Being formed in Love

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered:
“O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:5, 7-9

Luca Giordano, Solomon's Dream at Gibeon

When I was a child, there was someone in my parents lifefor a while who drove them both crazy. Judging by the stories they would come home with , he was self-centered, petulant, and demanding.  He didn’t seem to notice that his behavior was aggravating and he didn’t manifest any effort to change.

Hearing about him when I was quite young was what prompted the promise I made to myself when I was 10 or 11 – that when I was an adult I would be mature. When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply with some stock answer – I think at the time it was that I wanted to be a lawyer – but in my mind I thought “When I grow up, I want to be grown up”.

Unfortunately for me, my personality at its rawest is pretty immature – loud, brash, quick-tempered and quick-tongued. I interrupt people. I respond too quickly. So I have had to work hard to make good on my promise, not just by layering on inhibition, but by getting to know myself and forming myself through prayer in the virtues that will keep me from sin.

This is not for the faint of heart. It would be easier if I had set my goal on wealth or accomplishment or fame. I could just pursue them and keep locked the doors of my heart where my pain and compulsion lie. I might even be rewarded for my worst qualities. But to allow myself to be formed in love involves looking clearly at myself, and being brave enough not only to see what needs to be fixed, but to imagine myself whole.

I started praying in earnest in my early twenties, and I remember thinking after a few particularly grueling (but refining) months “this will never end”. I knew I would spend my whole life in the effort of forming myself in love. It terrified me, but it also inspired me. I would be more loving at 30 than I was at 25. Every year during Lent when I take on my many disciplines, I am shocked at how much I still have to learn in the ways of prayer and love.

The stakes get higher with ever year that goes by. Sure, I’ve trained myself for acts of generosity. That’s just willing an action, no big deal. But have I trained my heart to be generous? Am I willing to share myself? Have I learned to show charity to myself? These acts are harder.

Solomon was courageous enough to ask for wisdom even though he didn’t know what form that wisdom would take. What if he gained a new insight that he didn’t want to have? What if it led him away from his plans and dreams, and deeper into God’s? Efforts toward self-improvement have become a nearly comical way of life for me, something my friends tease me about and I try to keep under control. But every time I try to mature it is a terrifying act of faith, submitting myself to the refiner’s fire. I know that the person I may become is not the same as the person that I am. But I also know that allowing myself to be formed is the only path to holiness, and that path is the only one I want to follow.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.– John 12: 25

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