June 2, 2011

Prayer in Frustration

In our frustration with our most important relationships, is there hidden a gift for the spiritual life? When all my plans go amiss and the trials of family life seem to reach a boiling point, it is difficult to recognize in this experience a blessing from the Father, even though my faith tells me there is.  The truth is frustration with those I love and their disappointment in me, these are always so many invitations to prayer.  

One author who really challenges me in this way is Slawomir Biela.  He captures the unrelenting doctrine of St. John of the Cross regarding the opposition of a self-sufficient attitude to true union with the Lord.  He believes God permits us to suffer deep frustration to purify us of pride and to help us rely on the Him alone. 

A prideful, self-reliant attitude afflicts marriage, family and all forms of consecrated life. This attitude subjects us to all kinds of fantasies and falsehoods unworthy of our existence and incapable of sustaining real love.   Biela explains, more specifically, "If we treat people as a support in themselves then our relationships with them become false and filled with illusions.  If God wants to lead us into a spiritual desert and attempt to make even a part of these illusions evaporate, we will undergo deep frustrations." God Alone Suffices, Denver: In the Arms of Mary Foundation (2003), 68.

There are great implications to Biela's reference to "spiritual desert."  For example, just like the Lord worked mighty signs and wonders in Egypt, He will allure us into the desert through all kinds of trials and tribulations that we too might enjoy a deeper friendship with Him.  The desert is a place of intimacy with the Lord - only in the wilderness of our own hearts is there enough space for God's love for us to unfold.

Falsehoods are always a frustrating source of spiritual bondage – they never lead to what our hearts truly need.  Underneath any clinging to fantasy is a hostility to the Lord, the fear that we cannot trust the Lord with our happiness, that we must rely on ourselves or others whom we think we can control.  To be free of falsehood in our dealings with those we love, we must be led from this distrust into a real heart to heart with the Lord.  When those who pray taste the pangs of deep frustration in their most important relationships, God is leading us into just such a "spiritual desert."

To get us into this desert, Biela explains that the Lord even permits us to feel cheated, hurt, abandoned, rejected and betrayed by those we most trust.   At the same time, we find ourselves letting everyone around us down.  We suffer their disappointment in us.  These kinds of graces, so difficult to see as graces, when offered to the Lord in prayer are especially liberating.  

They do not liberate us from love -- but for a deeper love.  The problem is not that we have let others into our hearts - the problem is that we do not relate to them rightly.  By identifying deep frustration with spiritual purification, Biela indicates one of the ways God helps us relate to those He has entrusted to us and to whom we are entrusted with an abiding spiritual freedom.  Such freedom not only raises up our own dignity but theirs as well.    

This is true even if, when we suffer these trials, it feels at first as if the Lord has rejected us.  What is really going on deep within us is not rejection. Instead, in allowing us trials, the Lord is expressing great confidence in us, his confidence that we are ready for true spiritual freedom, that we are ready to receive his strength to suffer the truth.  For this, we must ask Him ardently and with great trust.  The friendship He desires to share with us demands no less.  Even in our frustrations and failures, we must live accepting our dignity as sons and daughters of God, tested and made strong in his love that by truth we might live like Him.