I found these words several weeks ago, and I’ve been carrying them with me ever since.
“There is nothing – no thing, no person, no experience, no thought, no joy or pain – that cannot be harvested and used for nourishment on our journey to God. What I am suggesting here is that everything in your life is a stepping stone to holiness if only you recognize that you have within you the grace to be present to each moment.”
Everything in my life can be a stepping stone to holiness. Nothing excluded. Joy and pain. Peace and turmoil. Fullness and emptiness. People who love and care for me. People who ignore or annoy me. And even people who hurt me.
But all those things don’t automatically foster greater holiness. To see God’s invitation, I need the grace to be present to the moment. I need to pay attention. Notice. Look beneath the surface. Pray. I need to be aware of the emotions bubbling up in me. To understand why I feel unsettled. And I need to ask God what he is showing me about myself.
These questions are important because God is doing something far more important and more lasting IN me than what is happening TO me.
Recently I was frustrated with a friend and felt annoyed at her thoughtlessness over a certain issue. As I was mentally cataloging my list of grievances, I suddenly stopped and pondered why God might have brought this situation into my life. It was a simple question, but the answers revealed more about my heart than hers. My friend’s actions were an opening for God to reveal a layer of sin in my life that I would have otherwise glossed over. As I saw the sin in my response, I was able to confess it to God and repent.
Whenever I feel annoyed or frustrated or angry, perhaps God is inviting me to examine my own heart instead of focusing my attention outward. Perhaps my irritation is an invitation from the Lord to go deeper.
And because God is overseeing everything that comes across my path, no experience is ever wasted. It can all be used to turn me to Christ because ultimately he works all things for good. My difficult circumstances can cultivate a dependence on Christ. Teach me to pray more fervently. Give me the opportunity for ministry. My successes can lead me to praise and thank God. To give him glory. To see my sin of pride and confess it. To learn humility by taking the low seat even in the limelight. Everything can be a stepping stone to holiness.
As I was pondering how God can use everything in our life to draw us to him, a friend shared how the Message paraphrase of the Beatitudes had been reshaping her. Matthew 5: 3-4 says, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.
In the eyes of the world, that sounds insane. It is the opposite of the world’s definition of blessed. To the world being blessed is having everything you want and more. It is having your dreams come true. It is NOT being at the end of your rope and losing everything that is dear to you.
But in God’s economy, being blessed takes on a wholly new meaning. We are blessed when we have no resources. When we have nothing to turn to. No one to rely on. When nothing is going well. That is when God and his rule increases in our life. There is less of us. And more of God. And when we lose what is most dear to us, we value God’s embrace even more. And his embrace is more dear, more precious, more spectacular than anything we could possibly have lost.
My friend who mentioned the Beatitudes was reading the autobiography of Madame Guyon, a French Catholic writer from the 1600’s. While I may not agree with some of Guyon’s theology, I have great respect for her. Guyon had a difficult life, marked by illness, neglect, and humiliation. At age 16, her father made her sign papers that tricked her into marrying a man who was 22 years older who was afflicted with gout. She became his nurse and cared for him tirelessly, living in her mother-in-law’s home even after she spread vicious lies about her.
Guyon’s prayers reflected her deep faith and trust in God’s character. She wrote, “Oh my God, you had my father deceive me when I wanted to be a nun so I would turn to you and let you love me.” She also penned, “Oh my God, you allowed my mother-in-law to spread those lies about me so that I would turn to you in humility and see how much you love me.”
Rather than growing bitter at the pain she had endured, questioning the goodness of God, she chose to see God’s loving hand in it. She saw all her life as in God’s hands and all her circumstances as opportunities to draw closer to him. She was willing to trust God completely and surrender everything to him.
Psalm 119:90-91 says, “You have established the earth and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.”
All things are God’s servants. All things can and will be used by God to accomplish his good purposes.
Everything that happens to us is an invitation from God to grow in holiness. Our annoyances can reveal our sin. People who hurt us give us opportunities to forgive. Our physical ailments teach us to depend on God. Our rebellious children train us to pray without ceasing. Everything that is wrong and hard in our lives is a divine invitation to turn to God.
To fully live out that perspective, I need to be present to each moment. To actively seek out and ask God what he is trying to show me. To be aware that God is always at work in my life and to trust that every circumstance can draw me closer to him.
For everything can be a stepping stone to holiness.