Moving from Rejecting to Embracing God’s Providence

Dec 7, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

In last week’s reflection, titled How and Why We Reject God’s Providence, we zeroed in on the single most important predictor of a deep sense of peace and joy. I wrote:

In my experience, the primary difference between Catholics who live lives of profound peace, joy, security, a deep spiritual childhood, with a sense of awe and wonder from those who do not boils down to one primary factor and that one factor is this:

The degree to which you sense God’s Providence in everything that happens in your life throughout your whole being, in all your parts.

This is the determining factor for a deep sense of both spiritual and emotional well-being. This is the most obvious determinant that shakes out Catholics along the spectrum of wellness: How integrated is Romans 8:28 into all your experience and being?

And in the last two weeks of reflections, we have been discussing how the PIECES of your life (the Persons, Institutions, Events, Circumstances, Experiences, and Systems) that you find unpleasant, aversive, even onerous can draw you into receiving love at a much deeper level. But it’s not enough to just state such a thing as a fact. It remains to lay out a staged approach to how we go about growing in a deeper belief in God’s Providence. That is what I discuss in this week’s reflection. We need to ROTATE our PIECES.

As in introduced last week, ROTATE stands for a process of first Rejection, then a bit of Openness, to Tolerating, then progressing to Acceptance, then to Thanksgiving and from there to Embracing the PIECES of our life. Let us explore each of these in greater detail.

Rejection: This is most Catholics’ initial response to one of the PIECES of their lives that they find disagreeable, painful, inconvenient and/or distressing. There are a variety of ways we can reject a person, institution, event, circumstance, experience, or system in our lives. Examples include:

  1. Rejection can be active, such as by denying the reality of the PIECES – painting a picture that glosses over the seriousness of a situation or otherwise minimizes the PIECES. For example, refusing to appreciate how serious the drinking problem of your spouse really is (despite considerable evidence, all the bottles in the recycling bin) in order to steer clear of conflict.
  2. Or rejection can be passive, such as avoiding the reality of the PIECES – for example neglecting a serious health condition, refusing to get appropriate diagnostic workups done to address troubling physical symptoms, not acknowledging the severity of your condition.
  3. Discarding any possibility of Providence in the PIECES. In this case, the Catholic acknowledges and accepts the reality of the situation, but refuses to see God’s love in it. This can lead to a stoic position of enduring on one’s own. The bitterness inherent in a refusal of a Providential view becomes self-confirming, because one must be loving the Lord for all things to work together for good.

Rejection of the PIECES requires neither humility nor faith.

Openness: The major first step along the continuum is to have a least a little bit of openness to the possibility that in the PIECES that are so troubling, God love is still operative, and that He is still willing the best for you. Openness takes some humility, a willingness to hold that you might not be able to see the entirety of the situation as He does, and that you might not know what is best for you in the moment. In addition to humility, openness requires some faith. Examples include:

  1. Your car is bouncing along a city street due to a tire that just blew out, and you are swearing softly (or loudly) to yourself. But at the same time, you have a faint idea that there might be a chance for you to offer this trial up for your childhood friend, recently diagnosed with cancer – or that it might be an opportunity for you to grow in patience, or to not be hit by a train whose engineer has fallen asleep at the controls up ahead.
  2. An ankle injury has slowed you down and you can’t maintain your busy schedule in the evenings because of the need to elevate your foot. It occurs to you that this may be a time when you can read the Chronicles of Narnia or the Lord of the Rings to your children, or catch up on phone calls to friends with whom you have fallen out of touch, and there could be some good in that.
  3. Now you no longer are avoiding the diagnostic workup because of fear – you are open to entertaining the possibility of Providence being active, and can consider scheduling a physical exam and lab work to investigate the troubling symptoms, even though you mostly do not think it will do any good and will be just a wild goose chase that will be both inconclusive and expensive. At least it might satisfy your spouse for a little while.

In this phase of openness, only the idea that there might be a good in the PIECES is entertained. The openness is in your imagination, and it has not yet been acted upon in a constructive way. And it might not be – often the moment of openness passes with a resulting fall back into active or passive rejection.

