For weeks, I would walk past the large flower pots beside our house and notice a tiny shoot of a pernicious elm tree growing. The elm trees that grew along our sidewalk would cast seeds and one had taken root in our pots that were eagerly awaiting the return of our late springtime daisies. I would take note and pluck off the top few inches of the elm shoot with its thin stalk and few leaves. I didn’t have the time or the patience to really work into the soil to remove the roots of this little tree and hoped that it wouldn’t disturb the emerging daisies or that it would just somehow go away.
My thought life imitated this in many ways. While journaling, I would acknowledge, in Exercise 3 of the Metanoia Journal, that a virtue needed to reach my goals was “more trust in the Lord” but would not spend the time or have the patience to look deeply into my own soul or acknowledge what the Lord wanted to do there. I was content to pluck off the little branch of my own self reliance and hope (with eyes closed) that it wouldn’t grow back. Inevitably, it would.
One day, when the sun was warm and the soil had been loosened by a few days of no rain, I walked past the daisy pot and saw the new growth of the base of a daisy plant. It was being overshadowed by the elm tree shoot. I gently felt around the base of the shoot and began to move it gingerly back and forth in the dirt with the intent to remove the entire root and not simply to break off the stalk. It took some time but I felt the soil loosening and the root beginning to budge. As I continued to work it back and forth pulling gently so it wouldn’t snap, I felt the entire root emerge from the soil. It was at least 15 inches long with tendrils and off shoots and gnarly roots. I turned it over and over in my hands and marveled at how developed it was. And I had to acknowledge that no amount of plucking off the top growth would have ever stopped that root from growing deeper and deeper and from branching off until the whole pot was overrun by elms. It wasn’t easy to get that root out but it was so satisfying when it finally released and the soil could move to make way for the little daisies.
In a way, it mirrored the work that journaling had been doing in the wild countryside of my soul. For weeks, I had acknowledged that a distrust of the Lord was there but was content to just pluck off the top of that thought by “thought swapping”. Instead of really admitting that I was lacking in trust and really had a great distrust of God, I would simply tell myself to repeat, “Jesus, I trust in you,” (a really helpful prayer when said in integrity and with acknowledgement of one’s dependence on God) and to think and behave as someone that did trust. This would only last for a few days and then I would be back to patterns of self-reliance. I would routinely avoid Exercise 6 in the journal when a thought of distrust would arise in my thought recon. If I did allow myself to think about renouncing or repenting, I would immediately think of all the excuses I had to not trust (childhood abuse, trauma, etc.) and would forgive myself for not being able to trust more without ever acknowledging that I needed to take responsibility for allowing the patterns of distrust to continue. The top growth would get plucked off but the roots of distrust and the self reliance that came with it continued to grow.
This pattern continued for several months. I decided to take advantage of the coaching that the Academy offered and brought the thought of, “It’s all up to me,” to coach Nuve, a Resident Coach for MC. She firmly and lovingly asked me to take this thought to Exercise 6 and asked who would want me to keep believing the thought that “It was all up to me”. I laughed (a long standing and familiar coping skill) and wanted to brush it off that this thought was coming from an enemy of my soul. She did not laugh, nor did she condemn. She simply repeated back to me that this was a thought that was not coming from a good place and would continue to keep me stuck. It became clear to me for the first time that this thought came from a place of deep rooted distrust in God and that I was protecting myself with the belief that “it was all up to me”.
Over the next few days of journaling, it became clear to me that I had allowed this thought to grow unchecked and had let the excuses keep me from the freedom that could only come from repenting. I had avoided taking responsibility for my own thoughts because I had equated that responsibility with somehow meaning that I was responsible for the things that had happened to me as a child. Instead of wanting to make excuses, I felt convicted and longed for the freedom that could only come from repentance. It was only through acknowledging my own responsibility for my thoughts and behavior that I could move towards seeing that repentance was necessary. Not only was it necessary, but for the first time for me, it was desired!
Making a full confession through the Sacrament of Reconciliation allowed my soul to be free of the root of distrust and ungodly self-reliance. The work from journaling and coaching allowed that root of sin to gingerly move around and come out in a complete manner with all of the sub roots and tendrils intact.
And through the grace of that confession, that thought has not returned like it would when only the surface growth was removed. Repentance and forgiveness has allowed a freedom that makes trusting in the goodness of our God comfortable and desirable. This freedom has brought about great joy! No longer is “It all up to me”. No longer do I feel compelled to live burdened by excuses born of trauma that would only leave me feeling stuck and shackled to incidents in my past. Acknowledging and working through the thoughts and being led to a posture of repentance has allowed the soil of my soul to be worked over, to receive light and water and to allow new growth to flourish.
John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in America tells us that conversion, or metanoia, is a change of mentality. It is not simply a matter of thinking differently in an intellectual sense, but of revising the reason behind one’s actions in the light of the gospel.
Journaling and coaching with Metanoia Catholic has brought me to a conversion of heart. Where trusting in the goodness of God is not just an intellectual activity, but a posture of being able to be yoked to a God that can be acknowledged as all good, all forgiving, and worthy of our trust.