Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” (Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
“And [Jesus] spoke to them at length in parables, saying: ‘A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.’” (Matthew 13:3-9)
“Winners forget they’re in a race, they just love to run.” (Joe Pesci as Simon Wilder in With Honors)
My life is not a tragedy. It is a triumph. I consider myself the most fortunate of men. I don’t know why God has so blessed my life, but he has. There have been difficult trials and a lot of suffering, but all of it has been gift. I am very happy these days and wonder why it has all happened to me. I am deeply grateful to God for every moment of trial, as well as for the times of happiness. There was a time when I was angry and resentful of my trials. I suffered chiefly from a painful childhood and from mental illness. For a while I was even suicidal. But everything I have been through has been worth the trouble, because through it all I have come to love life, to love to run. If I had to do it all again, I would ask for everything to be the same. The only change that I would make would be to try and be less angry. Anyhow, I’m over the anger now. In St. Paul’s words, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
“But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” I knew when I first read that quote from Matthew’s gospel that I had to be the seed that fell on rich soil. “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” To decide what to do with our lives, how to respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in, is what defines us as human beings. We can either give in to despondency or anger and bitterness in the face of trial, or we can decide to seek God through it. Suffering demands a response. I was angry at first, but from my trials I also learned to love. I am astonished at the love that is in my heart today, a love that is new as the soil after a spring rain. I have love for everyone and everything: for strangers, for children, for animals, for places. The fruit of suffering is love.
Sanctity is Possible for Everyone
Aim for heaven. Truly there is nothing else worth doing in life but becoming a saint. Respond to God’s call each time you hear it. Begin by considering your duty before him. It is your duty to seek sanctity because sanctity is God’s will for you.
Generosity for me started with duty. I was never a generous person. But I knew that I had to give freely of my possessions and my time and my whole self if I wanted to be a disciple of Jesus. It was hard at first, but with time, I came to love giving. Now I can’t imagine living any other way.
There are surprises along the way for the one who follows God. I have discovered that I love being poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). I actually like not having any money. I like being weak and dependent on God, and having to take medications. I like having to trust God for everything. I like having nothing before him. I have never been disappointed or put to shame by God. I’ve just gotten rid of a lot of stuff that I didn’t really need, and that makes me glad. Furthermore, I lack nothing of the things that I truly value, such as friendships. Friends are the people whom we would give our lives for. In giving his life for us, Jesus befriended all of humanity. Be a friend of God.
The Secret: Complete Trust in God
Don’t ever give up. Following Jesus with your whole heart—sticking to him like glue—is the only way to live your life. You might get to heaven by playing it safe and doing the minimum required for salvation: going to church on Sunday, avoiding the worst sins, and so on. But the reason you shouldn’t hold back in this life is that your every action or inaction has eternal consequences. If you give the minimum, you’ll get the minimum back when you are judged. You want to be as happy as you possibly can be in heaven. This life is the only chance you’ll get to merit, to earn more riches for eternity. Don’t waste time! Take an inventory. Are you loving God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength? If not, ask God to help you to love a little more. Tell him you want to start out on the road to complete and perfect love. He will lead you.
Our joy is complete in heaven because there we see God face to face. Now here’s a secret: there is a hidden wisdom to trusting in God, and even in being reckless in your trust. You can entrust your whole life to him and hold nothing back. You can let God make your relationship with him into an adventure. Then heaven will be an adventure for you, an adventure that never ends, a forever of forevers of joy and delight.
It can be hard to be a wholehearted disciple, but it isn’t that hard. And it’s the only thing worth doing with your life. You will always have all the help you need. Seek to live a life of integrity. Always tell the truth. Always give to the poor man when he asks, to the beggar in the street. Pray every day and always go to church. Begin by obeying your sense of duty—we owe these things to God—and see how quickly duty turns to love. Say “yes” to God as fully as you can, and keep saying “yes.” Your goal is to make your “yes” complete and all-consuming. Then love will consume you.
Approaching God as a Child
Children are always wholehearted. With a child, there are no halfway measures. He either loves or hates. As you learn to follow Jesus with a whole heart, you will find yourself becoming more childlike in your approach to God and the world. I tend to have a very boyish view of things. Something either is useful and good or it isn’t. I like it or I don’t. I don’t have time for things I don’t like; I go and play with something I do like. And I don’t see any reason to compromise either. These days, I feel more like a 12-year-old than an adult.
“I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for the things you have hidden from the wise and the learned you have revealed to merest children” (Matthew 11:25). There are things that only children and the childlike can see about God and the world. Here’s one of them: I think the world was made by One with the heart of a kid! On the one hand, God is the Ancient of Ages, whose life cannot be measured as a span of years. On the other hand, God seems to have created so many things the way a child would have made them. Why do giraffes have long necks? For fun, of course! Why do tigers have stripes? Because stripes are excellent! And what grown-up purpose does the duck-billed platypus serve? These things are a delight to the childlike. God created us because he knew we would love it. And those who approach the world with a childlike wonder tend to love life the best.
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Heaven belongs to children because a child has nothing between him and God. You want to be like a child: poor like a child, trusting like a child, delighting like a child. God delights especially in those whose hearts are whole and simple as the hearts of children.
Life is Beautiful
Life is beautiful. Although we suffer, we know that our trials are already redeemed. Through our efforts God is creating something new and extraordinary. Do you remember in the film The Passion of the Christ, the point at which Jesus said to his mother, “See Mother, I make all things new”? He was beaten and bloodied and had just fallen while carrying his cross. There is a hope of great beauty on the far side of suffering and death. We await a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth that by faith we know will be there at the renewal of all things. “On that day you will not question me about anything,” says the Lord (John 16:23). We will ask nothing because our hearts, today bound to this world of sin and death, will leap unshackled and unbounded forever. If we love God today, our love will be made complete when we see him face to face, finally free forever. There is nothing else worth having besides heaven.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). It is better by far to be among the last of this world than among the first. I count myself among the last. I have never been successful at a career; I am mentally ill; I would have been broke and homeless at least twice apart from the love of my family. It is an honor to be counted among the least of this world. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had my share of worldly “success” at one point in my life: I had money and a house and a good job. It wasn’t worth the trouble. Much better is it to have nothing and to know in turn that nothing stands between you and God. With God you have the things that really matter: the love of friends, for one, friends with whom you know you share a place in eternity. In heaven I will have many friends.
You Must Decide
You must decide what to do with the time that is given to you, as Gandalf says. Decide wisely. Trust. Don’t give in to the temptations of this world. It just isn’t worth it. In the end, you might have your money or your career or whatever, but you will have nothing else. Instead run with God and be free. Seek God’s will and God’s happiness for your life, and you will have them. Seeking God is the way to nobility of soul. And you must always love. As Jesus said, “I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). If you respond to the love of God, you will be with him and see his glory. Your seed will bear great fruit. And you yourself will grow to love to run.