Tolerating: This step moves beyond openness – and brings the possibility of God’s Providence being active in the PIECES into your will. In this tolerating phase, you do not say “no” to God’s Providence, but your “yes” is relatively weak and inconsistent. You allow God to work with the PIECES in your life, but primarily because you cannot change what is happening. If you could change the PIECES and adjust them more to your liking, you would. You do not rail against the PIECES as they are, like in the Rejection phase, and your will is at least minimally engaged, unlike the Openness phase where your will is not yet holding that God’s Providence is active.

However, in the Tolerating phase, your jaws are still locked against saying a clear and definitive “Yes, Lord” about the PIECES of your life as they are, which is the predominant characteristic of Acceptance in the next phase. Tolerance can seem to reflect the stoicism in the Rejection phase, but with the difference that there is a deeper sense that some good that you do not yet understand well is behind the difficult PIECES of your life, and you bear the difficulties for that anticipated by unseen good. Examples include:

  1. Your teenage son’s aggressive driving results in an accident, seriously damaging the family car. Your son admits that he was driving too fast for conditions and accepts the traffic citation. You are really struggling with the costs of repairs and the increase in insurance rates, gritting your teeth and looking at the budget, holding that yes, this may have been the best way for your son to learn prudence in driving – but without much enthusiasm. You are tolerating the situation with an awareness and acceptance of God’s Providence, but why couldn’t your son have learned in a cheaper and less inconvenient way?
  2. Your aging mother insists on using her cell phone for banking transactions without adequate security measures. In her confusion and inexperience, she has been scammed before and will likely be scammed again, costing thousands of dollars. When you offer to help, she sees you as being critical of her and trying to control her. You can see how this may be an opportunity for you to “accept the things you cannot change” about your mother, and tolerate the potential loss of funds, understanding that it is not worth alienating your mother over, especially as she nears death and potential reconciliation with the Church, but it is still hard for a frugal part of you to see the good in family money at risk of being stolen. Other parts of you hold that there must be some good in the situation, but there is little interest, motivation, or effort to find that Providence.
  3. You go in for your physical exam, diagnostic workup, and lab work. You are willing to get the results and will tolerate whatever results are found, but you hate the whole process and are actively wishing the situation was different, that you had no health issues.

Acceptance: In this stage, there is a willed acceptance of the PIECES that goes beyond the grudging tolerance of the previous phase. In the Acceptance phase, there is a curiosity, perhaps even a sense of wonder about how the PIECES might be a gift. There is an anticipation of goodness flowing from accepting the PIECES, a greater confidence in God’s Providence, either through lived experience or through greater faith. Imagining how difficult PIECES might be gifts is much easier than in the Openness stage. There is great filial trust in God as a benevolent Father. There need not be enthusiasm for the difficulties of the PIECES of your life as they are; there could be a sense of resignation and trepidation about the PIECES, but without the bitterness and willed effort required in the Tolerating phase. Examples of the Acceptance phase include:

  1. You are laid off from your company due to massive cost-cutting measures. The prospect of finding another job seems daunting and stressful, but there is also some excitement and a sense of adventure about the possibility of something entirely new and more fulfilling than your old position. You accept the job loss as a gift (or at least a potential gift) from God and begin investigating new possibilities for your career, including options you would never have considered unless you were temporarily unemployed.
  2. You hear reports from other parents that your teenage son has been smoking marijuana at parties. Rather than reject the information as third-hand and unreliable you ask your son and he admits that he has been using marijuana. While this is difficult to accept, bringing up a sense of shame and inadequacy within parts of you, you accept the situation as it is, with the challenges, but also the possibilities of better communication and connection with your son.
  3. You find out from your lab work and diagnostics that you indeed have Crohn’s Disease. You can accept the diagnosis, and are willing to make the effort to substantially change the way you eat, recognizing there will be additional health benefits for both you and your spouse. Now there is an opportunity to make other necessarily lifestyle changes around stress reduction and better sleep.

Thanksgiving: This phase goes beyond acceptance and appreciation of the difficult PIECES to giving thanks for those PIECES as they are. This could range from a primarily will-driven giving of thanks to a deeply heartfelt experience of gratitude for the PIECES. What defines this phase is not so much the inner experience, but the action of thanking God for the PIECES. There need not be (and often is not) an understanding yet of how the PIECES fit into God’s Providential plan for your life. The less understanding there is, the more faith is required to thank God in a heartfelt way.

