When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze
- Thomas Carlyle
Formation has been a journey into the unknown for me from the very beginning. I had no idea what to expect but I knew it would be painful, and good.
Normally these two words do not belong together.
Many people might ask, "If you knew something was going to be painful, why would you do it?"
That is a good question, one that I sometimes ask myself in the ups and downs of living this life. The only answer I can come up with is love. I love God too much to allow myself to remain mediocre. I want to become holy out of my love for Him and out of my desire to share the reality of God with the world. The most effective way to share this reality is through the messenger. People will listen to the Truth of God if the person telling them about God embodies the qualities of God. In other words, I need to allow Christ to be formed in me in order to be able to share Him effectively with the world (Galatians 4:19).
I guess the next obvious question is - Why does it require pain to become holy?
I don't really have the answer to this question. But I do know that God, in His wisdom, purifies us so that we will be ready to join Him in heaven and unfortunately, humans are so full of pride and arrogance that the purification often hurts. But I think it is important to see that the pain is more often caused by our sin, not by God's desire to see us hurt.
And there really is such a thing as good pain. I know this idea is very antithetical to our culture of pleasure at all times at whatever cost but I'm not some kind of masochist in saying this, I think everyone can relate to this reality. We all hurt when we work out until we are red in the face and drenched in sweat. The next day the pain we feel as we walk up the stairs is a sweet pain, a pain that makes us smile. Or the pain a mother feels in childbirth makes the birth of a new human being, her child, that much more blissful and sweet. We all have worked really hard to attain a certain goal and it is that hard work and pain that makes getting to that goal so much more joyful.
So when I say the past few months have been painful, I am not saying anything negative. In fact, when I entered I remember making the prayer to God - "Make me holy Lord, at whatever cost, at whatever pain - Do it and do it quickly." Some people might think it is insane to make this sort of prayer to God but I have always been a person of extremes.
When I made this prayer, I knew that pain would be in my future and sure enough I started to feel it. Gradually, God helped me to understand just how dependent I am on Him by withdrawing the graces He poured out on me to deal with certain aspects of this life. For several weeks I felt agonizing pain thinking of giving up marriage. For the last few weeks of Christmas, I felt real sorrow because I was not able to go home and be with my family who I love more than anything.
When I feel this pain it challenges my faith. It is easy to say I believe in God when it does not cost anything, but when He asks me to do something that is painful I begin to wonder if He really exists. The cunning voice of the evil one begins to whisper in my ear, "What if it is all not real? What if you give up all of these things and find nothing at the end of the tunnel?" This voice is not just the voice of evil, it is the voice of our culture - "Why give up everything? Why not just do this halfway, hedge your bets? God won't throw you into hell for just living a good life with minimal pain right?"
Then there is the pain of becoming small. Life in California was blissful, I has friends who loved me, co-workers who appreciated me and admired the work that I did. I made a pile of money, had a beautiful little apartment and could do what I wanted. Now in St. Louis, God has made it clear that I cannot be the main attraction at this show. If I am not willing to disappear, to become small, to fade into the background then He will not be able to live in me and use all of the gifts I have solely to do His will. The small humiliations I have experienced have been enough to make me want to run back to my easy life in California. I have realized just how fragile and large my ego is by the amount of pain that this humiliation causes me.
I took a walk recently with this lingering pain and the haunting voices of doubt in my ear. As I walked, I began to recall the many ways that God has touched my life, the ways He has let me know He is here, watching after me in a way that is personal and real. I realized that it takes a larger leap of faith to believe that God does not exist at this point. But that does not take away the pain and even the doubts still linger in my mind.
As I trudged through a path in the woods I reached down and picked up an acorn. For some reason in that instant I was transported away from my thoughts and all of my energy and life was focused on the beauty of that acorn. I audibly gasped in the moment and was transfixed. The acorn was light brown, smooth as a marble. The cap of the acorn was perfectly symmetrical and a deep chocolate shade of brown. I wanted to run and share the beauty of that little seed with everyone around me but I knew they would not understand. God, for a moment, was allowing me to see the captivating, awesome beauty of just a tiny part of His creation.
As I walked on, clutching the tiny acorn I realized that it was likely that no one had seen this acorn before I picked it up. And no one was likely to see it before it disintegrated into the ground. Yet, God created it and created its beauty. It was not a waste. It may not have even served a purpose. But it was beautiful and it served God with all that it was in the simplicity of what it was.
So that is what I will do. I will continue to live my life completely for God, allowing Him to purify me because any pain is worth my love for Him. And some may see this all as a waste, but I don't. I don't care how small He calls me to be, or how insignificant, I will gladly be His acorn.