“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.”
This is from “The Foundation: Fact and Practice” of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Exercises are a director-led intensive prayer practice designed by St. Ignatius in the 16th century.
I’ve been returning for the past few days to this paragraph from what is essentially Ignatius’ preface to his exercises. I can’t get over these words:
“All the things in this world are also created because of God’s love and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.”
The first time I ever sat down with my spiritual director in San Francisco, we ended our session with these words on a sheet of paper. I was to take them home and pray them through. (I had asked for homework…because homework always makes me feel better.)
See, this was still in my first year in San Francisco: The year of the Stay at Home Mom Personal Crisis. If you’ve been reading my blog for long you might laugh at this. That’s because I wrote about it A LOT. I was obsessed with the need to believe that I was still worthy. Me, this woman whose life was once full of ministry and sacrificial choices, afternoons discussing broken home lives with high school girls over coffee, nights sharing fries with awkward freshmen at the local pizza place. My working life was beautiful and hard and fulfilling. I loved my job.
But there was something under that, a dark need: Jesus, I secretly thought, liked me best when I was working the hardest.
When I quit full time ministry to stay home with my then 1-year-old, I couldn’t imagine that my life could ever be as valuable to God as it once had been. (If the rest of my culture didn’t find value in the work of a SAHM, could I?)
When my spiritual director gave me this small set of Ignatian thoughts to meditate on, I kept coming back to the gifts I had in my life: Living my days alongside my boy, enjoying his growing, lunchtime with him at his kid-size table, teaching him the name of every possible shark (his obsession at the time).
What began to happen to me was simple: When I didn’t fix my desires on superficial success, impressiveness, false burdens, or people pleasing, Ignatius was right: “Everything [had] the potential of calling forth in [me] a more loving response to our life forever with God.”
It didn’t have to be about whether my calling was exciting to the stranger at the park. It didn’t have to ache when Cocktail-Party-Professional-Lady made a joke about SAHMs while I stood in her circle. I didn’t need to explain my former credentials to my husband’s coworkers. What mattered was that I know the truth: Jesus is not impressed with me because of what I accomplish. What he desires from me is a life where everything calls me forth to love him.
Sometimes that looks like talking about God’s deep love with a 15-year-old who finds her worth in the laxatives she swallows in the dark of her bedroom. Sometimes that looks like playing “Cars” for the 2 millionth time on the floor and being bored out of my mind.
What God wants is my love. And I give it by living. I give it by using the gifts of creation.
“For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”