Last month I wrote about my desire to exchange contempt for compassion. I am so grateful to God for gifting me with that awareness. He is giving me the time and space here in the Dominican Republic to allow Him to do what He still does—teach, heal, and perform miracles. God cultivates me in the stillness, but also in the messiness, and in the darkness. God has chosen a stunningly gorgeous location to show me some messy and dark places in my life. Yet He is doing so in such a slow and gentle way. When I feel gratitude and genuine sorrow rather than shame, I can be pretty confident that it’s God’s voice that I am hearing.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:1
A topic that we are discussing in my Spiritual Direction course is Interior Freedom. This is the type of freedom that allows one to truly love God’s way—with pure motives. I know that I will never have completely pure motives, but I believe God wants to continue to heal me and grow me along these lines. I know that when I’m afraid, feeling guilty or obligated, or seeking another’s approval, I do not stay true to myself. I am not genuine in my love. I am not experiencing interior freedom.
During the season of Lent, we hear that God wants us to render our hearts to Him. God wants to free us—to take our hearts of stone and give us new hearts, hearts of flesh. This freedom allows us to be driven by our strengths and not by our weaknesses. Years ago, in the twelve-step recovery program, I heard God’s transformation process explained as God taking a scouring pad to my insides and gently yet persistently scrubbing away anything that gets in the way of God’s image shining forth. My spiritual director recently asked me to visualize what that looks like for me now. What comes to my imagination are the big aluminum pots that I have seen many Dominican women use to cook. I’ve always been drawn to how thoroughly they clean these pots after a meal. They tirelessly scour them with a brillo pad until they truly shine. They leave them light, bright, and clear. Through the transformation process, God wants to give us lightness, brightness, and clarity. God wants us to shine. And He wants us to see everything and everyone in our lives with clarity.
“We encounter Christ in our relationships with others.” The Ignatian Adventure.
God has been lovingly showing me how I respond to people who are different from me—who hold different views, opinions, or see a situation differently than I do. With a strong personality, I find that I do not stay true to myself. When I am living in fear, I’m not being my genuine self at that moment. After a period of time of not honoring myself in interactions with another, I become upset, unsettled, and I simply don’t want to be around that person. I believe this speaks to interior freedom—or lack of it. I recently read that we lack interior freedom because we have excessive attachments. Taking that to prayer, I became aware of how I can be excessively attached to my idea of what something should look like or how someone should be. Interior freedom means letting go of my idea and accepting God’s lead.
My daughters Rachael and Beka recently illustrated for me a powerful example of interior freedom. They were able to share their genuine selves honestly with each other as they walked through their differences regarding a topic that mattered greatly to each of them. They lovingly allowed the other to share from the heart without judgement and to just be together in that process. They were even able to recognize and comfort each other in their distinct struggles with the situation. They trusted God that if they each stayed true to themselves, God would sort it out. I looked on in awe, grateful to be a witness to such Holy Ground. So of God—Good, True, and Beautiful.
I also experienced some sadness reflecting on how my relationships with family and close friends have not always gone like that. I long for relationships where we each can be honest with the other about how we are thinking and feeling at the time, with no pressure to be different or to change. I sense that the ability to do this is tied to humility —to walking this earth the way Jesus did. Jesus was humble and kind, slow and gentle. He had a listening heart. I want this. In reflecting on the Gospels, I see how so often we as people can get it wrong, but Jesus always has a better way, a new idea.
I want to go to Jesus each morning to seek His counsel—open to His divine wisdom. Not pushing my way on anyone. Praying for poverty of spirit. Receptive to being shown where I need healing and change. Journeying towards interior freedom. The tenth step of the twelve-step recovery program suggests: Continue to take personal inventory, and, when I am wrong, to promptly admit it. Was I resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Show me the harm that I may be doing to others—my blind spots.
This past month the reflections in The Rule of Benedict* have dealt with humility—how appropriate!! Here are two quotations that always move me deeply:
“Aware of our own meager virtues, conscious of our own massive failures despite all our great efforts, all our fine desires, we have in this degree of humility, this acceptance of ourselves, the chance to understand the failures of others. We have here the opportunity to become kind.” *
“The humble person handles the presence of the other with soft hands, a velvet heart, and an unveiled mind.” *
If both parties in a relationship are willing to do this kind of deep interior work, great strides can be made towards loving well. Loving as Christ loves. We all can rest in God’s caring hands as we make this journey. We can simply unfold ourselves and become—like flowers blooming. We become matured, ripened, and whole.
Our time here in the Dominican Republic always nourishes us and everything that is important to us. God seems to be saying to me of late, “Stay little today, Cherry.” To live with less of me and more of God. To allow God to reorient my life so that I live moment by moment trusting in God’s goodness and greatness to lovingly care for my smallness and frailties. This is living with interior freedom.
“To remain little means to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God, and not to worry too much about one’s faults.” St Therese of Lisieux
All said and done, at the end of the day, can I answer “Yes” to the question, “Did I love well all those God brought my way today?” I hope to pray as Pope John XXIII used to pray—”I’m going to bed now, Lord. It’s all in your hands.”
I leave you with this passage which always brings me peace and gives me hope for myself and for those I love:
“I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes.” Philippians 1:6
*The Rule of Benedict, A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Joan Chittister, O.S.B.