A Novel Penance
Placing Trust in God
My Dad went to confession a couple weeks ago. Not a particularly noteworthy event in itself, but this time he called me right away to report his penance: trust God more.
I have been struggling with the challenge implicit in this penance ever since. Of course, I recognize that if we desire to be faithful Catholics, we have no choice! However, there is a practical struggle here – all too often, our actions reflect faith in our own efforts more so than faith in the Lord. We like to be self-reliant, individualistic and successful. We want more revenue, productivity and innovation. If we believe it, we can achieve it, right?
Well, maybe not quite. If we place too much trust in ourselves, and lose sight of God’s providence, we might be missing the proverbial boat.
Think of your workplace for a moment. Most of us spend north of forty hours a week running flat-out, doing our best to accomplish things (full-time Moms are the exception, they spend way north of forty hours). We put a premium on achieving results quickly. But with all that pressure to perform in today’s fast-paced workplace, we can be lulled into a false sense that outcomes of all sorts really do depend on us. There is ample evidence to suggest they don’t.
It sounds crazy, but sometimes we need to take a step back and recall the difference between God (omniscient, immortal, and all-powerful creator and redeemer) and us (weak-kneed, persistently obtuse, sinful mortals). When we get too far into the “it all depends on me” way of thinking, we encroach on God’s job description.
So what’s the antidote? Work less?
Ha! We don’t get off that easy. As usual, our faith doesn’t require an either/or approach like the vaguely ridiculous, false dichotomy of faith vs. works (as Catholics, we know the two are mutually complementary). Rather, we are called to a both/and way of life – work hard, of course, and put our faith for the outcomes completely in God’s hands.
There is no contradiction in this approach. When we trust the Lord, we also pray that He will prosper our efforts, small and large. “Prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17) prays the Psalmist. By entrusting our work to God, carrying it out with a loving and prayerful heart, and giving it our best human efforts, we place our trust at His feet. Outcomes are not always within our control, but work done for God’s glory always has intrinsic value – done properly, the very act of working is transformed into prayer.
Here’s the challenge: next time we’re praying about a work-related issue, let’s place the outcome in God’s hands. Let’s resolve to be grateful to God, no matter what. Sure, suggesting an outcome is legitimate, but we always need to remember Jesus’ poignant conclusion to his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).