“I choose all.”
Recognize that phrase? St. Therese, our Church’s beloved Little Flower, announced this to her older sisters when offered a basket full of their hand-me-down toys. It’s a darling of an image, like just about every image from this saint’s life. Sweet when it refers to a basket of toys, beautiful in its later application to her spiritual life. I always thought I understood her: you don’t pick and choose which aspects of the Faith and of Christ you’re going to love and live–you choose all. Makes sense. Good words to live by.
But like all things, there’s a world of difference between cerebral “understanding” and the kind of understanding that comes from practical living out. How do you go about choosing all in your day-to-day life? What does it look like?
I was blessed to attend the diocesan young adult silent retreat last summer, and something our retreat director said in one of his talks keeps replaying in my mind in regard to this issue: you have to choose where you are in your life (with your whole past, everything that’s made up who you are in this moment) for yourself. Those were his words: “Choose it for yourself.” Choose all. The past with its mistakes, its pains, and its good times. The future in all its haziness. And…the present.
To choose it for yourself doesn’t mean to roll over and stop fighting it. It doesn’t mean to throw up your hands and say, “Okay, okay, I’ll deal with this.” It’s not living out the old maxim, “Grin and bear it.” It means to take it up and make it your own, because you want it; you’ve chosen it, and (the philosophy major steps out for a moment) your will is now inclined to it. And we humans are by nature happy when we get we want. So if we want what we have (note I do not say “if we have what we want”), we’ll be happy.
So, making the connection to this life in “the gap,” what else is there but to choose it? I daydream far too often about what a good person I’ll be when I…make more money, have a bigger house, find Mr. Right, have kids…I’ll be so happy then, so there won’t be anything left for me but to be good. I tend to brush aside the reality of my life here and now because it’s temporary, and to make excuses for myself because I’m not yet settled. I’m waiting for the day when I can begin to make choices (yes, I’ll take this job; no, I won’t live here; yes, I’ll go out with you), but I forget that there’s only one choice, and it’s almost absurd in its simplicity: choose all. Sometimes that may mean staring down options and trying to determine the best one (although that has another name–discernment), but those are the rare, elevated choices. To choose all is a daily thing; it means stooping down and lifting the load I’ve been given right now.
And this choosing is not a passive venture, like receiving a gift. It’s a very, very active thing, and for us humans a constant, repetitive thing. We have to return, over and over again, to that act of choosing, to renew it, to carry it forward. When we choose all we choose not just Christ, not just the Faith He’s given us, but the person He’s made us to be right now, and the life He’s given us to lead right now. All. For me today that means choosing the un-vacuumed carpet in my apartment (my vacuum cleaner broke two weeks ago, and the mess is driving me crazy), the outstanding issue (and impending deadline) at work, the taxes I need to file, the driver’s license I need to renew, the checkbook I should balance, that slight gloom that always settles upon me on late Sunday afternoons…and yeah, the broader existential things too, like being unsure of where I’ll be living in six months, worrying about a person whose feelings I hurt a while ago and wondering if that will ever be resolved, being (sigh) still single…
I choose it all.