For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Ps 139:13)
As a biologist, I know how germ cells arise. I know about the mechanisms of conception, of implantation, of embryogenesis, of birth. Though there is plenty that we don’t know, the fact is that we understand enough about conception, development, and birth to manipulate each of these processes, particularly when there are problems. Does our understanding of biological mechanisms rule God out, restricting Him to being the so-called God of the gaps? Hardly. Nothing rules God out.
The fact is that God wove me in my mother’s womb using known mechanisms. Stitch by stitch, He made me. He knows every stitch that He ever made. Everything about me, all my idiosyncrasies, He made and did so on purpose. I am unique. What does this uniqueness mean? Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field…”
- The lily does not choose in which field it will stand.
- The lily has no control over what grows around it.
- The lily has no control over the weather — rain or drought, it must simply stand and endure.
- The lily came up a certain kind of lily, of a certain color or shape, and its shapeliness and health depends on the spring and the summer, and whether grazing cattle let it grow.
If the lily did not make these choices, then who did? If I did not make the choices about who my parents would be, where I would grow up, how many siblings I would have, what schools I would attend, then who did? It might appear that I made choices about what college I attended, who I married, what job I took. But, now that I consider the lily, I have to wonder: How much of me is mine; how much is God’s?
That Psalm 139 applies to 7 billion people might lead an individual to conclude that he or she is not special, but just one of billions. Little children understand this feeling. When mommy announces to her child that a brother or sister is about to appear, a distraught reaction is not uncommon. “If you love me so much, why would you want another one?”
It is difficult to feel special to God when there are 7 billion “children” to whom He must pay attention. But, God loves fecundity. He did not make one human and one horse and one maple tree and one corn plant. He made many, many of each, including human beings. And each of us is absolutely unique:
God took the time to make me, stitch by stitch.
I am not mass-produced. I am one of a kind.
But, we might reason, if He loves me, wouldn’t He treat me as well as, if not better, than the others? Such special treatment is what little children expect. As an adult, I expect that God will treat me, not necessarily better, but uniquely. That makes me a special project of His. Jesus confirms this when he says that not even Solomon dressed in all his glory was any more lovely than the lily. So for all that has shaped and misshaped me, for all that has given me health and inflicted ill-health on me, I am precious in the eyes of God, and honored, and He loves me as I am. Otherwise, I would not be as I am.
In the self-centered age in which I live, it can be difficult to absorb the fact that God has made me, not for me, but for Himself. In my selfishness, it can be difficult to accept the choices that God has made for me, the way that He has shaped me, the way that He continues to create me and make me. I may not like what He has done in the past, or what He is doing right now. I may have much better ideas of what I would like to be, of how I would like my life to go. But, I am God’s project. Each morning, I acknowledge this in prayer, remembering that this is the day that the Lord has made and He has made it for my good and for His glory.
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This reflection, which summarizes my experience during the third week of the Exercises, may strike the reader as rather boring, but the concept addressed here is as profound as it is important. The fundamental issue is one that I had thought about for decades but with which I had never really come to terms. The Spiritual Exercises forced me to do so.
Children go through a developmental phase where they discern that they are individuals distinct from all other individuals. They discover that “I am me, and not someone else.” Figuring out that I am different from everyone else is not the same as wondering “Why am I different?” or “I am different, but why am I different in a particular way?” The latter question is a complicated way of asking, “Why can’t I be like so-and-so?”, a question that persists into adulthood for many people, at least from time to time. This question manifests in many ways:
- Why can’t I be beautiful like a Anne Hathaway or Halle Berry or Jude Law or Christian Bale?
- Why do I have to have such a boring job?
- Why do I have to live in an apartment rather than having a house of my own?
- Why do I have to struggle to make ends meet every month?
- Why do I have to work so hard to get good grades when others just sail through?
- Why can’t I be a better person?
- Why do I have to battle with bad habits that none of my friends struggle with?
These questions, and many more, drive a great deal of angst in our society. We find ourselves following a certain path in life, endowed with a specific personality, having unique gifts and talents, but we are unhappy with some of them. We don’t like certain aspects of our lives. We wish we could be different. Anorexia nervosa and keeping-up-with-the-Jones are but two behavioral manifestations of this desire to have a life that is different from the reality in which we find ourselves. Cheating and consumer debt derive from a wish to be something we are not. Self-loathing and alcoholism result, at least in part, from a failure to be what we want to be.
The examples of behaviors and attitudes that I have cited are but a sample of the consequences of never having considered the lily, never having come to terms with the life that God has chosen for me. Perhaps now you can appreciate why my contemplation of this seemingly boring topic had such a profound effect upon me. Accepting who I am and the life that I have is not trivial since to not do so leads to bad decisions, anger issues, and even depression and suicide.
There is an additional aspect to this notion of accepting the choices that God has made in my life. Not only must I come to terms with my past, the path that I have lived that has landed me squarely in my present circumstances, but I must also face the future with courage. God will continue to direct my life in ways over which I will have no control. Am I willing to surrender to the future that God has in store for me, even though I have little idea as to what that future holds? I am finding this question of particular import, since I am growing older, and face a future with many uncertainties including retirement, failing health, constrained financial resources, limited physical and mental capabilities. Failure to surrender to God’s role in the uncertainty that lies ahead generates great anxiety, even paralyzing fear, about the future. Living in fear is not what God envisions for my life. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Accepting God’s chosen path for my life brings freedom: freedom to live; freedom to love; freedom to trust.
Surrendering to both the present and the future that God has in store for me is not an overarching “oh, isn’t that nice!” concept. It is one that has implications for every moment of my life as I live it. Throughout the day, I consciously surrender to what God is doing. If, out of self-centeredness, I don’t like what is happening at any given moment, I acknowledge God’s presence and His wisdom, which helps me to come to terms with my circumstances, His choices. This approach to my day brings a level of peace and contentedness, if not joy that God is at work to glorify Himself in me.