It can be very hard in the world of instantly expected results to understand that spiritual formation always takes longer than we thought it would—in our own lives, in the lives of those we care about, in our faith communities.
Below are a couple excerpts from Jean Grou on this theme:
See by what a series of misfortunes Joseph attained the summit of honour: for long years he only escaped from one danger to fall into a still greater one; and when he believed himself to be hopelessly forgotten in the depths of a dungeon, God drew him from thence and raised him to a position of the highest dignity. What was it that supported Joseph during this chain of adversities? It was the spirit of faith: he never lost his confidence in God; he always believed that God would accomplish what He has promised.” (Fr. Jean Grou, S. J. Manual for Interior Souls. London: St. Anselm’s Society, 1913, p. 135-36.)
Do I have such a spirit of faith as Joseph did in his long wait for God’s fulfilled promise? Do I believe that faith is only proven through testing, and only deeply proven through deep testing? Sometimes! In my own waiting rooms, do I continue to believe that God will accomplish what He has promised to me in the past? And will God’s faithfulness dim if mine falls short at times?
As Grou continues to comment on the place of testing in the lives of the faithful, he offers one view of the terrain in this extended excerpt (and it’s not for the faint of heart!)
“So it is in the law of grace with those souls whom God calls to a high state of [holiness]. He generally begins by unveiling His designs for them; He loads them at first with gifts and favours; and when they think that they are far advanced in His good graces, little by little He withdraws from them: he takes away his gifts; He casts them from one abyss into another; and when He has brought them to a state apparently of utter loss, to an absolute sacrifice of themselves, He raises them up again, and, with the new life which He communicates to them, He gives them an assurance and a foretaste of eternal beatitude. This state of probation, which is a series of crosses, of bodily sufferings, of mental agonies, of desolations, humiliations, calumnies, and persecutions, lasts sometimes for fifteen or twenty years, sometimes longer, according to the designs of God, and the greater or less generosity and faithfulness of the soul.” (Grou, p. 136.)
This won’t sell a lot of his books today, will it! And it may take you a couple of readings for it to soak in.
Grou may be overstating his case a bit, but my experience is that the reality of the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ has to actually do its work in me over time so that He might be more formed in me. By His life, I mean those experiences of vitality, exuberance, comfort and consolation. By His death, I mean those trying, losing, suffering places. By His resurrection, I mean those expressions of His presence and power that cannot be explained by merely human resources—a life that comes on the other side of a death (hence resurrection).
Are there times when you feel like something you had hoped for from God (and perhaps even felt promised by him) has actually died? Perhaps it won’t be until it is well dead and gone that He surprises us with an unexpected resurrection.