Trusting in God’s strength, not our own

Betsy Pfantz, a family life minister at St. Mary Parish in Appleton, Wis., battles harsh winter temps and brisk winds as she makes her way outside the church before her lunch break Jan 3. The temperature was 12 degrees with a -3 wind chill. (CNS photo/Brad Birkholz, for The Compass)

I once found myself asking the Lord, “Please not that. No, You wouldn’t let that happen to me.” My presumptuous plea was answered in just a few minutes with the clearest “no” I have ever received in prayer. Yet I was able to see that hidden in that “no” was a “yes” to something I hadn’t dared to hope I would have the strength to bear. The Lord’s plans for me in that moment were far beyond what I could have imagined myself.

Recently, a mother of adult children told me a story from their childhood. Once, seeing a suffering they were enduring, she asked the Lord to give that cross to her in their place. No sooner had the Lord answered her prayer in the affirmative than she realized she could not handle the suffering meant not for her but for them, and she begged the Lord to remove it.

The Lord, who knows us better than we know ourselves, has a deep understanding of what each one of us is able to endure. When we act as though we know better than He, we keep ourselves from seeing the beauty of His plan for each of our lives. Whether it be in expecting ourselves to handle more, as the mother did, or less, as I did, than the Lord intends, we find ourselves presuming on our own strength alone. But that is a poor substitute for the glory of His grace. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts,” says our God (Isaiah 55:9). We cannot begin to imagine all that He has in store for us (see 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Our tendency as fallen human beings to rely on our own strength comes from not trusting that our God really does know and care about us — in short, that He really does love us. During this Ordinary Time between the seasons of Christmas and Lent, let us recall the immensity of His enduring love for us. Our God is not one who set the world in motion and then watched from afar as it wreaked chaos upon itself. He is not a harsh disciplinarian waiting to punish any false moves on our part or setting us up for failure. Nor is He a God who forces Himself upon us, for our God is love, and true love can never be forced.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, OP

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, OP

Rather, this is the God who emptied Himself to become one of His creatures, taking on our human nature for His own, not just for the 33 years He walked on the earth but for all eternity. He is the God who became utterly and completely dependent on His creatures, as a newborn is dependent on his mother, quite literally. He spent His public life in preaching and healing, seeking out the sinners and the rejected. He Himself suffered rejection and abandonment by the People He loved. To save them — and each one of us — He endured mocking, beating, scourging, and even nailing to the Cross. Before He breathed His last breath, He forgave them all. And then our God, the undying One, died for us. Yet He rose again that both His wounds and our own might be glorified.

This is our God, the one who loves us and knows our needs before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8b). May we rely, not on our own strength, but on the power of His grace and His love to provide for us always.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.