Seeking fullness of life18 Apr 2018
In demanding life in abundance, I discover the ways that God is in fact already giving it to me.
Some years ago, my friend Jenni was preparing a talk for Catholic high school students. Jenni, who was a minister to young adults, was keen to offer the students encouragement as they moved on in their lives. She chose to speak to a passage in the Hebrew scriptures where Moses comes before the people of Israel at Moab and puts before them a commandment linked to choice:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
As I remember it, ‘I put before you life and death – choose life!’
When I heard Jenni preparing this talk I could not relate. We are already living. What on earth could it mean to ‘choose life’?
I now know what Jenni was talking about. Nearly 10 years on, having discovered my physical limits through taking on too much, having despaired in moments when life was hard and asked existential questions when present to someone suffering loss, I see now that life is life and death. And not only do we need to choose life, we need to claim it.
To claim life is to say to God ‘you have promised life to the full. So where is it God? When will you give it to me?’ In demanding life in abundance, I discover the ways that God is in fact already giving it to me. In naming this desire, I can see more of the grace I receive.
In Jenni’s father’s words, which she would regularly repeat, ‘all is gift James, all is gift!’ This led me to the insight of needing to give thanks. As with most young adults I had blind spots in my gratitude; for me, it was mainly around my relationships with my mum and dad. Jenni spoke into this blindness, inviting me to be grateful for the gift of my parents. After making some Ignatian retreats, I received this grace of thankfulness and ‘my eyes were opened.’ There was something rich and beautiful about this movement that had the capacity to heal my parental relationships, as well as my parental images of God.
Within the Ignatian spiritual tradition, retreat participants are invited to pray with their deepest longings and most intimate yearnings. These sacred desires are whole-of-person hopes: they capture something true about our lives and what we seek. I know now that I desire many of the gifts of God; and yet ultimately I want God. To be specific, I want the constant awareness of God’s sustaining presence in my life.
This presence can open me to receiving the peace and freedom that are God’s gifts to give. In a time of balance and insight, I am conscious and ready to move towards life. Aware of the temptations that deal death, and conscious of what gives life, I can choose life, claim life, and ultimately live life to the full.James O'Brien is a graduate teacher who works as an Editorial Assistant with Jesuit Communications.