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Letting Go of the Need to Understand

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Editor’s Note: On this Holy Thursday, the recounting of the Last Supper reminds us that, like the disciples, we typically do not understand God’s plan at the time of its unfolding. These times of uncertainty offer incredible invitations to trust. 

If asked to summarize the way that God usually works in our lives in one sentence or less, one of the lines from today’s Gospel would be an excellent candidate:

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” (John 13:7).

More and more, this is a culture of instant gratification. We want things as quickly and painlessly as possible because that’s what we’ve become used to. Often, we can have things under these conditions.

However, as much as we sometimes want it to, this phenomenon does not apply to prayer. That’s not how God works. Throughout the incredible ongoing advances in technology, God remains constant. He communicates differently than the world does. He always has and He always will. Our timing is not His timing. Our ways are not His ways.

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples at the Last Supper. At the time, only he knew what the new day would bring. Only he knew that the Last Supper would be followed by the Agony in the Garden. The disciples had no way of knowing that Jesus’ act of washing their feet would be one of his last acts on earth. His action in service of the disciples sets an important precedent for his successors. On this night, he not only institutes the Eucharist, but also institutes an example of how to live out the faith – through loving acts in service to others. 

For Peter especially, it was hard to understand what Jesus was doing. In Peter’s mind, Jesus should have been the one having his feet washed. However, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). 

Just as Peter and the other disciples did not understand the full significance or gravity of Jesus’ words and actions at the time, we so often do not understand why things happen in our lives when they do and why they even happen at all. When we are in the middle of situations, we don’t have the perspective of hindsight to be able to see the bigger picture.

Often, we get so caught up in the desire to understand why something is happening to the point where that desire begins to consumes us. We become convinced that we cannot move past a situation until we understand it. Often, it isn’t until we’ve weathered the storm and come out the other side that we’re able to look back and think ‘Oh. So THAT’S why x, y, and z happened.’ 

One of the hard yet important lessons, then, is that sometimes, it takes years to understand. And sometimes, we may never understand why something happened. Some of the greatest trials bring the greatest blessings, ones that we as humans could have never predicted. Therefore, it is important for us to remind ourselves when we are in the middle of the storm to stop and remember all the other times God has led us through the darkness.

In these times of suffering, offer a quick prayer: “You’re right. I don’t understand now what you are doing, but I do trust you. Help me find strength.” 

Reflection Question: How can you seek trust above understanding?

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