Give Him permission.
July 9, 2015: God, this is Your trip. Do with it, with me, what You will. Take my little yes and selfish heart and transform them. Amen.
I recently got back from two and a half weeks in England. Nineteen days with 11 others being welcomed, questioned, affirmed, rejected, fed, challenged, fathered, and completely and utterly transformed. Our mission trip was not to the physically poor in some unfamiliar land, but to the spiritually poor just across the pond. To uniform-wearing, vacation-craving teenagers in their last week of school. Not the likeliest mission territory, perhaps, but fertile ground, I assure you.
Months ago I said yes to this trip. Yes to the chance to return to this beloved country where I’d studied abroad, to reunite with lifelong friends I’d made, to get out of suburbia for a few weeks and reignite my love of travel and adventure. And in the many months leading up to our journey, after my enthusiastic, impulsive “yes” wore off and reality sunk in, I was not excited. Not once. Not during the weekly phone calls with my fellow missionaries to plan logistics. Not in conversations with students about our summer plans. Not even in long Facebook messages to my dear English friends, assuming I wouldn’t have the time or opportunity to see them, what with being stationed nearly 200 miles away from their London homes.
I even considered not going. In fact, I came rather close to calling it off completely—I even told my team I’d decided to back out. Fundraising and family issues, I’d told them. How easy it is to make excuses. Less so to justify them. Not my shining moment, I must admit.
But all my doubt and feet-dragging came to a head one auspicious afternoon in a desperate prayer to God. I’d just met with a wonderfully holy and wise priest who told me everything I didn’t want to hear (“How good is your word, Emma?” he’d asked), and with all gentleness and fatherliness sent me to the chapel to have a word with Jesus.
And I came to Jesus desiring comfort. Wishing He’d tell me, Of course, Emma, just do what you feel like. I’ll handle everything else—don’t you worry about a thing. Silly me. As if I didn’t know Him at all. But here’s the key: I didn’t just approach Him with a desire for comfort, with a desire for God’s will to align with mine. I came begging Him to make His will clear to me, no matter its relevance to my own. I came with the slightest willingness for Him to change my heart. I came and I knelt and I prayed:
I give You permission.
And I did give Him permission. I let Him turn my newly-formed “no” into a little, pitiful, reluctant “yes”—those descriptors coming from my own selfish, sinful self, of course—for that is all, at the time, I was willing and able to give Him. I gave Him permission to change my heart, to change my answer, to lead me where my self-interest didn’t want to go.
My enthusiasm didn’t magically return. In fact, those weeks leading up to the trip (and even the first few days after it began) were filled with emotional turmoil. I don’t want to go, but I will because You want me to, I told God, in true spiritual temper tantrum style. It was even laughable, my reluctance. But I chose and I chose and I chose to say “yes.”
And that “yes” felt like dry cereal going down on a sore throat…until it didn’t. Until I broke out of my inward-looking selfishness, thanks to God’s most necessary grace. “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort,” Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium. That, my friends, is a phrase to live by. I want my life to grow. As the first few days of our mission trip wore on, and I was bombarded with opportunities to serve, new people to know and to lead, classrooms full of English teenagers to inspire and to love with that perfect love of Christ, my heart was made new. No longer stony, but soft, fleshy, and generous.
I prayed that God would transform my little yes and selfish heart, and He did. He most certainly did. And there’s so much more to share, such goodness to be told, such joy-filled memories and honest hours in adoration and conversations with my brothers and sisters in which I truly encountered the face and heart and wounds of Christ.
But for now, I offer this—a heart transformed and a challenge to yours: give Him permission.