I find it amazing how stifled our imaginations can be sometimes. We claim to believe in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, ever-present, and ever-near, capable of doing anything imaginable, and yet we can hardly imagine much beyond our own finite experiences.
So often, we place laughably small limits on what God can do, preferring a God and a kingdom of heaven that more closely resembles our own than the furthest reaches of our dreams; so often, we can barely expect what is beyond our own noses. It’s no wonder, then, that we must often speak of a “God of surprises.”
As long as I live, I will never forget one such surprise in my life. It happened during my fifth year as a friar, as I was going on my internship year in preparation for solemn vows. Knowing how important the ability to speak Spanish is for priests in the United States, and wishing to have a humbling experience of minority prior to taking vows, I approached my director of formation about spending the summer in Latin America to learn Spanish. Unbeknownst to me, another friar in formation happened to be within earshot when I asked and immediately jumped in, “Oh, I want to go too!”
My heart sank.
While the friars work to present the appearance of an easygoing fraternity of men who are of one mind and heart, loving and supporting one another like best friends, this is an absolute fantasy. As much as we try to get along, certain brothers just don’t like each other. That’s life, and that was my relationship at the time with this particular brother. Living together twice at different stages of our formation, we had rarely been forced to interact with one another, and I honestly cannot tell you if I had ever had a personal conversation with him to this point.
Based on his personality and how he interacted with others, I had decided that we had little in common. Some of the opinions he had expressed were quite contrary to mine, and I assumed that the main reason we had never become friendly was because he did not like me. Of all the friars in formation at the time, I’m not sure that I could have chosen a worse companion for a grueling two-month stay in a foreign country. This was going to be a disaster.
It’s funny how God works sometimes. Resigning myself to low expectations, writing this friar off as a problem, and limiting what was possible with God, I began the summer looking forward to the day it would end; when that day ultimately came, I found myself with a brother whom I truly loved and cared for. Taken out of our normal routines and forced to be together, surrounded by chaos and made to feel like we only had each other to trust in, we both rose to the occasion. When I was in pain as a result of some unfortunate medical issues, I saw a side of him that I had never experienced—patient, kind, and showing genuine care toward me. When he got stressed or angry, even at me, I listened to his complaints without fighting and offered as encouraging of a voice as I could muster. Over the course of two months, we shared our stories, aired our grievances, and dreamt together about the future. Entering the summer treating one another as little more than enemies, we came out the other side with what noticeably astounded us both: a new brother in Christ.
If God is capable of making me come to love and care for someone I had previously dreaded being around, truly anything is possible with God. The limits we place on the world, our Church, our loved ones, and even ourselves pale in comparison to what Jesus is leading us to on his mission.
Time and again, my little worldview is shaken by something wider; my plans are almost always dashed by bigger, better ones. If I’ve learned anything as a friar, it is that being a Christian means leaving behind absolutely everything I can imagine and being totally fine with accepting whatever God gives me—big or small, happy or painful. No matter what I come to expect, no matter how large and creative I think my imagination is, I always fall short of what God wants to accomplish. We cannot control the mission, and any attempt to cling to what we think we want only serves to slow down our own complete abandonment to Christ’s leadership.
If we want to follow Christ, we must let go of every expectation or hope we may have because it will only serve to get in our way. We do not know where we’re going, how to get there, what it will look like, or how long it will take. And that might seem daunting to us at first. But trusting in the fact that God loves us and wants the best for us, we can take solace in one thing: “eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has in store for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).