Crying because I can’t follow God’s will…or my will?
A couple months ago I got it into my head that I was called to go to daily Mass.
I’d been going to Adoration a lot and had repeatedly felt a strong prompting that I needed to receive the Eucharist more than just once a week, so I decided to try it. It sounded really difficult to pull that off while in the third trimester of pregnancy with three kids under five, but it was also kind of exciting to feel called to do something so unusual and challenging. I’d also heard about the great graces that my friend Abigail had seen after taking her three young children to Mass every day and liked the idea of the same thing happening for our family.
I took all the kids to our parish’s noon Mass one Friday as a discernment trial run, and everything went very smoothly. Not only did my three kids behave unusually well, but the homily was about how the Lord wants us to spend more time in church! I took that as big confirmation that, at least for now, I was supposed to be a daily communicant.
So I started going to Mass every day.
After just a few days, however, things started to go downhill. Sometimes I was so tired that it really pushed me to my mental and physical limits to get all the kids dressed and strapped into the car, other days I found that dealing with bad behavior at church would be the straw that broke the camel’s back when things were stressful anyway.
One Thursday afternoon in January I found myself sitting in my car after Mass, calling my husband in tears to tell him how frustrated I was because, yet again, I’d had a difficult time taking the kids to Mass. After I got off the phone and began driving home, the following quote popped into my mind:
“Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?”
It’s a quote from the life of one of my all-time favorite saints, St. Frances of Rome, said to her by her confessor when she was crying because her father wouldn’t let her become a nun. As I drove home that day I thought about her story: she’d been on fire for God from an early age and imagined that she’d live an ascetic life tucked away in a convent, devoting herself to prayer and penance. She had definite ideas about how she could best serve the Lord, and when her father married her off to a prominent wealthy family who expected her to be a socialite, she was horrified to the point of wanting to die. What she eventually learned, however, is that this life was God’s will for her, even though it was much more worldly and ordinary than the strict religious life she’d imagined. When she finally embraced that truth and devoted herself to truly embracing God’s will for her — letting go of her own more grandiose ideas of what God’s will should be — she became a tremendous force for Christ in the world. (I highly recommend taking a moment to read this brief biography of her inspiring life.)
I thought of Frances and asked for her prayers as I simmered in my exasperation about daily Mass that afternoon. And, finally, I had to ask myself that same question that she had been asked: Was I really crying because I wanted to do God’s will? Or was I just mad because I had projected my own wishes on the situation and things weren’t going my way?
When I thought about it, I realized that I had never specifically been led to go to Mass every day. The only thing I’d felt strongly in prayer was to go more often — but because I have an all-or-nothing type personality and like the excitement that comes with grand undertakings and big changes, I had jumped to the conclusion that “more often” meant “every day.” After all, going to Mass a couple extra times per month isn’t exciting. Being a “person who occasionally goes to weekday Mass” was a whole lot less interesting in my mind than being a “daily communicant.” And, as usual, there was probably some pride involved: being pregnant and having three little ones wasn’t going to stop me from going to Mass every day! Hah.
Because of my personality type, situations like this have come up many times throughout my conversion. All too frequently I let a sincere desire to do something great for God get mixed up with my own personal ideas about what doing something great for God might look like, and I stubbornly cling to my own wishes at the expense of finding out what God’s will for me actually is. Needless to say, in the daily Mass situation I pretty quickly discerned that I was not, in fact, called to go to Mass every day. What God had actually told me was a much less interesting, less dramatic message: to go to Mass during the week a little more often as I felt able to comfortably manage it. And, not surprisingly, being obedient to that call has been much more spiritually fruitful than when I was forcing myself to follow the imagined call that was more in line with my desires.
In this situation, like so many others, I drew great strength and inspiration from the life of St. Frances of Rome (and, I believe, from her intercessory prayers). Today is her feast day, and I’ll be doing something special to celebrate this great Christian who reminds me again and again not to let genuine desires for holiness turn into prideful fixations on my own ideas of what holiness should look like. May I never forget that the way to bring glory to God isn’t to stubbornly cling to my own grand visions of what true devotion should look like, but to set aside my desires and really let the Lord lead me, even when it’s down a humble, simple path.