Roses From Potatoes: A Recipe for Redemption
Three years ago I decided to fast every Wednesday and Friday for peace in the world. To say the least, it was tough. One Wednesday afternoon, I went to my classroom closet to get my coat and saw the open bag of Starburst candies I kept on hand as rewards for my students. Within 10 seconds, three of them were gone, and right away I started beating myself up. What was wrong with me? People were starving all over the world; Jesus had fasted 40 days and nights. Couldn't I resist food for one day?
One of the challenges I face in my prayer life is that I often talk to God but rarely stay still or quiet enough to let Him talk back. Sometimes, however, He breaks through in spite of me. On that Wednesday afternoon, a voice out of nowhere interrupted the chatter in my brain. You're doing fine, it said.
I froze. I knew that voice wasn't mine. I would never have said something like that to myself right then. At first I thought I might cry. Then I wanted to dance. I knew God had spoken to me all my life through Scripture and hymns and the loving words of family and friends. But this was different. This was a loud-and-clear message that I believe He spoke directly to my heart. And what a message: You're doing fine.
I didn't think that God meant I was perfect and should sit back and bask in the warmth of my own virtue. I think God meant exactly what He said. I was doing fine. I was trying to love. I was actively seeking to serve Him. Any parent who has ever taught a child to ride a bicycle can understand. The child falls again and again. She gets angry with herself and feels like she will never get the hang of it. But her father picks her up, puts his arms around her, and tells her she's doing fine. He doesn't mean she's ready for the Tour de France. He means that she's doing exactly what should be expected at this point in her life. She's a child and she's new at this. She's going to fall. But she keeps going, and every day she's getting a little better. He notices her progress even when she doesn't.
One of my favorite stories from St. Faustina's Diary is the miracle of the potatoes. When Faustina worked in the convent kitchen, she had to drain the potatoes for the sisters' supper, but her body was not very strong, and "sometimes [she] spilt half of [the potatoes] with the water" (Diary, 65).
One day St. Faustina expressed her frustration to God. "Then," she writes, "I heard the following words in my soul, From today on you will do this easily; I shall strengthen you" (Diary, 65). That evening, St. Faustina "hurried to be the first to [drain the potatoes], trusting in the Lord's words" (Diary, 65). She did the job perfectly, and when she looked in the pot, she saw that the potatoes had been transformed into "whole bunches of red roses, beautiful beyond description" (Diary, 65). Then she heard the words, "I change such hard work of yours into bouquets of beautiful flowers, and their perfume rises up to my throne" (Diary, 65).
From then on, St. Faustina always tried to be the one to drain the potatoes, even when she was not assigned to kitchen duties, because she had "experienced how much this pleases God" (Diary, 65).
I love that story for a few reasons. First, St. Faustina's childlike faith meant she did not think potatoes were too small a matter to bring to God, and she trusted Him to give her the help He promised. Second, those potatoes were roses even before she finally drained them. God told her that He turned her hard work, not her successful results, into flowers. If St. Faustina had never managed to drain the potatoes, the fragrance of her sincere and persistent efforts would have been just as pleasing to Him. Finally, St. Faustina kept draining the potatoes, not because she was proud of her new skills or because she hoped to see more miraculous roses, but because God had shown her how much she pleased Him with her work.
We don't punish our children for falling off their bikes after we've taught them how to stay upright. And yet we forget that Jesus "[does] not reward for good results but for the patience and hardship undergone for [His] sake" (Diary, 86).
Imagine how our Lord must smile when He turns His head on the road to Calvary and sees us stumbling after Him in the distance. Whether our struggle is an open bag of candy on fasting day or a job we just can't seem to get right, God sees us work hard at following Him and is pleased.
We are doing fine. As long as we offer Him willing hands and hearts, He will turn our potatoes to roses.
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.
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