Pushed to the Limit

Quite often a prayer request to the monastery will contain the words, ‘I feel pushed to the limit.’ Most of us can probably identify with that. So many things are beyond our control. No matter how hard we try, there are times when everything seems to go into melt-down and our ability to cope disintegrates completely. We just can’t get through to X or Y. Despite all our efforts, the bills keep mounting and now this! Just when we thought we had got everything sorted, we discovered we hadn’t thought of that. Even in the monastery — I’m tempted to say, especially in the monastery — there are times when we are reduced to asking God — if there is a God, that is — why He has brought us to this. Faith, trust, everything goes. We are just a little blot on the face of the earth, exhausted and alone.

We can agree that feeling pushed to the limit is a fairly common human experience, but what we may not agree is that it is also a divine experience. God has more faith in us than we do ourselves. That doesn’t mean we can somehow summon up some ‘soul energy’ and confront whatever it is that is pushing us down and reduce it to nothing. Dragon slayers are not so easily found nowadays. I mean something messier and less triumphant. No matter how down we are, no matter how helpless we feel, the mercy of God is lower still. We probably won’t realise it because if we did, we wouldn’t be at our lowest ebb. Somewhere in that horrible, aching void we feel inside, in that sense of personal failure and distress, there is Christ. Not the Christ who rose triumphantly from the tomb, but the Christ who hangs on the cross with us and shares our pain. When we are pushed to the limit, God has some good purpose in mind. One day we may be able to look back and see that it was so. It is much more likely that we never will in this life. Being pushed to the limit takes us to the edge of eternity, makes us tremble on the brink of God’s infinite mystery, where we live by faith — our faith in God, and even more astonishing, His faith in us.

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7 thoughts on “Pushed to the Limit”

  1. Sister, please could you explain what you mean by God’s mercy? It is something I am trying to get clearer in my mind especially as we approach the year of Mercy announced by pope Francis. Thank you.

  2. I love the idea of things being messy and less triumphant. When things get really tough there is rarely a blinding light and sudden transformation. Neat tidy endings seem to be in the realm of Hollywood rather than reality. God is there with us always – whether we feel this or not does not matter. We only need to ponder the agony in the garden and the cruel suffering/death of Jesus to remind ourselves that He was as low as can be (almost at the point of despair dare I suggest?) so knows how we feel. Some of the saints may give us examples to follow (even dragon slaying!) but even they would not expect us to find things easy or tidy. We have triumphed if we place our fear and the little faith we have left before God at the very point we have nowhere else to turn.

  3. It’s reassuring to hear that even in the Monastery that you get to the end of your tether and everything goes out the window, even God! Albeit, only for an instance.

    I suspect that we can all relate to the times and feelings that you describe, but I was reflecting while I read it ‘what about the time that I wasn’t doing God” that time when I deliberately separated myself from him, because he just didn’t seem to be a merciful or credible God. I can remember after my father died of diabetic complications, following a number of amputations, where his suffering was so unbearable that I couldn’t face it and left my Sisters to it.

    This combined with a friends inexplicable suicide and other personal issues that I had, left me convinced that God wasn’t real, or he wouldn’t allow such suffering. I went away in a huff and didn’t feel any need for him in my life. And I got by – and the problems went away, I was relatively happy, relatively sane (I think) and became quite good at doing the ‘God’ baiting thing. Denigrating him, trying to persuade people that their faith was wasted on a fairy tale, mythical figure. In all of those years, I can’t say that I was aware of God being around, and thought I was right.

    But God has this habit of making us fools – the one time when I was on the verge of breaking down, when I was at the end of my emotional resilience, he dropped by and whispered in my ear ‘I’m here -let me in’. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I said, why not and was immediately surrounded in a huge feeling of comfort and peace – perhaps being held in his arms in the way of the Psalmist describes. The problem didn’t go away, I still needed to deal with it, but I was no longer alone. I knew, that moment was true, genuine and that the Spirit had been present and working inside me – he’d taken the risk with me (as he does for all sinners) and got a response.

    Those end of the tether moments don’t go away, but now I know that no matter what happens, I’m not alone, there is someone to share it with – to lay it on, to pray for comfort and peace too. That’s about the infusion of hope and grace, from God, which brought me to my senses, which released me from the burden of ignorance and denial and forgave in an instant all of my disobedience.

    Somehow, I can never tire of telling this story, I would shout it from the roof tops, if I didn’t get giddy climbing up there.

    You are so right that when there is nothing left but a God shaped hole – he is still there, perhaps standing beside or behind you, not where you’re looking for him. And we can trust him to catch us as we fall – isn’t that a great gift which faith gives us?

  4. As usual, spot on. I find myself in conversation with Our Lord in those moments when I am tied down by pain and ask if this is what it was like being flogged, being nailed to a cross of harsh wood? I can only thank God that He shared our humanity and thereby allowed us a personal closeness that adds meaning to what we are.
    Thank you.

  5. As well as reading the posts, it’s always interesting to read the comments. This is a subject we can all relate to. The feeling of being at the end of our tether, of thinking there’s nothing left to hold onto. I’ve learned that God is always there. And taking a walk helps too. I live in an incredibly beautiful, and peaceful, part of the world and I never cease to be grateful for that.

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