  1. You stub your toe on the door frame to the bathroom and it is painful. You can thank God for the pain and offer up the discomfort for a neighbor who is going through a painful divorce.
  2. Your 7th grade son is experiencing reading difficulties and there seems to be little support from the school. It is not clear why, but there is a possibility of dyslexia. You see this as an opportunity to trust that God cares for your son and has plan for him, in spite of some possible intellectual limitations, and you can thank God for that.
  3. As part of your routine changes for your Crohn’s disease, you are praying more regularly in the morning and evening, and you recognize that this is bringing you into a closer relationship with Jesus, and you are thankful for that effect of the medical condition.

Embracing: In this stage, the PIECES are clearly seen gifts, often both by faith and by the lived experience of seeing the benefits of suffering, both for oneself and for others.

In this final stage, there has been considerable purification of motives, and a deep willing of the abandonment of self. Examples include:

  1. At the end of an extremely painful battle with tuberculosis, St. Therese of Lisieux said, “In spite of this trial, which takes all enjoyment from me, I can nevertheless, cry out, ‘Lord, you fill me with joy in all that you do. For is there a joy greater than to suffer for love?’
  2. You embrace the Crohn’s disease, either because you now can sense all the benefits that God bestowed on you and others through that suffering, or because of a deep faith that it will impart benefits, even if not yet sensing what those benefits are or will be.

Overlapping stages

As you might expect, the stages are not entirely separate and can overlap. Also, different parts of us will often be at different points along the ROTATE continuum of reacting to the PIECES of our lives. Thus, a Spiritual Manager part within you may be very busy working to be thankful to God for a trial (sometimes in a spiritual bypassing kind of way) while a Rebel part in you is railing against those PIECES of your life, back in the Rejection stage.

What we seek

In accordance with Thomas Aquinas, we seek interior integration, so that we can respond to the PIECES of our lives in a coordinated, unified way, rather than with many parts reacting in many different ways, with different agendas, polarized, in conflict with each other, leading to internal chaos. When there is that interior integration, this internal unity, we can respond more fully, with more of us in thanksgiving, embracing the trials and suffering of our lives, with a great capacity to love.

Register for the Resilient Catholics Community

If you resonate with these weekly reflections and the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, seriously consider joining me and about 120 other Catholics who are working together on forming our hearts – in part to help us have the interior integration to ROTATE our PIECES. The RCC offers a step-by-step, structured way for you to understand yourself much more deeply, opening the door for you to love yourself, others, and God much more fully. Check out our landing page for more information. You can view our 68-minute RCC informational video, explore your own parts’ reactions to applying to the RCC in this new, 19-minute experiential exercise designed to help you decide about whether to apply to the RCC.

Calling Catholic therapists…

If you are a Catholic therapist or counselor, or are in training to become one, you have a unique opportunity to join me in the Interior Therapists Community. The ITC is all about the human formation of the Catholic clinician, informed by Internal Family Systems and grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person. We work with the hearts of clinicians, to overcome the barriers we face within our own selves to being better able to connect with others.

My debut as a long-form storyteller…

Check out my debut as a long-form storyteller on the latest episode, episode 101 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast — you are invited into the depths of Susanna’s internal world as she struggles to distinguish real love from counterfeits. Let me know what you think of this kind of format for describing the reality of our parts at crisis@soulsandhearts.com or 317.567.9594.

Third Sunday of Advent

Check out Dr. Gerry and me bringing in psychology and human formation in our discussion of the Mass readings for the Third Sunday of Advent in our 33-minute Be With the Word episode titled How We Store Trauma in Our Bodies.

In Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. We’re in the Advent season, so I thought I would link to a weekly reflection from several months ago titled Santa and Lying and then the following reflection titled Santa and Myth with questions, reactions and responses from several of our Souls and Hearts members, including a 25-minute discussion I had with Gabriel Crawford the importance of myth for children.

P.P.S. Please share this weekly reflection to those who you think might benefit from it – sharing buttons are below. Word-of-mouth and personal recommendations continue to be our best way to get the word out.

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