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February 8, 2013

In the twentieth century, and coming from different and opposed directions, testing in the school setting has become both more prevalent and more despised. Clear voices have been raised to say that it suggests a more prissy and particulate definition of learning than is really serviceable in the wide world; raucous voices have been raised about its sometimes prejudicial origins; and all the while, the early meaning of testing, which is more like strengthening, is almost forgotten. So when the actions of God in relation to the soul are called “testing,” it can be very irritating, very alienating:

Why would God test us?

Is this a mockery: God showing us how weak and stupid we really are, since he already knows?

He knows perfectly well what we are made of.

You bet he does; and he would challenge us to take the next step, to become stronger.

For my own part, I have more or less abandoned the word “testing” as a description of what God is doing in the soul when the interior life is difficult. He is not checking us out, but he is rounding us out, and preparing us for new adventures.

A larger field

He is asking us to own a larger field.

That’s the actual image I have in mind. There was a man who found a treasure in a field and he went away to sell everything he then he bought the whole field, with joy.

When we first come to know God, the field of life in which we live before his face is sort of small – joyful, but small. We have lots of memories, lots of relationships, lots of worldly information, which is not related to this new fullness. For a short time, we bask in the little yard where we have met God, but one day, we take a short walk beyond and seem to discover that we have not really given ourselves to God or that he is not really much present in our lives.

Did we leave him? Not necessarily.

Did he leave us? Absolutely not!

But our lives include a larger territory than what we have shared with God. Oh, God has everything in his hands; there’s nothing he doesn’t know about us: in that sense, no need to share. Does a child share her toys with her Father? But God knowing something and us talking it over with him are not quite the same thing. So we need to bring a larger field of life into relationship with God. