Selah spent last weekend with Matt Linn. Fr. Matt Linn is a Jesuit Priest who leads what he calls “healing retreats.” He and his brother and sister-in-law have written over twenty books that, like this retreat, translate Ignatian spirituality into layman’s terms. (One is entitled “Sleeping with Bread.” I highly recommend it!) Fr. Linn was with us for two days. He led a workshop on discernment for spiritual directors followed by a day and a half healing retreat. This dear friend has profoundly influenced me. He has been a mentor to me for over twenty years. I am especially grateful to him as he taught me to know God as love. Part of this was by being God’s love to me. He walked alongside me as I experienced some difficult circumstances.
Matt speaks of the “loop” with which we give and receive love. It is based on the process of Examen. In essence, it is about the unique way that God created each of us. The idea is that when we do things that are in line with the way God created us, they are life-giving to us. For example, when I am teaching, I feel energized and alive. I never tire of it. This is a testament to how God made me. We are blessed when we are able to do what gives us life. This principle is the foundation of living as God’s instrument in this world.
One time early in our friendship, I experienced this loop as I was in the midst of some pretty brutal abuse in my academic position. I was almost daily told in one way or another that I was worthless. I went to a weekend retreat that he was leading and spent most of the week crying. I was overwhelmed with the message that God loved me. It came from the presentations and from the silence. The retreat was a balm. One activity during the weekend was to look at our struggles and gifts. We were told to write a struggle on one side of a card and on the other side to write how God could or was using it for the Kingdom. So, for example, I am a perfectionist and tend to be hard on myself. I want to be in control. It can distract me from the good I can do as I get too caught up in doing it right. The light side of this struggle, however, is that I get things done and tend to do them well. God can use my struggle for good. God does not take away my perfectionism—it is part of who God made me to be–but wants me to make it available for Kingdom use. Another example is the Apostle Peter and his struggle with being impulsive and angry. We see in Scripture that these traits got him in a lot of trouble. But his willingness to jump out there and challenge others was also how God used him as a leader in the early church.
After writing our struggle and the light side of this trait on our card, we shared it with Fr. Linn. He looked at the struggle and then turned the card over and looked at the way God was using it. He then offered a blessing based on the two. I had done this activity before and was expecting the same response as he had given in the past. However, this time was different. He looked at me intently and said, “Jackie, you are so good. You are so good! You are so good!” It was a profoundly needed message from God. I had begun to internalize the messages of worthlessness. God found a way to speak to me.
I do cherish Matt Linn, and again am so grateful to have him in my life. But I want to take the emphasis off of him and place it on God’s faithfulness. God will never leave us or forsake us. It doesn’t matter what we are going through, God is with us. It is up to me to be open to God’s care. God did not airlift me to the retreats during the years I was in that situation at work. However, I believe it was God that brought the work of the Linns’ to my attention. It was up to me to seek out the retreats, schedule the time to go, and attend them.
There’s a story of a person who was in a flood. As he sat on the roof with the water rising, he called out to God to rescue him. A truck came by and yelled, “There are still some dry roads. Jump in and we can get out of here.” The man replied, “Thanks, but God is rescuing me. “Hours later, a boat came by and the people called out to him to get in the boat. He said, “I appreciate that, but God is rescuing me.” Finally, when the water was starting to overcome him, a helicopter came and lowered a ladder to him. He yelled up, “Don’t worry. God is rescuing me.” Shortly after, he drowned. In heaven, he asked Jesus “why didn’t you rescue me? I had such sincere faith!” Jesus answered, “What do you mean?! I tried three times, but you refused each time.”
Silly story, but the point is well made. Our concept of the way God should help us may not be aligned with what God will actually do. We become despondent and feel betrayed when God “will not answer us.” It may be the case that God is answering us, but not in the way we anticipate. When experiencing the abuse from my supervisor, I cried out to God in despair many times. I wanted God to stop the abuse or lead me to another job. But that is not what happened. In fact, before the abuse began, I had several job offers on the table, but then they dried up. What was that about?? God did not do what I thought needed to happen. Nevertheless, God was faithful. God brought people such as Matt to me. In addition, I had a wonderful support system and dear close friends who helped me endure it. Even greater than these was that my relationship with God became much deeper and more intimate. In my desperation, I clung to God and drank deeply of God’s love. I would not trade that for anything!
Perhaps I could have taken this same path to God without the abuse, but I’m not sure. When things are going well for me, I tend to go full speed ahead in my independent way. I’m quite resourceful and like to be in control. It is not that I want to live life without God; I just forget to bring God into what is happening. Yet in times of suffering, I place my trust and hope in God. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish I would remember all the time. I pray that I am moving in that direction.
My prayer for you and me is that our eyes are open to God’s faithfulness–that in our suffering, we have eyes to see and ears to hear. I pray that we will look for the opportunities and people that God is placing in front of us. Perhaps you will also be blessed with a friend like Matt. Perhaps you are that friend to others and God is using you in their lives precisely because of the struggles you have endured.
Grace and peace to you,