Before I began studying Theology of the Body, in my “busy” life, I merely “tried to make time for a prayer life.” I recognized that others had deep prayer lives and I wanted that, except I didn’t really think it was possible for me. I struggled when I attempted to have meaningful prayer time. I kept trying to come up with the “right” formula that would automatically make it “effective.” I thought if I found the secret ingredients for each and every prayer occasion, I would naturally hear from God the way others seemed to. I didn’t know that this predicament was typical and that simply faithfulness to my time spent with God would reap huge rewards.
I didn’t realize that I was already “set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself” (TOB 6:2).
MY relationship with God was distinctive. Something that had never occurred to me… something beautiful that I had the onus to open up to in order for it to grow. Jesus thirsted for ME. I was trying to model my relationship with God after someone else’s intimacy with Him, never realizing that God really loved ME and wanted to hear from ME, not the me who was trying to be or mimic someone else.
Once I discovered TOB, I instinctively knew it was something different. John Paul II’s scriptural rearticulation of what it means to be a human person seemed to be words coming straight out of my heart, words that expressed my own experience.
“We must reach the conviction that in this case, our human experience is in some way a legitimate means for theological interpretation” (TOB 4:4).
It was baffling that the experiences in my life, and the corresponding feelings, could be explained by a pope whom I had never met. How could this pope, with his experiential lens examine scripture along with the writings of many saints, convey universal truths about being human that would open MY eyes? The scales fell. I certainly hadn’t previously understood that my own experience disclosed an important story.
“We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for… the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23, TOB 4:3).
I groaned (and continue to groan) a lot. These truths caused me to look at my own life, to prayerfully go deeper within to encounter and confront the reality of what was there. Then, on a daily basis, analyze those inner most truths and ask myself sincerely, “What do I need to do now?”
One deep and uncomfortable truth I soon discovered was that I was constantly searching for happiness outside of myself. I needed good friends to make me happy. I needed well-behaved children to have a good day. I needed my spouse to check all of the right boxes for my satisfaction. I needed my church/pastor to change for me to grow in my faith. I needed a good financial situation to feel content. I needed to have a clean, updated, home that was consistently presentable for visitors. I needed my friends and others to agree with me on social media. Didn’t I “deserve” those things? If God really loved me, wouldn’t He provide them? I was reliant for my happiness on so many conditions that were beyond my control.
Yet, I subconsciously dismissed the only thing that could bring me true fulfillment: an authentic union with God, an openness to receive all He has for me, and the eyes to see it. This continual prayer life, over a long period of time, taught me first of all that I could not, and should not, rely on all of the external factors for my happiness. This real friendship with God has shown me that I cannot and should not attempt to control everyone and all the events around me.
There has been an abundant harvest of beautiful fruit from this new, much deeper, unique relationship with God.
I have been able to let those around me (my spouse, my kids, my friends, my pastor) off the hook for my well-being. I have finally realized that when I feel down or disheartened, I should turn to Jesus to bring me up, not anyone or anything else. If people disappoint me, I am able to feel the pain of their brokenness and forgive them much more easily than I could before; instead of stewing, getting angry, and feeling personally hurt. I now know that there is nothing of this world that can steal my interior joy from me. What freedom in this discovery!
To be sure, there can still be chaos around me. However, the most rewarding and important serenity comes from within, and no exterior havoc can change that. The peace that a genuine, unique and personal relationship with God alongside a willing openness to fully receive His love and grace, is truly indescribable and ultimately fulfilling. And for that… I am overflowing with awe and gratitude.
Kathleen Cory, Ruah Woods Press’ Regional TOB Minister (Texas)
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