Now let’s focus on the word, “covenant.” I hate to be a broken record, but I love this word and I love that God chose to have a covenant with us, as compared to the typical promise. A covenant is special, because it is a mutual agreement between two parties; in the religious sense, it is an agreement between ourselves and God. A promise to me is one-sided; one person pledges to do something. A covenant goes further to bind people, as both parties commit to do something and are thus devoted to each other. As I mentioned, God gave us the highest gift and sacrifice – He sent His son to give up Himself so that our sins may be forgiven. In return, as part of our covenant with Him, we are asked to live a life like Christ.
Such a simple statement – “to live a life like Christ.” But what does that really entail?
I recently heard some of the insightful writings of St. Teresa of Avila, the first woman doctor of the Church, that reveal her understanding of the struggle of Christ. These writings shed light on a whole different aspect of living a life like Christ that I had never before known. Here is an excerpt that stood out to me:
“One day my Lord said to me: ‘Believe me, my daughter, trials are the heaviest for those my Father loves the best. Trials are God’s measure of love. How could I better demonstrate my love for you than by desiring for you what I desired for myself?’ To be truly spiritual is to make ourselves slaves of God branded with the cross. God can give no greater grace than to give us a life such as was led by Jesus.”
Hearing this for the first time honestly blew my mind. I feel like I have always been taught that obstacles come up in the journey of life, and bad things happen to good people, but that God never wishes these negative experiences on us. God is there to help get us through the hard times, but I’d never heard of Him intentionally causing them. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve always believed that you can find the good in any difficult situation, but I’ve always thought about it in terms of bad things happen first outside of God’s control, then you find the meaning and growth with God’s support and love. St. Teresa of Avila promotes the opposite; that God has plans for our development and a purpose for experiences, and then trials occur to help us learn these lessons.
St. Teresa also presents an interesting perspective on what trials really mean; that by enduring them, we live a life similar to Christ and get exposed more deeply to His immense love for us. Bam. Another mind-blowing moment for me. Again, I feel like I’ve always been taught to live a life like Christ and to strive to follow His example, but for some reason I’ve envisioned only the positive aspects of His life as ones in which I should follow. For example, helping the poor, reaching out to friends in need, and showing love for all people. I’d never considered that we should also undertake difficulties and struggles as He did, and that we should view trials as part of living a life like Christ. Thinking about trials in this new light makes them seem a lot more bearable to me. By examining this aspect of Christ’s life, I am comforted by knowing that He undertook challenges and trials just as I do. He understands what we’re going through, and is able to more fully connect with us. His support seems more real to me once we acknowledge that He suffered and overcame obstacles just as we are expected to do. This also translates to what St. Teresa of Avila said about trials being measures of God’s love. He only intends the best for us, and while this may be disguised as a difficult, trying time, ultimately we undergo trials to become closer to God and to develop into the people that God desires us to be. By experiencing these trials, we are able to more fully realize His love for us, and we share our experiences with Christ, thus living a life as He did.
So as you continue on your Lenten journey, I hope that you can think about the struggles and trials of your life in a different way. Know that they are part of God’s plan for you, to help you grow and become the person that you are meant to be. Know that they were part of Christ’s life, our lives, and the covenant that we share with God.