Trusting God is an act of the will

I’m a cancer survivor, although mine was more of a “skirmish” than a battle. It was brief and relatively easily treated. But one long term consequence of even a cancer skirmish is that the doctors are hyper vigilant about new cancers, so periodically they see something suspicious and I spend an uncomfortable week waiting for test results. I haven’t had a cancer scare in several years. But it will most likely happen again.

When I’m healthy and my life is going great, I read about people courageously facing illness and I think “I would do that — I’d be brave and trust God and put a big smile on my face.”

And then “it” — or even the vague threat of a possible “it” — happens, and I crumble like stale coffee cake.

I’m not generally a worrier. But when it looks like something big could be wrong — well, sometimes I am. It turns out that I, with a brain wired for overthinking and a first-born’s penchant for control, apparently have a very difficult time just “letting go and letting God” when the stakes get high.

When the rubber actually hits the road, this whole “Jesus, I Trust in You” thing is much easier said than done.

I try. I read all of those lovely Bible verses about being not afraid, and the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and all. Nope, still afraid. I pray surrender prayers — the ones that talk about how if we would stop worrying and surrender to him, he would take care of everything. Then I worry that he won’t take care of everything because I am still worrying.

Of course, in the rational parts of my mind, I know that God loves me, and that he has a plan and he works good out of everything. I know that he is my loving, all-powerful Father, and thus eminently trustworthy.

And still, it can sometimes seem impossible to stop worrying and just trust. I can say the words, but it’s a lot more difficult to make the emotions follow suit.

Not long ago, I stumbled upon a tiny little book by Father Jacques Philippe about St. Therese of Lisieux, entitled The Way of Trust and Love. He writes, of course, about the Little Flower and her incredible, childlike trust in God. The kind of trust that makes the rest of us feel like sinners and heathens because we can’t seem to manage to emulate it.

But he also goes into great detail about her insistence that God knows and understands our weaknesses, and that “the good God does not demand more from you than good will.”

Good will? I think I can do that!

Good will doesn’t mean being satisfied with mediocrity. It doesn’t mean that we don’t try because God loves us just as we are. It simply means that, despite our weaknesses and our humanity, if we are doing the very best we can to follow Christ, and to do what he calls us to do, God will honor that.

Which, in this case, means doing the best we can to override our natural human fear and trust him during a difficult time.

Trusting God is not primarily about our feelings. It is an act of the will. Our emotions — influenced by neurotransmitters controlled by everything from our heredity to what we had for lunch — are often out of our control, and cannot be reliable indicators of our holiness or lack thereof. But we can still decide that, no matter what our emotions may be doing, the rational part of our minds, the part that can freely choose, is choosing to trust God. Making that choice doesn’t automatically mean that our anxiety magically and immediately disappears. It just means that we are choosing, to the extent we are able, to trust him.

As we continue to override our fear and surrender to God despite the anxiety, frequently something beautiful will gradually begin to happen. We will begin to feel a sense of peace that overcomes the fear. When that happens, it is beautiful. But it is not our doing. We are utterly incapable of making it happen. It is his action, his Spirit moving in our hearts, overriding our hormones and our emotions to allow us to begin to experience that “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Ironically, the most notable time I have experienced that peace was when I actually had cancer. It came the night I was waiting for my final diagnosis, when I was praying in the Blessed Sacrament chapel and I said “Well, I guess if you want me, I’m coming.” In acknowledging my complete powerlessness and dependence on him in the midst of an actual crisis, he gave me a deep sense of peace that lasted throughout my treatment.

So I know it can happen.

If there is one thing that is certain in life, it is that difficult times will come — for me and for all of us. When they do, I highly recommend, even if your anxiety is off the charts, repeating over and over this line from the Novena of Surrender: “Jesus, I surrender all to you. Take care of everything.”

And, in the ways known only to him, believe that he will.

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.