The Ideal vs. The Real
The number of perfection.
I’ve found myself being reminded a lot lately of something a Catholic speaker, Jeff Cavins, talks about—the clash between our ideal vs. our real life. We’re starting a brand new year today, and all of us have expectations of what 2017 is going to look like. Especially with my little sister’s wedding coming up and a trip to see my college roommate in Washington this year, there’s a lot to look forward to! But my ‘ideal’ vision of what this year is going to look like is conveniently missing one thing—suffering. We never like to think that suffering will be a part of our lives, so when it does come it almost takes us by surprise. We think, that wasn’t part of my plan! But that’s because we live so often in our ideal lives, planning what our days are going to look like, that when our real lives hit we immediately feel cheated and frustrated.
We’ve all been there—we have a long-awaited free day and immediately start to plan all the things we’re going to get done around the house and the errands we’re going to finish and the relaxation we’re going to get in, and then everything starts to go wrong. Suddenly our ideal life very quickly clashes with our real life, and that clash can make us quite irritable and angry!
I think the heart of it is that suffering, disappointment, frustration, or sickness isn’t something we can plan for—it’s completely out of our control. And being a bit of a perfectionist myself, I understand the need for control! We want to be in control of everything, and when we encounter suffering all that control over our lives is suddenly taken away.
Suffering ultimately is the tool God uses to get our attention and to remind us that our lives aren’t about us. Our lives are a gift from Him, meant to be given as a gift to others. Even our suffering can be redeemed as a gift for others by uniting that suffering to Christ’s Cross; then the graces of that suffering can pour out on those who need it most! When we live in our ‘ideal’ life, we face suffering with anger and resentment, thinking we’re owed good health and an easy life. But when we face our ‘real’ life with an attitude of trust in God, that’s when we can be truly happy. That’s when we remember that God would never allow suffering unless He knew He would bring a greater good out of it. And we not only know that intellectually, but we experience it in our lives through encountering Him in our suffering.
There was a time in high school when I had just had stomach surgery and had to be re-admitted to the hospital in Minneapolis because I couldn’t eat or drink anything and was becoming too dehydrated. My dad, at the same time, had major heart trouble and was admitted to the St. Cloud hospital over an hour away from where I was. My family was running back and forth between the two hospitals for different operations we had to have, and I remember it as a time of intense suffering for all five of us. But I also remember it as a time of coming closer as a family than we had ever been; we all learned the meaning of self-sacrifice in a deeper way that week and had to completely rely on God to take care of us. I was able to offer up my suffering for my dad, and I know he was doing the same for me. And when we were all finally back home under one roof at the end of the week, we just held each other and cried tears of joy to be together again. Even though the suffering itself was so hard to endure, we saw God bring so much greater good out of that pain than we ever could have imagined.
The word ‘perfect’ in Greek is ‘teleios,’ which can also be translated ‘complete,’ ‘full grown,’ or ‘finished.’ God knows what we need in order to be made perfect, just like the gold that needs to be put in the fire to be tested and purified! We know that God only wants good for us, and we can rest in that promise even when our ‘real’ lives are not at all what we thought we wanted. So as we stand at the beginning of this new year, let’s surrender 2017 to God’s providence and ask for the trust of a little child in order to embrace the life He wants for us. Because it’s only through embracing our ‘real’ life, rather than clinging to our ‘ideal’ life, that we can encounter true joy.