There is something about making an extra commitment to spiritual growth, however small it may seem, that magnifies itself over time. Any extra time spent in prayer, fasting, adoration, scripture always brings forth more fruit in our lives, whether we realize it at first or not. And when we truly make an effort to grow closer to God, even if we miss a day of a novena or fall asleep part way through a scripture reading before bed (even Peter, the rock on which the Church was built, wasn’t able to remain awake with the Lord as he prayed!) God know our desire to grow closer to Him and our lives are changed in some way because of it. Particularly when we are joined with others in a group prayer, retreat, etc. to draw all of us closer to Him. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Matthew 18:20
Our entire lives should be based on growing closer and closer to the Lord and helping others to grow closer to Him as well that we might all be with Him in Heaven after this life here on earth. And even the little things, the “sprouts” as a friend calls them, can come to bear great fruit over time.
However, in the midst of the joys of our spiritual growth, there is one who wants to halt our progress. One who despises the very idea of us growing closer to the Lord and will tempt us to give up, to fall down, and to turn the other way. In these moments of spiritual growth, we cannot fall into thinking that we are above the temptation of the devil. In fact, it is in these moments of becoming closer and closer to Christ that we may find ourselves tempted even more.
I noticed this in my own life yesterday. I am currently partway through a 54-Day Rosary novena with a wonderful group of people. Already I have noticed wondrous blessings. I have seen the seeds of my prayers begin to “sprout”. And just Tuesday morning I received some wonderful news in answer to a prayer regarding my health and fertility. While I am not yet pregnant, this little “sprout” of faith filled me with joy and thanksgiving to see God working in my life.
The joy I felt on Tuesday was momentarily taken away on Wednesday. You see, Wednesday morning I found out that due to circumstances beyond our control, it appeared that we may need to wait another month in our struggle to conceive. This may seem like a minor thing (after all in the grand scheme of things what is one more month?) but I assure you it hit me hard. I cried. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was confused. All the blessings I had experienced even just one day earlier no longer seemed like blessings. Instead, they fueled my frustration. Why would God give me this “blessing” only to show me the next day that it wouldn’t even be worth it? The past several years of trying, the multitude of tests, the surgery just last month, why did any of it even matter? These were the thoughts that raced through my head throughout most of the day. It wasn’t until much later that I stopped to actually think about what I was doing and I felt ashamed of my behavior.
How could I doubt in the Lord? How could I have possibly twisted the wondrous blessings I had been given so far into something to throw back at God? How could I be angry with the Father who loves me just because His wondrous and Almighty plan didn’t fit in perfectly with what I had decided my own time frame should be? How in the world did I go from being so joyous and thankful to this?
I went to bed trying to focus on the blessings and trust in His plan rather than my own. I woke up feeling rested and rejuvenated. When I said my prayers this morning, including my Rosary novena, it hit me. Just like that I had allowed the temptation of the devil to sneak into my time of spiritual growth. Surely I could have resisted better. But such is the nature of humanity. We fall prey to such temptations at times. Instead of remaining strong, I fell into the temptation to doubt my Lord. To refuse to look at the blessings He has given me and to instead focus on what I thought I wanted instead.
I gave into the temptation and allowed myself to momentarily slide backwards. But oh how I am blessed! Through the support and strong faith of my loving husband, through my prayers and sincere desire to grow closer to Him, and surely through the prayers of my brother and sisters in Christ who are praying alongside me, I realized what I was doing. And I chose to stop. I could have continue to fall backwards. To give further and further into temptation. To stop the novena, to give up on my prayers, and to let anger, jealousy, and fear control me. But Mother Mary heard my prayers and gently pulled me from my brief fall backwards and directed me once again toward her Son.
The devil is real. He despises when we grow closer to our loving God. And the closer and closer we get, we might find ourselves facing temptation more and more. We must not give in! And if we find that we have failed, we need not despair! No matter what setbacks we may face, we can always turn our steps back towards the Lord!
Prayer is oh so very powerful. But we need to be mindful that God is not a magic genie. We do not say the “magic words” of a prayer to have our wishes instantly granted. No. Prayer is a loving conversation with Christ wherein we open our hearts to Him, thank Him for all He has given us, and ask for His guidance in our journey to be more like Him.
So if in your own spiritual journey you find yourself tempted to give up when your prayers seem to be “unanswered”, whether it is during a novena or retreat or simply in your own prayer life, stay strong! Pray for the strength to remain focused on Christ and pray for each other as we continue on this journey toward Heaven. If you feel yourself beginning to slip, ask the Lord to create a clean heart within you that you might resist temptation and remain close to Him. Stay strong in faith and trust in the Lord and He will never leave you.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” Proverbs 3:5