This ‘blessing’ was prayed over Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor:
May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child and sing and dance
in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
That sounds like a terrible prayer if you are praying it, for example, for a dying loved one, for parents of a sick child. But is it, really? In fact, it sums up the whole idea of “not my will, but thine be done…” it is precisely what Jesus taught us, but we forget that. We’re so into “feel good” Christianity and “Expect a Miracle” thinking (and there is much to feel good about, in Christianity, and many miracles to expect) that we forget the hard truth – that beneath all of that we’re supposed to be disposed toward surrender, we’re supposed to be getting out of the Creator’s way (and our own) so that He may increase as we decrease.
We pray “thy will be done…” but I think many times we don’t mean it. We say it because we know we “should,” but it’s bittersweet. “Okay, Lord, you’re going to do it your way, so I’ll acquiesce…but, please, please, can’t you do it my way? Think about it, Lord! My way is pretty good, too, isn’t it? And you want me to be happy, don’t you? Get back to me, Lord! Love ya! Mean it! Call me!”
Okay, I’m indulging in a little silliness, but only because this is such an un-silly prayer, an un-silly topic.
The reason I am thinking about this prayer, and about the sort of surrender my sister and her family are tearfully making, is because of this “I want what I want when I want it” mindset I am seeing in stories like this one:
A sperm donor passed an extremely rare and dangerous genetic ailment to five children born to four couples, doctors reported Friday in a case that exposes a gap in the screening process.
No, you don’t have to go the sperm-donor route in order to pass a genetic illness on to your children; it happens to married couples all the time. But this brings up the whole idea of “wanting what you want, when you want it” and being completely unwilling to simply accept the gift of your own basic circumstance. And I am about to become very unpopular, but I hope you’ll stay with me a little, before blasting me.
By basic circumstance, I mean this: A child-loving couple finds they are infertile. This is an agonizing situation, to be sure. But while they pursue every and all possible means to have “their own” baby, or one that is “mostly” their own, do they ever stop to think, “Lord, what are you trying to show me…is it your will that I not have children, is there a path I am supposed to be treading, that is not this one?”
We rarely stop to think that way. In a noisy world full of possibilities and sciences – most of them good – the idea of not having what you want is almost unthinkable. Of course we should all have precisely what we want. That’s why God gave us science, right?
Well, maybe…but maybe not. Maybe that couple was supposed to adopt a kid who ended up unadopted. Maybe they were never supposed to have kids at all – they were supposed, instead, to rescue dogs, or put enormous time into volunteer work.
I’m just putting it out there – do we ever stop to think that the stuff we’re being given to deal with we are meant to actually deal with, live through, emerge from in a changed and beatific way?
How about another scenario – and this one will really tick some off – you’re gay. You’re a human being, with a human sexuality and a human longing for love, and romance, too; and you’re gay. The church in which you’ve been raised says, “okay, so, you’re gay. No sin in that, but as such, you may not marry – because marriage is the province of men and women whose coming together assists in the continuation and revitalization of all creation – therefore, since you may not marry, you are called to the same celibacy as any unmarried person. One gift has been denied you, but if you pay attention you will be shown your gift, and your calling – perhaps you are called to be a necessary other, perhaps you are mean to believe wholly to me, in ways I will teach you. Do you accept this dangerous blessing?”
The answer these days, of course, is “no, hell no, screw this, screw the church, screw this crazy idea of my having some sort of otherness or calling I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it, and don’t give me any crap about thinking differently or you’re a freaking homophobe and I will take you down…” But I know there are some gay folk out there who read a book like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and think, “maybe I am called to more than a gay pride parade, a DVD collection of Will and Grace and allegiance to my almighty orgasm. Maybe there is something else I am supposed to be doing, that I am not? Maybe I am too much in the world, and there is mystery to which I have not surrendered?”We all think we’re supposed to hear “yes” all the time. And “yes” feels so much better than “no.” Although, for most of us, we can look back on our lives and find a few times when the “yes” we wanted so badly would have been better off a “no.”
I am not proposing that the whole world take a look at the cards in their hand and “fold.”
To surrender is not to fold. It is to play the hand you’ve been dealt – to take it as far as you can, in faith and obedience (there’s a word you never hear anymore…)
Sometimes you have to play aggressively and even radically. No child born should have to “surrender” to racist treatment because they were dealt a skin shade others may not appreciate. No gay man or woman should have to submit to violence or public scorn or disrespect because they were dealt homosexuality. But perhaps part of our whole human experience is meant to contain a moment wherein we say, “okay, God, you dealt me this hand. I don’t particularly appreciate it – it’s not the hand I would have chosen. Therefore, I’ll let you play it, I’ll follow your lead and trust that it will not come up a stinker.
Tough to do; it goes against our every instinct. And yet, this is what Christ lived out for us. His trial, torture and death were NOT what his followers had in mind. It did not meet their expectations. It seemed to have thwarted all their plans and turned their desires into nothingness. And they had no choice, they had to just deal with it, accept it, live through it. And on the third day, Christ rose, and the entire world was made new, due to that surrender – due to playing a hand no one really wanted to see dealt, faithfully, and to completion.
There is a lesson Fr. Nouwen taught:
First Christ takes us as we are.
He blesses us.
Then He breaks us.
And gives us to the world to bless.
We are – historically – a stiff-necked people. And we more and more refuse to be broken, to allow ourselves to be given out.
I have an idea buzzing in my head – I’m not ready to articulate it; it is for another post, possibly a multi-parter – but I’m thinking of another group demanding “what it wants, when it wants it,” my friends who have taken the uncompromising stand on illegal immigrants, the stand that says “ship them all out, no amnesty, not even for folks who have been here a long time and been productive…and by the way, Bush sucks. He sucks about everything, now, because he didn’t say yes to us.”
(And damn you, Moses, leading us out of slavery and into the desert. When we were slaves in Egypt, at least we had melons and meat. You suck, Moses – we can’t see the sense in what you’re doing and we don’t like it. You’re slow of tongue, you’re stupid, you’re letting us down, you’re breaking faith and you should put someone else in charge. You’ve only given us 75% of what we want! Yeah, the Red Sea parting was nice, but what have you done for us lately? And you’ve been too long on that freaking mountain, too. Let’s melt some gold!)
Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
Theres one thing baby
That I dont understand
You keep on telling me
I aint your kind of man
Aint I rough enough, ooh baby
Aint I tough enough
Aint I rich enough, in love enough
Ooh! ooh! please
Ill never be your beast of burden
The beast upon which we ride – individually and collectively – is so enormous we cannot see its beginning or its end. We cannot really describe it. Were we to dismount, we would find it looks nothing like what we imagined – we might not even recognize it as our beast of burden. And yet, we are all so very sure about what it is, exactly, and where it is taking us.
I expect a lot of people to completely misunderstand this post -mostly because I’ve probably written it poorly, expressed myself without enough clarity. That is my fault, and I apologize for falling short and lacking the lucidity it might demand. I just put it out there as food for thought.
Mick Jagger said it much better:
You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need