Perhaps the most hard-learned lesson of a disciple is poverty.
How much do we actually boast – show off, brag about, delight in, rejoice over – our weakness? Who actually looks within, sees the in-your-face, dried-up desert of lack within himself and smiles with the enchantment of a child, lifting his hands to the heavens?
Most likely, if we look into that room, we swiftly shut the door saying, “Oh, yes, well, this room has its place of course, but best to keep it from stinking up the rest of the house,” and we briskly walk away.
Face to face with our weakness, the real dirty work of discipleship begins. It is here we either cast off down the despairing roads of cover-up and ‘fixing ourselves,’ or we “present [ourselves] as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God” (Rom. 12:1). And it is here that it becomes radically, “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Sooner or later, we must come to the place where we have to say, “That’s it, Lord, I give up – You do it. I can’t make myself what I desperately want to be. In the end, I, by myself, am helpless. You (and only You) are going to have to ‘create in me a clean heart… and put a new a right spirit within me’” (Psalm 51:10).
Such is the nature of our lot – we are terrified of what is actually really good for us. Seeing, experiencing and tasting our weakness is periodically the desert into which the Lord wants to lead us. He wants us to see the truth about reality. This is what He wants us to see:
If you have God plus ten million other things, and if I have God alone, you don’t have a single thing more than I do. (Peter Kreeft)
We hear that and say, “Yeah, that’s true.” But, which one of us actually believes and lives it? For this sickness we need a remedy. Enter, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa:
Perhaps this is the most urgent kind of conversion for some of us: to stop leveraging our past experiences, our charisms, our service to a group… and to start over at the beginning with God alone as our treasure – like “newborn infants” (1 Peter 2:2).
Strip it all away: allow yourself to be what you actually are: naked, helpless, weak, totally dependant on a Savior who loves to save. We need to stop trying to prove how much we measure up and how capable we are – to others, to ourselves and to the Lord. We need to stop saying to our Father and Savior, “Hey, I’m an adult!” We’re kidding ourselves. There are no adults in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3). We are and only can be children – tremendously poor and, by our very nature, “one vast need” (C.S. Lewis). May God bring us to a place where, in bold confidence, we don’t try to be anything else.
What have you that you did not receive? (1 Cor. 4:7)
We are all trying to live a good life. And so we show ourselves (not even in an arrogant way) all the good we’ve done, all the good habits we’ve formed, all the people we have helped, etc. We give ourselves little pick-me-ups. We want to know we are good – not just good in what we do, but that it’s just good that we exist, period. But trying to prove to ourselves that we are good just doesn’t cut it. Only one Word can tell us who we really are and whether or not we are good. Then we can “rejoice in our hope of sharing” His Glory (Rom. 5:2). But…
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings… (Rom. 5:3) I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses… (2 Cor. 12:9)
Only there may the power of Christ more fully rest upon us. We don’t have to be afraid of our weaknesses and listen to the despairing lie, “See how hopelessly imperfect you are.” Look at the intolerably amazing and confounding good news of the Gospel! The weaker we are, the more of Him we can receive! The more we let our weaknesses be weak, the more we qualify for ‘Divine Welfare!’ Our poverty ought to make us smile!
I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, (2 Cor. 12:5) and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself. (St. Therese) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)
To this blindingly rapturous mystery, all human words fall helplessly (but expectantly) silent.