The precious preparation of hearts

By Maria Sermersheim

Mediatione Ignis

The Lord prepares our hearts well. I exclaim with the psalmist, “How precious to me are your designs, O God!” (Ps 139:17).

Our heavenly Father’s special care in preparing my heart is more evident to me this semester than ever before. As a Resident Assistant at Notre Dame, I am expected not only to enforce policies but also to care ministerially for the women of Lewis Hall — and it has been very difficult. First and foremost, it is a gift. I am incredibly grateful that God has entrusted these girls to me and that I can be a privileged one to care and pray for them. But I cannot gloss over the serious weight of bearing such deep sorrows.

These have presented greater trials than I have ever confronted before. Remarkably, in this sequence of sorrows, the Lord’s gentle grace kindly leads me upon his path of peace. Through my prayer this semester, God has continually revealed to me that if we are attentive and open to him, he perfectly prepares our hearts for what is to come, both joys and sorrows.

This precious preparation is beautifully described in St. Augustine’s homilies on the First Epistle of John. In one instance, Augustine exhorts us:

“Learn to approach God in such a way that you entrust to your physician what he himself knows that he should do. You confess your illness and let him apply his medicine. You simply maintain charity. For he wants to cut, he wants to burn. If you cry out, and your prayer isn’t heard during the cutting, during the burning and the pain, he knows how far the putrescence has gone. You want him to withdraw his hand now, and he is attending to your wound at its deepest part; he knows how far he must go. He isn’t answering your prayer in accord with your wish, but he is answering it with a view to your wellbeing” (6.8).

In another case, more oriented to receiving the good rather than clearing out the bad, Augustine says:

“The entire life of a good Christian is a holy desire. What you desire, however, you don’t yet see. But by desiring you are made large enough, so that, when there comes what you should see, you may be filled. For, if you wish to fill a purse, and you know how big what will be given you is, you stretch the purse, whether it is made of cloth or leather or anything else. …This is how God stretches our desire through delay, stretches our soul through desire, and makes it large enough by stretching it. Let us desire, then, brothers, because we have to be filled” (4.6).

God is certainly burning and cutting away my selfish perspective. He is especially stretching and straining my heart with the desire for healing in the lives of my residents, family and friends. When I first read this passage years ago, I thought it sounded nice, to be stretched by desire. Now, I understand how painful it can be. I also see the gentle tugs and ways he stretched me in advance.

Thanks be to God for prompting me to pray for an indomitable peace over the summer. Its fruits are clearly seen amidst this bombardment of heavy things.

Thanks be to God for the difficult questions I asked myself in the wake of an incident with a resident. They prepared me well to receive a fraught situation in my personal life.

And thanks be to God for the multitude of answered prayers he has given me lately, showering me with his love and filling this well-stretched heart.

Let’s enter this season of Advent with a keen vigilance for the special ways in which God may be preparing our hearts. Let’s also notice the ways in which he already prepared us, and let us follow him faithfully according to his call.

Allow our Father to prepare you, in his great mercy, for whatever may come, good or ill. Be attentive to our Father’s preparations, that he may heal you, stretch you and fill you with his love.