O God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you.
It’s a prayer I’ve offered, though not one I composed. I didn’t get it from a skeptical millennial or a burnt out cleric. It didn’t come from a newcomer exploring the church, or from one of the frozen chosen (someone who has been at this mainline, organized, institutional religion stuff for a while). Though in some respects it has a contemporary feel, it comes from Teresa of Avila, saint of the 16th century. I was leading a retreat of young people this past weekend. It was a gift to be with them, to learn from them. With a distinctive mix of love and energy, they were trying to figure out what it means to have a life with God. When asked to give a homily at a eucharist around a campfire, I noted that it was the feast day of St. Teresa. As I launched into the homily, I had one of those “What were you thinking?” moments. I wondered if discussion of a saint from so long ago would put these young people to sleep, all the while confirming their conviction that I was a hopeless church geek. But while Teresa’s life circumstances were, how shall we say, different than those of these young people, she had something to teach them (and me) about loving God.
Her memory lives on for a number of reasons, including a cut-to-the-chase approach to faith. One of my favorite stories about her: She took her show on the road, going from town to town proclaiming the gospel. One day, she was riding a horse or a cart or something (accounts vary). The horse bucked or a wheel of the cart fell off, and she was thrown to the ground, ending up in a mud puddle by the side of the road. She looked to the heavens and said: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” I’m wondering if you’ve ever joined her in that mud puddle, praying that prayer, maybe even adding expletives. Maybe you’re in that mud puddle this Monday morning.
She is credited with the beautiful prayer that says that we are Christ’s hands and feet in the world now. The prayer is printed in the column on the left, and provides a wonderful way for us to think about what we’re called to do.
But she’s on my mind because she helps me wrestle with the question of what it means to grow in love of God, which is the heart of spiritual growth. I confess that sometimes I wonder if the cynic/comic/commentator Bill Maher is right when he says that people who talk about a relationship with God are really talking about an imaginary friend. Sometimes my prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling, seem to be little more than wishful thinking. It’s why the story of Teresa of Avila is so important. At a critical moment in her own spiritual journey, she was visited by an angel, who in a vision pierced her heart with a golden burning spear. In that vision, her heart was set on fire with love for God. Sure, there was pain/challenge/difficulty. But it changed her, and paved the way for an answer to her request; I want to want to love you. I could stand to have my heart set on fire for love of God.
In our liturgy, in confession, we admit that we have not loved God with our whole heart or soul or mind, and oh by the way, we have not loved neighbor as self. (The two things apparently go together, though sometimes I feel like the guy who said: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.) Every day I need to focus on that call to deeper love of God and neighbor. I try to start each day with the confession just to establish the point. It reminds me that love of God is the issue, the heart of the matter. Join me this morning in giving thanks for Teresa. Try today to figure a way to open your heart a bit more to the Holy One who created us and from whose love we can never be separated. Never.
– Jay Sidebotham
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.
-St. Teresa of Avila
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.