"But do not think that you can leave off your search to know God's purpose for you after you've sought Him on this matter for a year or two – or even after ten years! If we do so, we are abandoning our true work of faith like cowards – for our work is to be alway and only obedient, no matter where He leads us. It is well and good that the Lord should see we are not willing to leave anything undone that He wants us to accomplish in this life." – Teresa of Avila from "The Way of Perfection."
It is almost a dis-service to Teresa's words to say anything. They have stood for a while on their own as well they should. She is one of the most widely read Spanish writers of all time. However, to only think of her as a great author is to miss her life of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. She knew great suffering as she sought to be faithful. I have gotten to know St. Teresa of Avila much better lately through Fr. Thomas Dubay's book, "Fire Within," and have gained a much better perspective, not just on Teresa, but on my own life as well.
As I have been working on a book project in recent weeks, I have focused in on the issue of faith in the midst of suffering. I've not only read Teresa's work but other modern authors as well. One thing among many I have learned is this:
Suffering and change go hand-in-hand.
Following the death of a spouse, it is said we shouldn't make any big decisions in the first year. I think this is true BUT only in one sense – in that first year of grief, there are so many decisions to be made, we have to LIMIT our big decisions.
As I have progressed through the valley of suck [since the death of Ken's wife, Heather Hagler, from cancer in 2016], I now found myself facing some of those decisions. Some I have put on the shelf. Others have had to be faced. As I have faced a couple of recent ones, I find myself looking to a verse I had memorized years ago:
"We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)
I know these words seem different from other entries into my writings on the valley of suck but in truth, it is more real than you might realize. Heather and I were partners in ministry. We listened and we went where we heard God's voice leading. Some doors opened and others closed. All along the way we held each other close and together clung close to God. Our obedience to God broke us and mended us.
Heather was no coward. Not in living life and not in facing death. Walking with her through those days and now reading in her journals, I find a woman who was God's workmanship: humble, kind, gentle, sly, quick, joyful, gracious, and courageous.
These are what saints are intended to be for us: heroes of faith. People who in life and death inspire us to greater heights of faith and love. Consider those in your life who have inspired you. What was it about them? They may not be canonized by any church or denomination but it doesn't mean they were any less saintly, just not known fully.
So what will you do with the example set for you? Will you go where God calls or be counted among the cowards Teresa calls out? Will you respond to the call of comfort or the call of Christ?
The Rev. Ken L. Hagler, a clergy member of the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, describes himself these days as "living out my faith as a father, widower, spiritual director, writer, sportsman, and Star Wars fan." He blogs at Jedi Pastor Ken, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.