For millennials who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, the jingle is familiar: “I don’t wanna grow up; I’m a Toys‘R’Us kid.”
I never understood it. I couldn’t wait to be a grownup—to go to college, to get married, to have babies. I loved imagining how many children I would have and what their names would be. A writer from an early age, I even wrote my dreams down as stories in which my husband, my children, and I were the starring characters.
Pretty soon into my 20s, though, I started to think those dreams would never come to fruition. I’d never had a boyfriend; the couple of dates I’d been on had gone nowhere other than disappointment. I had social anxiety disorder but had never really been treated for it, with the result being that I reached 25 convinced that I was unmarriable.
Well-meaning people told me to be patient, it will happen when it’s meant to, God’s timing is the right timing. I never believed them. I didn’t want God’s timing; I wanted my timing. And I was desperately afraid that God’s timing was “never.”
Things started to change the year I turned 27. I started seeing a therapist and worked with her to change my anxious thought patterns. And, as I started to challenge the idea that I couldn’t get married, I started to accept the possibility that I wouldn’t get married. I had to let go of my own plan and surrender to God’s—even though I didn’t know what it was.
Not at all coincidentally, it was about this time that I started going to Mass regularly again, started praying more often, and helped start a small group of young adults at my parish. I started making new friends, and a few months later, through those friends, I met the man who is now my husband. I was 28 when we started dating and turned 31 the week we got married. My wedding and my marriage came later than I had always dreamed and have been so much better than I’d ever hoped.
If the path to my vocation had followed my timing, not God’s, my husband would not be in my life. Our daughter would not exist. They are worth the wait, but I wish I’d learned to trust God sooner. I could have lived those years in faith rather than fear.
Here’s what I’ve learned since that time (and learning this lesson is an ongoing process!): Surrender to God’s will is a key to contentment—and it takes practice. That surrender requires trust, and if you’re not used to trusting God, you can’t snap your fingers and start trusting him any more than you can start trusting a new friend with your deepest secrets.
Like when learning a new skill, you will probably not be good at trusting God at first. You may have to pray for the desire to trust him first. Like the father of the boy with the demon in the Gospel of Mark, you may say, “I believe!” while still praying, “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). There have been times where I have repeated that prayer over and over —“Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”—begging for the faith to trust God with the biggest concerns of my life.
Another prayer I have on repeat in times when I am feeling anxious and unable to surrender a concern to God is from the surrender novena. A nine-day prayer by Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo, each day of the novena consists of a message Don Dolindo said came from Jesus himself, as well as 10 recitations of a prayer Jesus gave him: “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”
I first heard of the novena early in my motherhood, when I was struggling to trust God, and prayed it right away over the next nine days. The beautiful gift of this novena, for me, has been the prayer— “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything”—which is now there in my heart, whenever I need it.
The Catechism states that “the Father who gives us life cannot not but give us the nourishment life requires – all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father’s providence. He is not inviting us to idleness, but wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation. Such is the filial surrender of the children of God” (2830).
The Church has just celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25. The Annunciation is one of the perfect, beautiful examples left for us of how to surrender to God (another being Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane). Let us take Mary’s fiat as our guide as, not knowing totally what the future holds, we learn in “filial trust” to surrender it completely into the hands of the Father who loves us more than we can imagine.