Don’t forget that you can be like a snow-capped volcano. On the outside, yes, the ice of monotony and darkness might cover you; outwardly you appear trapped. But inside, the fire will not stop burning within you, nor will you tire of making up for your lack of external action with a very intense internal one… The plants lay hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, observed with satisfaction: ‘Now they are growing on the inside.’ – St. Josemaria Escriva
Once we moved through the initial resistance surrounding the disparity between the way we envisioned our 2020 unfolding and reality, my family and I settled into new daily routines. Much like you I imagine, our new routines were marked by canceled activities, lost opportunities and limited social contact through a screen.
The Lord used this time of less running about and fewer exterior commitments to reveal a longing in my heart for deeper communion and stillness with Him. As I’ve responded by embracing this “forced retreat”* our Lord, in His mercy, is pointing to areas of my interior life that He is inviting me to look at with Him. Prideful thoughts, self-centered temptations and unloving patterns of interaction in my marriage… little things like that. Ha! Like that snow-capped volcano, there has been lots of rumbling and churning going on beneath the surface over here!
*forced retreat is the term St. Josemaria Escriva used when he wrote about his time in exile during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. He and several of his colleagues were forced to take refuge in the Honduran embassy in Madrid for four months, sharing a few square meters of space and one bathroom. The Saint recognized that life had not stopped, it had only changed and he used the time to center more fully on God. He penned the opening quote during his reflection on his time of exile.
“the fire will not stop burning within you”
How I love this line! I feel that inextinguishable fire inside! I notice that the fire inside acts as a communication tool between Jesus and me. I feel the fire more intensely, that is, I feel engaged and enlivened when I am doing what is pleasing to Him. The fire dims and dissonance creeps in when I am thinking or behaving in ways contrary to His call for me. And in this collaboration with Him, I find the courage and reinforcement needed to “make up for my lack of external action with a very intense internal action.”
In particular, the ‘very intense internal action’ the Lord called me to is purging selfishness and purifying self-righteous thoughts. Can I just say, ouch. That hurts. While painful to look full-on at these qualities in myself, neither do I want to remain blind to them! Awareness is necessary for fanning that interior fire. Oh Lord, grow in me the burning desire to live selflessness, love, and acceptance of others!
Well you know the Lord heard that cry, right? And He answered my plea to live selflessly by providing ample opportunities to practice; to choose other over self, to set aside the way I hoped to spend my afternoon in favor of serving Christ by serving the other. I’ll tell you that last thought has truly been my saving grace: I serve Christ by serving the other. Because just between you and me, sometimes I don’t want to serve the other! It becomes far easier to do when I remember that it is truly Christ whom I serve in all of my good actions.
I serve Christ by serving others, especially those who do not reciprocate or express appreciation for my service. I love Christ by loving others, especially those most difficult to love on my own. Christ alone is the One I serve. How helpful this conviction has been during the more intense interior moments when I have about a millisecond to decide how I will respond to feeling overwhelmed or taken for granted, disregarded or ridiculed! If I choose to serve Christ, my simple response becomes, Yes Jesus. Yes! That little word holds the power to free me from the grips of the “NO!” bubbling up inside!
And the unanticipated payoff has been great. Choosing to become a servant of Christ has led to nothing but freedom! For years, I have been held captive by the self-condemnation that follows my knee-jerk reaction to someone’s criticism or lack of support. The momentary strength or exhilaration at standing up for myself or defending my position, quickly give way to sorrow and regret at my own prideful response.
Reflecting as I write this out, I can see that the Lord is bringing forth new fruit from this time of forced retreat. Beneath the surface, seeds of virtue have sprouted and the plants are blossoming, thanks be to God! I imagine Jesus the farmer smiling and saying to me, “Now you are growing on the inside.”
What is the Lord cultivating in you through your time of forced retreat?