As we are within the season of Lent, we are expectantly listening for God to speak to areas of our hearts that need to be redeemed. I doubt that most practicing Catholics who approach this season with sincere intentions for repentance would be surprised to find that God has a specific message of conversion in store for them, but they might be surprised by the particular messenger He sends.
I don’t know about you, but when I imagine God speaking to me or I sit down for prayer desiring Him to do so, I have a good idea of what I expect Him to sound like and what I expect Him to say. Whether it be Lent, or any old time of the year, I often take for granted that I will recognize the sound of His voice and the tone of His message. He will meet my expectations exactly, right? I’m afraid that I have been proved wrong more often than not.
The problem with our expectations is that they are often rooted deeply in pride; they can be tied heavily to our emotions and formed from our deceitful heart condition. We expect the type of correction we feel we can tolerate, the one we have determined to be bearably fair. We are very good at looking just long enough to find a sin that isn’t too inconvenient or a means of conversion that won’t be too difficult. But Jeremiah tells us:
The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
God, that’s who; and He’s the only one. His perfect comprehension of the state of our hearts and the root of our actions often results in His message sounding quite different from the pre-vetted ones we have conjured up for ourselves.
But it is not only His messages that often surprise us; His methods and messengers do as well. God is no respecter of persons, and He uses all kinds. He uses both the people from whom we have asked advice and those from whom we’d rather not hear. He uses both beautiful rhetoric and plain words. He uses brilliant minds and simple ones alike. He uses both saints and sinners.
I want God’s reproach to be palatable, and I want His messenger to handle my feelings with kid gloves. I want the corrections to be as sweetly worded as possible, so as to not trample my delicate emotions nor overlook my admirable achievements. Oh, pride. Oh, deceitful heart. In trying to place a protective hedge around it, I have blocked out the voice of the Father who wants to heal it and make it new.
And though the Father’s voice is one of love, he often uses sinners (just like you and me) in their sin to deliver his messages to us. He’s going to use the disrespectful child’s remark, the husband’s frank observation, the grumpy stranger in the grocery store, the gossiping woman in the carpool line, or the parent who never thinks you do anything right. I believe that it was Elisabeth Leseur who said that every time that someone offends you it is an opportunity for you to examine your own conscience. I think she’s right. If we are waiting for God to use perfect people to speak to us, then we will often miss the voice that He is using to show us where our hearts are deceiving us.
I’ve had to learn the hard way — usually kicking and screaming — that God’s going to get His message through to me one way or another. It’s truly a grace that that’s the case, that He doesn’t stop speaking when we are hard of hearing. Perhaps if I would listen sooner it wouldn’t be such a hard pill to swallow, but then again pride is always a hard pill to swallow. And isn’t it ultimately prideful for us to insist that had the message been more gentle we would have obeyed immediately? Our track records prove otherwise. What we require is humility to hear His voice, whatever the method or messenger.
May we take to heart the Invitatory antiphon that we pray during Lent: “Today, if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”
Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey