By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 12, 2017
I was in Florida in late December and went swimming in my cousin’s pool, even though the water was chilly. Taking the plunge on a sunny day—along with a flock of cousins—was rather exhilarating.
One little boy stood on the side, while his mother, who was in the pool, urged him to jump into her arms. He begged her to edge closer because he was afraid.
“Just jump—I’ll catch you!” she assured him.
After numerous promptings, the child surrendered his fear and jumped—right into his mom’s embrace. But what intrigued me was that moment when he was suspended in the air—and had to trust fully in her promise.
How often we’re called to trust God—who has caught us many times before—but this time, we hesitate. Maybe I’ll jump and there will be no big arms to hold me—and I’ll sink.
Jesuit priest Walter J. Ciszek dealt eloquently with this struggle in his book, “He Leadeth Me,” which is helping me so much as I shape a new life.
A Polish-American from Pennsylvania, Father Ciszek volunteered to serve as a missionary to Russia—and was subsequently arrested during World War II under suspicion of being a Vatican spy. He then spent 15 years in Soviet prisons and Siberian labor camps.
Father Ciszek endured long, tedious hours of interrogation by officers who urged him to admit his guilt. Every time he was pulled from his cell and subjected to questioning, he suffered such anxiety that he trembled all over.
He became so terrified of execution that on one occasion, he lied to the interrogator, implying that he would join forces with the Communists.
Later, in the stark loneliness of his cell, Father Ciszek started doubting God’s very existence. He had been faithful to God so far, but the agonizing conditions were pushing him to the breaking point.
“I saw only my own weakness and helplessness to choose either position open to me, cooperation or execution. … I had lost not only hope but the last shreds of my faith in God.”
Suddenly, then, he pictured Jesus in the garden—and recalled how Jesus asked the Father three times to be spared his terrible fate.
The words, “Not my will, but thine be done” struck him with an unusual intensity.
“It was total self surrender, a stripping away of all human fears, of all doubts about his own abilities to withstand the passion, of every last shred of self including self-doubt.”
This was the moment that changed Father Ciszek forever. Until then, he had clung tightly to the reins when it came to making decisions.
In the past, he had struggled to discover God’s will—but had envisioned the divine will as “out there” somewhere, hidden.
Now he realized that “God’s will was not hidden somewhere out there in the situation in which I found myself; the situations themselves were his will for me.”
And what did God want of this priest who was enduring loneliness, fatigue, hunger—and anguish?
“He wanted me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal.”
This meant losing the last doubt, the one that tortures many of us in the darkness—“We are afraid to abandon ourselves totally into God’s hands for fear he will not catch us as we fall.”
After this insight, Father Ciszek refused to cooperate the next time he was questioned, and the guards dragged him roughly away. Even though he expected to face a firing squad, he still felt at peace.
As it turns out, he was sent to a Siberian labor camp, where conditions were even more grueling than before—but he found his purpose in ministering to the other prisoners: “I was Christ in this prison camp.”
Father Ciszek—who returned to America in 1963 and died in 1984—wrote the “Prayer of Surrender,” which concludes with: “As I seek to surrender to the Father’s will, may I come to trust that he will do everything for me.”
There are moments in our lives when we’re like that little boy standing on the edge of the pool. Once we propel ourselves forward, there’s no going backwards.
Let’s pray for the grace to trust our heavenly Father, who will be there to protect and sustain us—and catch us as we fall.
Artwork by Jef Murray (“The Escape,” oil painting). The complete Prayer of Surrender can be found at: www.ciszek.org/Additional_Prayers. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.