The day I nearly gave up

December 8, 2023 in Uncategorized

BRENDAN McMANUS :: As part of the Jesuit training, a fellow novice and myself walked the Ignatian Camino in Spain for a month in 1994. Walking up to twenty miles (32 km) a day and with no money, we were reliant on people’s goodwill for food and shelter for the night. We walked in the footsteps of St Ignatius from his birthplace, Loyola, to the place where he wrote the Spiritual Exercises, Manresa.

We slept in doorways, garages, ruined castles, and even out in a field one night. It was extremely challenging in terms of basic needs: food, shelter, safety. In fact, handling the fear or uncertainty was the greatest challenge. This demands a certain level of humility and trust, especially to be able to ask for help and to ‘hand it over’ (to God). Easy to say but very challenging in reality.

After about a week, we began to feel the effects of not eating or sleeping properly, and walking long distances. This one particular time we had eaten a sandwich early on but had walked the rest of the day on an empty stomach. The sensation of being really hungry and with no guarantee of food is both daunting and frightening.

Having no luck in one village, we had no choice but to walk on to the next, dejected, sweaty, and more than a little hungry. That night, despite the kindness of a local priest who let us into a church hall and gave us Red Cross emergency rations, I had an overwhelming sense of fear and doom. “This is crazy stuff’, I thought, “It’s dangerous, and unpredictable and there is no way that I will be able to do this for another three weeks,” I told my companion, that I was thinking of pulling out and going home. He said to me. “That’s fine, but you need to pray about that first.” So I found myself alone in a corner praying like I never prayed before. I remember clearly that there was a poster of Jesus on the wall and this became the cover for my subsequent first vows booklet.

The turning point, as I prayed during that ‘dark night’ for inspiration, came from reading Ignatius’ autobiography. I realised that his scruples or times of doubt were caused by being in the grip of fear and listening to the wrong ‘voice’ of desolation. Likewise, I realised that my fears, of going hungry and of being rejected, were being given full reign.

Reflecting on the situation a little more calmly, I realised that I needed to trust that it would all work out just as this day had worked out. It was my fear that was the problem and actually deep down I had a sense of peace at the thought of continuing.

It was then that I came to the realisation that it was not ‘my show’—that I could not make it to Manresa through my own efforts. If God wanted me to get there God would help me achieve it. Having come to some sort of consolation about accepting my own limits and dependence on God, I was ready to walk again in trust.

Of course, things did work out and we reached Manresa after many adventures, and it was a moment of great joy and insight. There was lots of learning and I came to know myself as I really am: human, limited, weak, and dependent. Through that experience, I also came to know God. It changed my notion of prayer. Walking reminds me of how I truly am before God: not in control, naked, unadorned, and in need of help. Only through being open and trusting, handing it over, in this way am I free of fear and open to receive God’s gifts.

A possible method to help with trusting in God.

  • Acknowledge how hard it is to “let go”. There is resistance to giving God control of your life, but you need humility of heart to admit that you can do nothing by your own strength. Turn this into a prayer: “Lord, I need Your grace and mercy to lead and guide me and take control.”
  • Bring your fears to God; turn them into a prayer for help. Ask God for help, pray with the problem, hand it over.
  • Obviously, we need to be realistic but don’t let fear dominate your decisions, ask yourself what you are really afraid of (your worst fears).
  • Scale back your expectations, which can be unrealistically high, and just do whatever you can.
    Take a measured decision and turn it into action. Just do it.
  • Reflect on the experience and see what you have learned, refine your decisions, and progress.

Note: This article is based on a more comprehensive one I had written earlier, for The Way » a spiritual publication of the British Province.