God's Gentle Grace

By Ali Hoffman

North Texas Catholic

5/7/2019

 

Friends, we did it! We survived Lent 2019! Woo! How do you feel? Like you ran a marathon? Like you barely limped through a marathon? Or like you felt you were about to start a marathon, got really scared at the prospect of it, and just decided to quit while you’re ahead? 

Sometimes Lent can feel like that.

We begin bright-eyed and hopeful on Ash Wednesday, fully prepared to give up certain habits, to take on other ones, and to exercise our spiritual muscles for a full 40 days. I don’t know about you, but about a week in, I’m usually failing at my Lenten sacrifices, or I’m so miserable the people around me wonder if I’m even Christian.

We’ve all been there. At the start of this Lent, instead of looking at my disordered attachments and making grandiose plans to sever all those that don’t lead to Jesus, I simply asked God, “What do you want me to do?”

His reply was very simple.

“Ali, I want you to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. every night.”
That’s it? What about giving up drive-thru coffee?
“9:30 p.m. each night.”
Okay, but since I’ll be going to bed early each night, maybe I can wake up early and say a daily Rosary?
“9:30 p.m. each night.”

I was frustrated. Did God think that was all I could handle? Then, in a very clear voice in my heart, He replied, “I know you have other attachments and habitual sins, but you’re not ready to give those up yet. Start with going to bed at 9:30 p.m. each night and we’ll go from there.”

Y’all, my mind was blown. Every Lent I’ve made these huge plans to forge my way to holiness, to make leaps and bounds toward sanctity. And every year without fail, I somehow stumble in a spectacular manner and fall down face first.

It’s humbling, but I don’t think that’s what the Lord had in mind for me this year. 

When we talk of holiness or becoming a saint, it’s easy to think, “x, y, and z is what I have to do, so I’m going to just push through and get it done” without realizing our Lord is a gentle God. He doesn’t force, push, or twist our arm into becoming saints. He invites us into a relationship with Him and in that relationship, grace gently and methodically works on our hearts and wills to be transformed into His own with our cooperation.

We force bad habits out of our life through sheer willpower without realizing that when we stop and ask the Lord what He desires of us, He gives us the grace to not only transform the habit, but transform the heart.

In Ezekiel, God talks about this heart transformation. “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (36:26). God doesn’t say, “By the strength of your own determination will you receive the necessary transformation that I have desired for you.” No. He says, “I will give you.” 

Because we live in a society that says to constantly be “on the grind,” we believe this applies to our spiritual life as well. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should be vigilant in our spiritual life and always be on guard for the tactics of the evil one. But I also believe we think that achieving sainthood is completely up to us. We forget the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit that animates and transforms us into the saints God created us to be. 

Friends, God is so gentle and knows what He’s about. He knows when your heart is accessible to sanctifying grace better than you do. Constantly turn to Him in prayer, asking for greater faith and a disposition to receive His grace, and see how radically your life will be transformed. This doesn’t have to stop after Lent but should continue for the rest of your life!

There is great joy and hope in understanding that God knows your heart, sees your attachments, and calls you into a greater and deeper life with Him. Trust that He is shaping you into the saint He has called you to be.

Friends, we did it! We survived Lent 2019! Woo! How do you feel? Like you ran a marathon? Like you barely limped through a marathon? Or like you felt you were about to start a marathon, got really scared at the prospect of it, and just decided to quit while you’re ahead? 

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