Intimacy Beyond Measure
The following is a beautiful reflection written and lived by a dear friend of mine, Josh Johnson, from the diocese of Baton Rouge, LA. He will be ordained to the Deaconate in May.
Jesus, I will forever be grateful for the day you invited me to be stripped of all the lies I believed about myself and about you. It was about five years ago and I was hanging out at the Seminary with a friend I had not spoken with in many years. As we were catching up on each other’s lives, my friend shared with me that four months after his wedding day, his bride suddenly went deaf. He took her to see their family doctor to find out why she suddenly went deaf and their doctor found tumors all over her body. Soon after this discovery, she went into surgery to have the tumors removed and after the tumors were successfully removed, she became paralyzed. In the midst of his tears, he shared with me how he never expected that this was how his marriage would turn out but how he nonetheless loved his wife and so he chose everyday to feed her, bathe her, and provide for all of her needs because this was his vocation.
After we finished talking, I ran to see You in the chapel and I fell on my face before Your Eucharistic Presence. I asked You this question, “God can I love you the way my friend loves his wife?” There was some silence, and then I heard you speak very clearly and You asked me, “Josh, will you let Me love you the way your friend loves his wife? Will you be that intimate with Me, that vulnerable with Me, that stripped with Me?” After You asked me this question, I became very uncomfortable and I told You no. I told You that I would not allow You to get that close to me, I did not want to be stripped, to be vulnerable, to exposed with You. I thought that if I allowed You to strip me of my many barriers of protection, then You would see me in all my sin, pain, shame, and wounds and You would not want me to discern the priesthood anymore. I wasn’t ready for that kind of rejection from You. However, Your love does not reject the beloved. You continued to pursue me in the months that followed this initial conversation and You would come to me in the way in which the Book of Revelation speaks about You. “Behold, I stand at the door of your heart and knock.” Yes, You would knock at the door of my heart all the time, and I would always tell you, “No, You may not come in.” Then you would come back the next day and ask the same question, “May I come in?” and I would stubbornly tell You, “No, You may not.” Like a gentleman You did not force Yourself into my heart, but You persistently came over and over again and requested that I allow You into the depths of my heart.
Finally, after running from Your love for what seemed like an eternity, I allowed You into the home of my heart. I was okay with You looking at my good deeds that I had done throughout my life for you and my fidelity to prayer. I even found consolation in gazing into Your eyes as You looked with delight upon me in my virtuous actions. But then You asked me to allow You into the room of my heart that contained all of my sins, pains, shames, and wounds. I told You that You really did not want to go in there. You asked me again, “May we go into this room?” I finally decided to allow You into this room of my heart that I so dreaded, because I just knew that once I was completely stripped before You and You gazed upon all of me, You would not want me anymore. We walked into this room of my heart and I had my eyes cast down in shame. I was afraid to look up and see Your eyes change from being so in love with me to not wanting anything to do with me anymore.
As I reluctantly took my eyes off of the ground and raised them to Your eyes, I was shocked by what I saw. I saw You looking at me with the same loving gaze that You had on me in my virtuous acts, my good deeds, and my fidelity to prayer. In the midst of my sins that I committed and the sins that had been committed against me, You still looked upon me with Love. You still desired me! And You told me these words, “Josh, I love you and I created you for no other reason than for you to be a saint, I want to be with you for all eternity!” Wow! Thank You Lord for loving me, all of me, and for stripping me of the lies that I believed about myself and about You and for calling me with Your intimate love into freedom from my sins and wounds.
I guess Your desire to strip me could have stopped there, with that beautiful experience of Your love in prayer because of the awesome freedom I experienced in my relationship with You. But with You there is always so much more. Once I began to live in freedom, to discern the priesthood in freedom, I began to experience a deep dryness in prayer. At the same time, I began to experience a deep dryness in my relationships with my closest friends. By Your grace, I recognized that I had become so attached to the many gifts that You had shared with me throughout the years and particularly the healing grace of seeing Your gaze upon me. Rather than fixing my eyes upon only You, the gift Giver, I began to fix my eyes on the gifts that your had shared with me, the gift of being healed, the gift of my holy friendships, and the gift of experiencing consolation in prayer.
In Your justice You stripped me of all these gifts so that I could fix my eyes on You and only You, the One Who gives the gifts. I understand now that Your stripping of my gifts, was what was best for me to grow closer to You, to reach out to You, and to not fix my eyes on the gifts of God, but rather, to fix my eyes on You my God and only You. Thank You, I love You, and there is no place I’d rather be than in Your Presence, even if I cannot ever feel You again, I just want to be stripped where You are.