Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you
as you deserve; to give and not to count
the cost, to fight and not to heed the
wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.
Ignatius of Loyola
This has been the shortest summer of my life.
I realize that speaking about summer in the past tense is part
of my problem. But this summer, in particular, has emphasized how brief our
time in this world actually is.
It has been a summer of firsts and lasts. Our first child
graduated high school, so after his last wrestling banquet, prom, and awards
night (and his first trip to the doctor for stitches), we attended our first
graduation and registered for classes at the University of Mary for the first
time. My own age doesn’t bother me much, but Brendan’s does—I can’t figure out
how he could be leaving for college when I’m only just out of college myself.
June and July were relentless, planning and preparing for
events at church and on the home front. On July 23, Gabe and I left for Poland
with a group from three area parishes to join 2.2 million other pilgrims in
Kraków for World Youth Day. It was a beautiful, faith-filled, overcrowded, and
exhausting trip, packed with numerous graces and more than a few trials. We
returned on Wednesday, August 3, to a house full of guests getting ready for
Brendan’s grad party/college send-off on Saturday. On Sunday Jodi and I had our
marriage blessed with a number of friends unknown to us when we got hitched 20
years ago, then went home to clean up from the party before Vacation Bible
School, which started Monday.
Finally, on Thursday of VBS week, I left with Brendan for the
Jesuit Retreat House in Demontreville. After the noise and chaos of the previous
few weeks, three days of silence and reflection alongside my soon-to-be
college-bound son seemed just what I needed.
On Thursday night, one of the priests advised us to pray
specifically for whatever grace we hoped to gain from the retreat. Here I made
a mistake: I had been anticipating rest and recuperation, but in that moment,
my soul blurted out, “Intimacy with you, Jesus—I want to be close to you!”
I went to bed Thursday night expecting to sleep soundly and
long for the first time in weeks. Instead I tossed and turned and woke multiple
times, stiff and store and thirsty. In the wee hours of the morning, as the sky
began to pale, a single verse from the Gospel of Matthew took root in my head:
“Foxes have dens and birds of
the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matthew 8:20).
My eyes opened. I had prayed
for intimacy with Christ and had been given the smallest taste: I was lying
awake, exhausted, aching, and alone, with no one to talk with but my God. I
prayed. I gave thanks for this new perspective. I slept peacefully, if briefly,
until the sun rose.
This lesson—that intimacy
with Jesus brings both suffering and peace—is not particularly profound, but it
is important. Like a child, I
had desired the benefits of heaven and God’s love without considering deeply what
might be required of me. I think we do this often. Heaven sounds great if
admission is free.
The retreat master offered
another lesson, throughout the weekend. He told us to remember that the Holy
Spirit is the Consoler: God does not motivate through discouragement, but
encouragement. He wants us to take heart, not lose heart—and if He gives us a
rock, it’s to build, not to bloody ourselves. Whether we seek intimacy with
Jesus or not, things will change, people will come and go, time will fly, death
will come. But with Christ, we can take heart: He has walked this road before,
and it leads home.
O Jesus, our life here is short, and we cannot save
time, but only spend it. Help me not to hoard the blessings I’ve been given,
but to share them, and to pour myself out completely in union with you. Amen.
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