Rend your hearts . . .


In early November I lost my job, the result of corporate reorganization. After a relatively short job hunt I made the transition to a new workplace. Part of the transition has involved putting in a lot of hours at the new job trying to get things under control and learn a new system. It was a painful time; I guess as I get older, I find change a great deal more difficult than in years past. However, out of this experience of loss, I have learned a valuable lesson.

The lesson is one that only came into focus for me with the approach of Lent this year. Early last week, reflecting on all that had happened, and feeling a bit sorry for myself, I began to get one of those all too rare glimpses into the reality of our lives. It is, I think, at the heart of the message the Church wishes to teach us during the Lenten season. I’d like to try to share that.

St. Francis embraced lady poverty as a total surrender of himself to live the Gospel. I think, like most Americans, I tended to take this somewhat too literally, to look at it only in material terms. That is an error, one that strikes to the heart of what St. Francis was trying to say. I am not saying that material wealth is not the obstacle that Francis would teach us all to overcome; Francis would never have said that. But material wealth is only one aspect of what Francis understood as poverty. We can try to “own” anything that we become attached to. Yet, the heart of poverty is surrender, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Looking back over the last six months or so, the thing I began to see is that poverty means lack of ownership. My life had been so stable, so routine, for so long, that I began to take for granted that it would continue on that way as long as I wished. I began to think I had a right to my job, my family, my house, everything, and that nothing could upset my own little, private, apple cart. Of course, that’s nonsense. I began to see that poverty, or better, Poverty, means lack of ownership. I don’t own anything, and I must be able to surrender everything back to God at any time. On His terms. Only when I am ready to do that can I know the true meaning of Poverty.

The thing that made the job loss so painful to me, and that I have found so difficult to offer up, is that I failed to see that I didn’t own that job, and I don’t own the one I have now. I “own” nothing. God, our loving Father, owns it all. Looking back, I think the thing that most astonishes me is how little gratitude I felt for the wonderful things in my life. I took everything for granted. I think, “How could I have been so stupid?” And yet, at the same time, I sense that I must learn to be grateful even for my ingratitude. It has taught me a lesson.

Some years ago, David Steindl Rast wrote a book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. In it, in the table of contents, is the following summary of the first chapter:

"That you have not yet died is not sufficient proof that you are alive. Aliveness is measured by degrees of awareness."

Poverty means being aware of and grateful for any little gift from a loving God, whether it is a spectacular Rocky Mountain sunrise, a hot cup of coffee in the morning, the morning commute to work, or the day to day trials of life. It is accepting, thankfully, anything that God allows to happen to us during the day. It means not resenting those things that we would wish to avoid, and, most of all, not taking them for granted. It is, I think, being aware that we own nothing, and receive everything, every minute, from our loving Father. Janis Joplin sang that “Freedoms just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” There is some truth here: being truly free, embracing Lady Poverty, means that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. All we have to do is be ready to give it all away.

This Lent, I hope to be able to say, I have learned that lesson well. I pray you all will grow in union with our Lord and be ready to celebrate His rising to New Life on Easter Sunday morning.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on February 12, 2005 8:54 AM.

From Lists to Live By was the previous entry in this blog.

Assistance Needed is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.