Love, and do what you will

I’ve been reading the Myers-Briggs personality profiles, assessing my personality, hoping that somewhere in the pages and pages of internet sources I will find the key to my success. I’ve learned a lot about myself—insomuch as I recognized traits and tendencies that I wasn’t able to put into words before. I’ve also learned what my weaknesses are and what internet gurus suggest I do to work through them.

And what is my greatest weakness? I lack follow-through. I always have. Not so much that I’m incapable of finishing anything or am unable to stick to deadlines. Quite the contrary: once I’ve set my mind on something and I’m given sufficient pressure from outside sources, I can and will do anything. (I didn’t complete four years of undergrad, a two year masters, and multiple theater productions because I’m lazy.) But the problem is so often there are no outside pressure and no imposed deadlines. Worst of all, I lack just enough confidence that during times of great stress, I become so indecisive that I become almost incapable of starting anything, let alone finishing it. No, perhaps there is worse: I start something, put just enough work and money into it to put myself just beyond the half-way mark, and then I panic—maybe this isn’t what I want to do? Maybe this isn’t where I want to go? And then, voila! something catches my fancy and off I’m running towards something completely different.

Therein lies my weakness. But therein lies my greatest cross. And we all have crosses: some people have unhappy marriages, some people have physical ailments, some people have difficult spiritual lives; my cross is my constant frame of mind that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. So I jump and later I figure out that it wasn’t so lush after all.

St. Paul said, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). My cross is this tribulation and must I not flex my muscles and carry my cross? In doing so, will I not then strengthen my character and my spiritual life?

It’s not a matter of “I choose to do this, so if I work hard enough, I’ll get it”—you know that message these pop stars, and modern self-help gurus preach. We all hear it a thousand times a day. But it’s fundamentally un-Catholic: it’s self-sufficiency that’s not rooted in virtue. We can’t do anything by ourselves. At least, not if we want to get to Heaven.

I have to remember, remind myself over and over again, that I can’t always be so self-reliant or independent. That I have to remember that God will take care of it—if I have enough courage to put the reins in His Hands. And there it is: courage. Courage to relinquish control. Just enough control to realize that God is ultimately in control, but not so much that I become impotent and lazy. There is a balance somewhere between giving yourself up to God and meeting Him halfway.

So if this is my cross, then what must I do? Pick it up. Carry it. “Tribulation brings about perseverance”—know that if I tend to peter out after a project starts, hesitate to take risks, lack confidence in God and myself, then embrace those aspects instead of trying to ignore them or work around them. What I need most is humility and dedication. Humility so I can learn that only through God can anything be accomplished. Only through Him can I truly be happy. Not through myself. My fierce independence and tendency to turn inwards when looking for answers is actually a stumbling block, not always a strength. Not in this situation.

And I pray to God every day that He will show me what He wants me to do. Because frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know what my Dream is. I do know that when I know, I will follow through with it. But then again, while I will continue to pray for enlightenment, I have to realize that God works through our desires and even if I think my dreams aren’t worth following or aren’t even remotely attainable, I have to take that risk and go for it. Which means I have to jump even if I’m not sure; I have to jump even if I’m afraid of losing; even if I don’t know what God wants me to do.

How can we ever know what God wants? We can’t. We can’t ever know His mind. A very holy cloistered Carmelite sister I know scoffed at such an idea: “Figure out what God wants?” she said. “How can we ever know that? We’re human. No. Figure out what you want. As long as it’s not sinful, do what you want. And God will work with you.”

Isn’t that just a rewording of St. Augustine’s “Love God and do what you will”? It is. And coming from such a dedicated Catholic family, it’s not as easy or liberating as you think: instead of being all invigorated by such an idea, I become all scrupulous – “but what happens if what I’m doing is contrary to God’s will?” I whine. “What happens if I’m wasting my time?” Well, I don’t know that, do I? I need to let go and let God. I need to remember that He does have a plan, no matter how dark and confined I feel.

I want to be successful so badly that I would rather do nothing if I’m not absolutely sure I’ll succeed. I simply don’t take risks or accept bets or compete if I think there’s a chance I won’t win. How sad is that? How utterly depressing. That’s pride. It’s conceit. And it’s an overweening self-centeredness. I need to forget about myself. Forget about success as an end. I need to take that leap and hope that God will catch me.

In the end, I will have rather tried then never even given it a chance and lived my life settled in the status quo. Just thinking of that makes me sick and depressed inside and yet I still hesitate. But you know what? It’s two months too late, but that’s my new year’s resolution. I’m not going to spend another year crying in my soup or whining about my future. Take a leap, Catherine, and embrace the fall.

It takes courage. More courage than I’ll ever have on my own. It takes trust in God and humility in His eyes. But nothing risked, nothing gained.

Wish me luck.

Photo: “Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Caravaggio

 

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