Living the Hard Questions

Be patient toward all that is unsolved
in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing,
live along some distant day into the answer.

“Be Patient Toward All That is Unsolved” by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

“God has a plan,” she said nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders before I left the office. I cringed but forced a smile and a slight nod as I gathered my purse and quickly exited the building.

Why do these words always repulse me? I thought. They’re true. But incomplete, sort of trite and hollow, leaving me feeling the same – trite and hollow. It’s much like when people say, “Everything happens for a reason” or “Things will get better; look at the bright side.” It’s not that these sayings aren’t true in a shallow sense. It’s that they fall short of encompassing life’s mysteries and how God operates in us.

As I left my doctor’s office, I knew she was right – God does have a plan. But what was it? And why is not knowing whether or not I’m following it insufficient for me?

I thought briefly of Thomas Merton’s heart prayer: “Lord, I do not know where I’m going. But the fact that I desire to please you does, in fact, please you.” I guess that’s it – all of the wrestling within, the questions that are never answered and pleas that are met with deafening silence – it’s part of His excruciating plan for me.

It’s excruciating, because I’m left in the dark. He has chosen to withhold knowledge and clarity of His will from me, thus leaving me to grope and grasp for His hand without seeing what He’s doing or where He’s leading.

The grasping feels like drowning to me, but really it’s surrender. I’m letting go – of the need to know, to control, to feel certainty and confidence. This spiritual vulnerability is something new to me, and it’s terrifying. I am left here with a gaping wound in my heart, an unfulfilled longing to do great things for God. Yet His response is to keep me waiting, and I am in agony, not knowing if I should stay or move.

The fact that I desire to please God does, in fact, please Him. These words mean far more to me than “God has a plan” or “You are where you should be right now.” I’m learning that trust is more than repeating someone else’s mantra. It’s more than believing clichés. It’s radical, raw plunging into the abyss of the unknown. It’s clinging to God, cleaving to Him at all costs, pressing into His Sacred Heart.

Even in the unknown, the stark darkness and painful pruning of what I cannot see or determine, I please Him with my yes, renewed every day by my faithfulness to Him. My yes isn’t always straightforward; often, it’s messy and mingled with doubt and frustration. But it is nonetheless a wholehearted and honest renewal of my fidelity and commitment to serve Him in some capacity, however menial I may deem it to be.

And Jesus kneads the knots in my heart, which hurts. My ‘yes’ feels like His ‘no’ as He molds and shapes me into a more perfect and complete image of who I’ve always meant to be.

I left my doctor’s office with no real answers, as often happens in life. There’s nothing satisfactory about hearing the platitude, “God has a plan.” It’s something I intrinsically know yet fail to understand. And it’s because I’m in the midst of this inner tempest that vies for my soul. I cannot see or know or feel the truth of “God has a plan,” but I choose to accept it. And with that acceptance, I walk away.

I keep moving forward, wherever that may lead me. “Always forward,” St. Juniperro Serra claimed as his life’s motto. Indeed. Always forward, never back. To look behind me would be pointless and leave me in the wake of defeat and despair. Now I must accept the not knowing, live the questions themselves, and move ahead of where I am standing in this moment.

Though I want definite solutions, I don’t need them. What I need is to bask in God’s goodness, to throw myself into Him with unbridled trust and to dwell there until He bids me to begin again and again.

The deepening of one’s spiritual growth is not so much succeeding in the possession of unfailing answers to impossible questions. It’s more about living the mystery and becoming Mystery. It’s a way to heaven by obscure faith that is unclear but certain.

I’ve learned enough to know God may or may not make me privy to what He is doing in and with me at any given moment. But it’s enough for me to rest in this hard, messy, disjointed, and jarring place of what is incomplete. Life is incomplete until I journey beyond earth, so I shrug my shoulders in resignation as I look at the emerging twilight and say, “I know You have a plan, and that’s enough for me.”

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes.  Because life is about more than what makes us feel fuzzy inside, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to TriumphJeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and dozens of other radio shows and podcasts For more information, please visit her websites lovealonecreates.com or fromgrief2grace.com. Follow Jeannie on social media:  Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+ | Pinterest

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