In the first reading at today's Mass we continue with the story of Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai). Yesterday, God made Abram a promise. “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great. ... Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:1&5) However, time has passed ... a lot of time. Today we read: “Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 16:3) and yet “Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children” (Genesis 16:1).
Big promise, no kids. And, after ten long years of waiting, Sarai takes things into her own hands: “The Lord has kept me from bearing children. Have intercourse then with my maid; perhaps I shall have sons through her.” (Genesis 16:2) Sarai is tired of waiting. She wants her promise, she wants her children and she's ready to take control of her life again. And so the story unfolds ... “Abram heeded Sarai’s request.” (Genesis 16:2)
Of course, this gets ugly ... quick. Abram sleeps with Sarai's servant, Hagar. Hagar conceives and immediately Sarai is jealous. Sarai is cruel to Hagar and eventually banishes Hagar into the desert. Yikes, this story started great ... how did get to this point?
There is a difference between desire and expectation. Desire is a movement of the soul, an authentic stirring of our heart that many times is merely a cooperation with the desire of God within us. Saint Augustine once remarked “Our deepest desires are God's desires in us.” The ordered desires within us that move us toward God are from God Himself. Ordered desires are good, very good.
On the other hand, expectation is when we grasp at desire. Expectation is when construct an image of how and when our desires will come to be. Expectations are never from God.
The architecture of the human heart is such that we are built to receive from God. To be human is to receive from God. God made a promise to Abram and Sarai and God wants to give it to them. However, when Sarai gets tired of waiting she begins to doubt. Doubt about “how” often seduces us to doubt “who” (namely, God). When we doubt God we distance ourselves from God; we distance ourselves from relating to and trusting in God. Once isolated, humans have only one response: to take control of my own life and live life on my terms.
Sarai's doubt leads to Sarai's control. However, Sarai's doubt was preceded by her expectations. It's important to see how when Sarai's expectations weren't met, it was then that she doubts God's promise.
You and I are just like Sarai. You and I have desires. Each of us have prayers that we know God has heard. However, you and I have expectations of how those desires are going to come to be. Each of us has expectations of our marriages ... or our kids ... or our families ... or our job ... or our mid-life ... or our retirement ... or our spiritual life.
The key is to stay in the desire and let go of the expectation. Trust that God can only want what is absolutely best for you. Stay with the desire and let go of how or when He will come through for you.
However, most importantly, as you let go of expectation hold on to God. Stay in relationship. Never stop relating. Don't stop praying. Stay there ... trust the process. After all, 4,000 years later, every Christian alive today is a descendant of Sarai ... God did come through on his promise.
© Fr. Mark Toups, 2013
Today @ IPF:
The 169 seminarians in the Seminarians Summer Program continue with their morning class, “Celibacy and Sexuality.” Today the men will learn more about the temptations threatening their celibacy, as well as how best respond to these temptations in lieu of the tools they have been given this summer. In the afternoon the seminarians visit one of over 50 sites within the Archdiocese of Omaha for three hours of pastoral ministry.
The 22 priests and seminarians here for the 30-day retreat continue with day 2 of orientation for the Spiritual Exercises. Today the men will learn more about spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation, as well as how these impact their experience of prayer. Silence begins Friday night. Day 1 of the retreat is Saturday.
Today's Quote from Pope Benedict XVI:
“St. Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. ‘By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him].”
― Spe Salvi, no. 33