By Charlie Johnston
It is striking to me that many of those who should worry least about the Storm worry the most while most of those who don’t worry at all have a lot to worry about.
Imagine you have outfitted a canoe to navigate through a chain of lakes and streams. It is best to lay out a plan on how to steer through the various streams and what direction to take in order to reach your desired destination, for you are in control…you are driving, as it were. That is normal life. Now imagine that same canoe at the beginning of a great series of rapids you are not familiar with. The first thing to understand is that you are not driving, but being driven. In this case, having a plan on where to steer and what direction to take will likely cause you to capsize – for you do not know what turns and dangers are coming or when they will appear. Instead, you are called to react quickly and skillfully to whatever turns and obstacles arise as they arise. Survival depends on how well you respond to challenges in the present moment.
Right now we are in the early stages of an intensifying series of spiritual rapids. I get a host of letters and comments these days telling me, with great grief, that no matter how someone plans something, it is not coming out right…or about deepening divisions in families…or in shock at the latest outrage perpetrated by the ruling and chattering classes. As St. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal, which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”-I Peter 4:12,13. I have told you that these things must come – and so they have begun. I have told you that your only source of security is to abandon yourself to God, then do what is right in front of you, trusting that He will ultimately bring all things to right. Yet some have used what I have said to devise their own plans to avoid the consequences of all this – and now are frightened that their plans are not working out. If you are in that place, be thankful it is happening to you now, for it is simply God gently relieving you of the illusion that you can rely on your efforts rather than His Grace. Do not think I am chiding you: I had decades to learn this. As I have occasionally said, I hope you are all quicker learners than I was, for events have reached a pass where you must be. But if you have such sorrows now, be thankful that you are close enough to what you should be that God finds it profitable to reprove you and bring you along to a real trust. Save your sorrow for those who have no idea there is anything to be sorrowful about, for by the time many of them learn, it will be too late for them to correct their course without a heroic effort.
Are there painful divisions in your family and among your friends? There are the same in mine – and in almost every family I know. And those divisions have ratcheted up dramatically this year. But I told you late last year that they would. You will not convince anyone by becoming more manically insistent on what you believe. Rather you must imitate the farmer.
Consider the farmer: he plants a seed, then must wait up to a week for a sprout to appear. It is a month before a real plant takes shape – and even longer than that for fruit to appear. He conjures neither the plant nor the fruit, but merely waters the ground – and in due time, God raises up a plant which bears fruit. When you speak with confident joy about what you believe, you plant a seed. Once you have done that, simply live what you say you believe with the same joy. When you do that, you water the ground. But to continue to try to push on the unwilling what you believe is to constantly root around where you planted, disturbing the ground and perhaps choking the tender plant before it can take firm root. The farmer must trust God for the increase after he has planted the seed. So must you. Every day that you spend arguing the faith instead of living it with confident joy after you have planted the seed, you are actually withholding water from that tender plant even as you dig around its roots. Stop trying to frantically conjure fruit and trust God for the increase.
I will tell you now something that may seem like a boast, but if it is, it is a boast on the sure confidence we can place in the Lord’s providence. Only once in my life have I ever encouraged someone to become Catholic or Christian. I just don’t do that. My friends and family know what I am and how I live. I meet people where they are and, if they are of good will, share ordinary joys and conversation with them. All know what I believe in, but we are more likely to talk about sports, politics, movies or whatever than God at any given moment. (If you truly believe in God, all good things you discuss are ultimately about God, whether you name Him or not). Even before I went public with these things, when God was mentioned it was brought up far more often by my friends – even those who do not believe – than by me. This was simply because all people knew they could talk to me and get a conversation or an explanation without a harangue to go with it. I truly believes God reads hearts – and if there is good will there, He will bring it to fullness in His time. My task is to encourage the good will that is already there, not to stifle it by haranguing my friends. Even so, there are dozens – at least a hundred I know of from before I ever spoke openly of this – who cheerfully and spontaneously credit me with a major role in their conversion. Why? Because however peculiar I might have seemed at any time, I always lived what I spoke with cheery confidence. I meant it, not just spoke it…and many wanted some of that cheery confidence for themselves. Long faces and strident arguments make for meager evangelization.
So it is all the more critical that as things get darker, you live your joyful confidence visibly and lightly. If you speak of joy but your countenance is ever clouded with worry or panic, your life gives the lie to your words. Live it. That is the witness that transforms lives. When you feel it, live it. When you don’t feel it, live it. When you are exuberant, live it. When you are exhausted, live it. If I had a dime for every convert who told me that my consistent easy confidence drew them into the faith, I would not be rich – but I would have a LOT of dimes. Live it.
Your friends hear what you say, but they also see your face. In the midst of the Storm, while Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on the water, too. When he was distracted by the terrors of the storm, he began to sink. Your friends see your face and know whether you have confidence in the Jesus you speak of, or whether you have been panicked by the storm around you. If it is the latter, know that however polite they might be to you, they have already decided the peace they seek is not here. Live it – and you will be a true evangelist. In these times, every time you give way to panic or stridency, you dishearten those you are called to evangelize. Your serene and joyful confidence IS the lifeline for multitudes around you.
I know this is hard. Even now, I often say to the Lord, along with the father of the troubled son, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.”–Mark 9:24.
Love those around you and live it always.