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I'll never understand how one day I can get so much done, and another, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to accomplish much of anything at all. The same quirky rule seems to apply to traffic. One morning, the road inexplicably opens up before me like the Red Sea did for the children of Israel. The next, I feel like one of pharaoh's charioteers, drowning in a sea of cars.
There are times in our lives -- and in our faith -- when it seems that we are achieving little, growing slowly, if at all, and going nowhere fast. We all have days, months, and even years that feel a lot like treading water, or worse, like hitting our heads against a brick wall. Conventional wisdom of the variety I grew up with would tell me to try harder, resist giving up, stick to the plan and just keep pushing. "Remember, after all, that God helps those who help themselves." But I am coming to the conclusion that perhaps that is not the best advice after all. Maybe, just maybe, the better path is to stop struggling, sit down, and wait. Maybe God helps those who ask for help.
I like to think of myself as competent and strong. In all likelihood, my deepest flaw is despising weakness. But the truth is, when I'm frustrated or exhausted enough to admit it, I need help just like everyone else does. And by that, I mean that I depend on help constantly, one might say, perpetually.
Nothing of value is done in isolation. In fact, the greatest of human endeavors, the task of becoming both truly and fully human, is only possible with the kind and not-so-kind assistance of others. To be human is to become holy. God's grace for our sanctification is certainly abundant. But that grace most commonly overflows from the poverty of the souls who know they need it most. I'm not so sure that describes me.
Looking back, I realize that I used to reach for holiness as if it were a ripe fruit hanging from the branch just high enough to be out of my grasp. Now I know that I may not even be standing under a tree that bears fruit. It may not even be a tree at all. When I was younger, things seemed clearer. Now, though I expected there would be even more certainty, there is less. There isn't more doubt, just more mystery. It's not that I have less faith than I use to have; it's that I have a greater appreciation of how little I can do to deepen it or make it grow.
I think that there will never be a single day on which I am what I'm meant to be, at least not on this side of eternity. The day will never come when I look into the mirror and see the kind of sanctity each of us is called to. I'll never reach perfection; I may not even end up with much more than a very mediocre spiritual life. That possibility used to frighten me, but I think I'm beginning to make my peace with it.
It isn't that I'm giving up the fight, at least I hope that's not what it is. Instead, I'm coming to terms with the reality that faith never really was supposed to be a fight. Jacob learned it the hard way. Because we cannot know for sure that we are fighting on God's side, it is better not to fight at all. We too easily slip from contending with God into struggling against him. When it comes to God, our best strategy is surrender. The funny thing is that fighting seems so much easier than simply giving up.
October is full of feasts. All month we memorialize all kinds of saints as we wind our way to remembering All Saints. And while their personalities and professions stretch the full spectrum of human experience, the message of their holy lives is remarkably the same. None of us is self-sufficient. All of us need God. Trust him. Ask for help. He is near to all who call upon him. "I lift my eyes, then, to the mountains. From whence comes my help? My help is from the Lord; He who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121)
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.