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"Meeting God with Arms Open Wide" by Anni Harry (CatholicMom.com) Image credit: By Andre Furtado (2018), Pexels.com, CC0/PD[/caption] Not too long ago, I was trying to remind my 7-year-old to get ready for school in the morning, when I heard him mutter under his breath about me, “Man, you are so bossy!” I was astounded at the phrase he had muttered, and a huge part of me was angry that he would be disrespectful toward me. In fact, he had learned that phrase from a friend that he routinely plays with – having heard that friend ask me why I was so bossy when reminding my son to do his chore. While I told my son before school he had hurt my feelings, I wasn’t quite sure what consequence would fit, and spent the day in prayer and consultation with my more-merciful other half (aka, my husband). During prayer, a thought came to my heart – how many times have I considered the “rules,” the “regulations,” the “Precepts,” and the “Commandments,” as unjust, unfair, or, shall I say, bossy? In fact, I’ve routinely heard people who do not express belief in any faith tradition say, “I don’t feel I need a list of rules to have a relationship with God.” The argument continues that God loves us, regardless of whether or not we follow the rules set forth by any religious institution, and therefore, we are not beholden to any rules. I also have a pretty terrible habit of referencing our, “having” to go to church, rather than, “getting” to go to church. Internally, I sometimes struggle with remembering that receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is a most awesome gift, but one that requires a modicum of effort to receive on my part. As I wrestled with the “have to,” mentality, I remembered the verse from the First Letter of John:
In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3)
Throughout the years of motherhood, I have learned that God is, truly, the Ultimate Parent. He gives us gentle instruction, and then leaves it up to us whether or not we want to follow Him. The Church teaches that each of us is given free will, and just like everyone who has come before us, we have the ability to choose whether or not to be His disciple. Yet, it is easy to become tempted to view our relationship with God as a list of rules. At the end of the day, Christ taught us the Cliffs-Notes version of the rules – we must love God with all our heart, body, soul and mind, and we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Adhering to the rules invites us into deeper intimacy with God. They are certainly a way we draw closer to God, but they are also a way in which God comes close to our own hearts. When we “do” what God tells us, we have an opportunity to listen for the whispers in our heart. We have the opportunity to truly open ourselves to His life-giving grace. It is so easy to get swept up in the list of rules, to banter the interpretations of what God means when Scripture says something, and to ultimately focus on the wrong part of the equation. The correct equation is simple: God = Love Everything good and loving is from God, and as St. Clare of Assisi is credited with saying, “Love God, serve God; everything is in that.” We aren’t called to abide by rules set forth by God because He wants to rule over us with an iron fist. Rather, He knows what is best for our eternal reward. And, that is what He asks us to focus on – not the rules, not the heart-driven emotions, but rather, the desire of our soul. The theory of natural law is that the soul is ordered toward what is right, what is good, and ultimately, what is God. As we make choices in our daily living, we are encouraged to listen to the motivation of our spirit to propel us in the direction of God, Who makes all things right, good, loving, and, whole. The commandments of our Creator, the Precepts of the Catholic Church, and the devotions promoted by the Church are ultimately what feeds our soul and nourishes it, allowing it to grow closer to God. As I decompressed with my son after school that morning not too long ago, being a parent doesn’t make me “bossy.” I know that he has set things to accomplish in the morning: getting dressed, doing his chores, eating breakfast, and getting to school on time. If he fails to do any of those things, he will not grow in class – he will be too focused on other things to focus on his teacher, whom he loves and adores. And, just like my role of a parent is to oversee my children’s education, God’s role is to oversee my growth in relationship. He offers the lessons, and He offers us the opportunity to grow. We can be like Adam and Eve and squander the opportunity. Or, we can emulate Christ and Mary, recognizing that our souls will ultimately rest in Him, encouraging us to seize all the opportunities He gives for us to fall into His embrace. The Catholic Faith is more than just a list of rules. It is an avenue for us to express our love to a most merciful God, Whose only request is that we love. The Catholic Faith is an avenue for each one of us to experience the deepest sensation of love this side of eternity. So, the question to truly ponder as we continue through Lent and head toward Holy Week is not “do we have to,” participate in the various devotions? Nor is it “do we get to” experience the walk of faith? Furthermore, the question to ask isn’t, “is God expecting too much of me?” Rather, the question to ask is, “what is stopping me” from meeting Him with arms open wide? How will we meet Him on His road to Calvary? Which Station will we join Him in suffering? And, how will we show Him our love?
Copyright 2020 AnnAliese Harry