At the bedside of her dying husband, Elizabeth Ann Seton wrote,“Oh my Heavenly Father, I know that these contradictory events are permitted and guided by thy wisdom.” Elizabeth’s trust in Divine Providence would be tested many times during the most difficult and dark times of her life.
In this essay, Christina O’Brien bears witness to the inner conversion of heart that Mother Seton always strove for, and that all believers are called to during Lent, as she sought to follow Christ’s will more faithfully.
You didn’t get the job.
You weren’t chosen for the perfect opportunity.
They didn’t invite you.
He chose someone else.
I could lie and say that I maintained an unfailing trust in the Lord in many recent rejections – that I truly rejoiced in suffering out of desire for union with Christ on the cross the way I promised myself I would. I didn’t. Unfortunately, a season of rejection (as I’m choosing to call it) is showing me how very similar I am to Hosea’s unfaithful wife, who sought her belovedness everywhere but her spouse, running after her “lovers” (Hosea 2:7) – all that she desired before the one who truly loved her.
While I possessed worldly consolations (what felt like my choice of career paths, a man who adored me, scholarships to pursue my dreams), I told myself I trusted in the Lord. But my trust was contingent upon a false narrative so ingrained that it endured even when I intellectually understood it was heresy: if I pray and study and serve, life will be comfortable – not because there would be no challenges or hardships – I expected I’d have to uproot my life, engage in tense apologetics, and maybe lose some friends.
But I unconsciously expected certain comforts to accompany the sacrifices: an adoring boyfriend turned fiance turned husband, a satisfying, enjoyable career that I worked hard to earn, and accolades that I felt I deserved given my gifts and talents. As someone who assented to and desired to receive the fullness of the Gospel message, I told myself I needed nothing but God – but losing these worldly consolations opened my eyes to attachments that were much more deeply rooted than I thought. It showed me how far I was from truly accepting His love.
As I notice the similarity between myself and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, I realize that these sources of worldly satisfaction are my idols, my “lovers” (Hosea 2:7) – those things in life that may or may not be inherently bad, but are subconsciously placed as goods before the true source of love. Like Gomer, in going after my lovers, I forgot the one who loved me (Hosea 2:15). So what has God done? He’s hedged in my way with thorns and erected a wall against me so I cannot find my paths (Hosea 2:8). I run after my lovers, but I cannot overtake them. I look for them and I do not find them (Hosea 2:9).
And in this longing, this search – He allures me. He leads me into the desert and speaks to my heart. (Hosea 2:16) From there, he will give me true blessings, true favor that flows directly from him; he will give me a door of hope (Hosea 2:17). He hopes for me to let him be the source of all love in my life. He desires me to let him remove the names of my idols from my mouth (Hosea 2:19) so that I will run into the arms of the one who loves me first (1 John 4:19), allowing him to espouse me to him forever in right, in justice, in love, in mercy, and in fidelity (Hosea 2:21-22).
It hurts to watch him crush idols when we don’t know they’re idols. But when the scales fall and we see these attachments for what they are, we understand how his mercy is manifested when he blocks the way to false lovers with those thorns that give us pause as we try to struggle past him. God needs me to know if I am chasing after false idols, because if I believed, even without meaning to, that my belovedness in God was contingent upon a particular man desiring me, or a particular career path unfolding, or a particular group of friends accepting me, then I never trusted in God.
He encloses us in this merciful maze where all we have to follow is his voice, and there we can discover what he truly promises: “No one can deliver her out of my hand” (Hosea 2:12) – and this is a great mercy when a battle rages for our souls. His heart is overwhelmed, his pity is stirred. (Hosea 11:8). He cannot give us up (Hosea 11:8), so in his mercy he humbles us, in order to lavish his love upon us (Hosea 14:9).
What more have we, the beloved ones of the King of the Universe, to do with idols? For it’s because of him, not because of our success, accolades, or desirability, that we bear fruit. (Hosea 14:9). May he dash those idols to the ground and may we cease our senseless attempts to piece them back together. With our feet still and our hands empty, he speaks his truth into our hearts, “I am enough.”
This essay was originally published in 2019 in The Young Catholic Woman.
Christina O’Brien is a student and employee at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO, where she is studying for an M.A. in Theology. Her writing has appeared in VIGIL Magazine, the Young Catholic Woman, The Catholic Woman, and America Magazine. After moving from her home state of Maryland to California, she taught middle school science and religion for three years at a Los Angeles Catholic school. She now works in Denver for the Augustine Institute and Ignatius Press to develop catechetical resources.
Image: From the film, Elizabeth Ann Seton: Seeker to Saint