hunger and yearning for God, but I saw my utter powerlessness. * The abyss of misery was constantly before my eyes.
Don't think that in growing closer to God, everything else gets easy. Many things do improve, of course, particularly a sense of calm that comes from knowing in your heart that you are trying your best to live a good, moral life. Often, though, the closer one gets to God and the more progress one makes in the spiritual life, He will ask more of you. The weeds might show up extra heavy. Fear not: He gives you the strength to recognize their value or pull them from the ground. Either way, with God, your yard is safe.