Stunning! Breath-taking! Vivacious!
I can still remember the first time I met the young woman who became my wife. Those eyes: big, bright, and brown….
…….That smile, it reached from ear to ear and brilliant!
………………..Her laugh…well ok her laugh was loud and obnoxious, but the truth is it was also infectious.
She had caught my attention and my interest. And so, throwing caution to the wind, I pursued her relentlessly.
I knew who she was, but I didn’t know her yet. Little did I realize that in getting to know her, I would learn more about God’s love and God’s grace than I ever thought.
The whole story of how we met and how it unfolds belongs to another place as it is the stuff of romance novels, but the truth – is it was a whirlwind romance that changed the course of my life forever.
From Knowing to Loving
It began with a simple conversation, a simple encounter. We were sitting across from each other on a tour bus starting in Milan and working our way down to Rome. I was a seminarian, and she was in the choir. The priest who had brought me along sat in the window seat and promptly fell asleep, leaving me to converse with the person across the aisle from me. There she was 4 feet 9 inches tall and larger than life.
As humans, we are creatures of habit. So, each time we got on the bus, we sat in exactly the same spot. It got to the point where I looked forward to this part of the trip more than any other. Our conversation moved from polite niceties to in-depth discussions, some quite challenging.
After we returned from Italy, I realized and acknowledged that I missed those daily conversations, and soon, I responded by seeking her out. Shortly thereafter, we were talking and visiting again. It was then that I realized two truths. I loved her, and she loved me too.
Loving her was easy for me to embrace. The second not so much. And even as I struggled with the thought that she might love me, I wanted that to be true, desperately. I found that the more time I spent with her, the more time I wanted to be with her…it was a hunger that I never knew I had until it surfaced, and then once it had, it grew. And it continued to grow, as did our love for each other…and now…we have been married for nearly 21 years.
I can’t and won’t say that it has been easy. It hasn’t. There have been many rough spots on the road. But as I look back on the story of our meeting, of our romance, of our falling in love and of our growth in love, I have come to see God’s hand in it. His work in our love was not just to bring us together but to reveal to me something of Himself.
God Woos Us!
He wanted to let me know, and to let her know, that He was wooing us into relationship with Him. He wanted to move us from knowing about Him, that He is, to knowing Him and accepting His gift of love. He was offering us the gift of sanctifying grace! He would never force it upon us, but at the same time, He never gives up on the possibility that we might say, “Yes!” to his invitation.
From Actual Grace to Sanctifying Grace
Just as my (now) wife got my attention with her eyes, her smile, her kindness in conversation (with a little help from a sleeping priest), so too, God got my attention through actual graces. I encountered the grace of God first through the people around me, most especially my wife, the beauty of nature, a meaningful job, food on the table, and so many other wonderful blessings. The analogy doesn’t stop there.
Rather, with time and effort, including time dedicated to each other we grew in love and in knowledge of each other. I can now see that this is how God’s sanctifying grace works within us too! As I continue to encounter Him, I want more time and intimacy with Him. As I find out that he loves me, I acknowledge my own imperfections in light of His holiness and perfection, realizing I don’t deserve the love He offers, yet I respond by desiring that love much as I desire the love of my wife!
OK – So, what is sanctifying grace?
Sanctifying grace is the goodness that God pours out to us and in us – an invitation that draws us deeper into an encounter and relationship with Him. We go from knowing about God to knowing God. Here, English really fails us because we only have one word for knowing. In Spanish we would say we go from “saber” having a passing knowledge about something (like having learned in a textbook), to “conocer” to having an intimate knowledge that stems from experience. It is this “conocer” or intimate knowledge that comes with our growth in faith.
To sanctify means to make holy or set one apart for God. Where actual graces caught my attention, sanctifying grace drew me into the personal experience of God. The more time I spend in the Word and in prayer, the more I know and love God, and the more time I want to spend with Him.
The more time my wife and I spent together, I also noticed that there was the beginning of a shift in my identity. I was becoming her “boyfriend” and then her “fiancé.” I began identifying myself in terms of my relationship with her. I was becoming hers, and she was becoming mine. Not in ownership, but in relationship…in exclusivity. I also found that I was willing to do new, and sometimes crazy things that I hadn’t before – like sticking crayons in my ears (still don’t know why I did this).
So too, I have found that as I grew in grace, how I understood myself in relationship to the world and in relationship to God changed. I found myself being less “of the world,” despite being in it. At the same time, I realized that my feet were being more firmly rooted in God’s Kingdom and that my point of view had shifted, that I was starting to see things more as God does because I was growing into being a member of his household. And like the crayons in my ears with my wife, I find with God, I am doing strange and unexpected things with Him – like writing a blog or teaching religion to teenagers!
I’m not going to kid anyone here. As my identity shifted in my relationship with my wife and in my relationship with God, I found there were times when I have struggled, where I felt they were asking too much, where, perhaps I thought I was losing my identity completely…but that could not be further from the case. Even though there are still times like that, I have come to realize that in the moment I move closer to them, I am more the me God intended me to be than ever before. So even as I learn of them and love them, I am learning more about who I am called to be!
This change in identities finds its fullest expression in what we call Sacramental Grace. That will be the topic of next week’s post.
So, What About You?
Do you know about God, or do you know God?
Have you felt Him trying to get your attention?
Does prayer leave you wanting more?
What is it that you struggle with in your prayer life?
Why do you think that is?
Are you, like me, someone who really felt that you couldn’t be loved, that you weren’t worthy?
Let me close with this. I know I don’t deserve God’s love. I’ve come to terms with that. I’ve also come to terms with the truth that even though that is true, He loves me anyway. It’s a gift, a grace freely given. He’s got his hand reaching out for you, all you have to do, is respond with a yes!
I invite you to share this post with your friends and family. If you have a comment or question, please join me in conversation by leaving a comment here on the blog. I will be sure to get back to you!