A long life can become a lonely life, St. Ignatius says—what we need are God’s love and grace
By Deacon Bob Hunt
We only think we plan our lives. This fact struck me once when I was working as a nurse in a pediatric emergency room. A family came in with their infant son, who was ill, not seriously, but enough to worry his mother.
During the assessment the mother revealed that the boy had been conceived and born 10 years after she had had her tubes tied. Well, so much for those plans! Happily, the child was embraced and loved as the gift he was. But the fact is, this child was not planned. The family had no intention of having another child, and they took the most advanced methods available to make sure this child never came into being. Yet here he was.
A not usually so dramatic reminder of this lesson can be thrust upon us when facing an unexpected illness. I’ve been quite ill over the last two months. First, I caught a stomach bug and became terribly dehydrated, requiring three days in the hospital. Next, I caught a severe cold from my granddaughter that knocked me for a loop. Finally, I caught COVID. I was hoping and praying for a mild illness, but it wasn’t meant to be. For two weeks I was in pretty bad shape—no energy, no appetite, horrible cough, aches and pains all over. At first, I seemed to be getting better, then I took a turn for the worse and ended up missing almost two weeks of work. Since mid-June I’ve lost 17 pounds (not that I couldn’t afford to lose 17 more, but I don’t recommend this weight-loss method).
One of the worst things about being sicker for longer than expected is the feeling that I’m not getting things done. There’s so much to do, but there’s just no energy for it. All that reading and writing I had planned, all the lunches, meetings, and appointments that end up being canceled, all the thank-you notes and acknowledgements that need to be sent. Eventually, I reached a point of resignation. It’s just not going to get done, and that’s that. When I reached this point, it was easier to focus on getting better, though there still wasn’t much I could do about it except make sure I stayed hydrated.
My thoughts turned to a movie I watched on formed.org about St. Ignatius of Loyola. Many religious movies are too sappy for my taste, but this one isn’t. It’s well done, and I recommend it. In one scene from the movie, St. Ignatius has a discussion with a man about prayer. He asks what the man prays for. The man says he prays for a long life and prosperity because these are good things.
Ignatius reminds him that wealth can be a burden and a long life can become a lonely life. Ignatius recommends, instead, to pray for an attitude of indifference—not cold-heartedness, but a willingness to accept whatever God sends our way: wealth, poverty, long life or short, wellness or illness. The point is to accept whatever God gives us and use it to love and serve Him, that every action we take be done for His glory. Even ailments and misfortunes can bring us deeper into God’s love, if we embrace them and offer them for His glory.
The famous prayer of St. Ignatius sums up this attitude of indifference well: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours, do with it what you will. Give me only your love and grace, that is enough for me. Amen.”
Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who had a large harvest. The man tore down his barns and built bigger ones. He stored up his great wealth and felt secure for what the future held. But what the future held is that that night his life would be demanded of him. He was prepared to face the coming years on earth but was unprepared to stand before God in judgment. “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21).
We don’t need a long life or prosperity. We don’t need good health. We don’t need to be in control of our lives, and, in fact, there are so many things over which we have so little control, it’s futile to think we can plan our lives out with much confidence. What we need are God’s love and grace. These are enough.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.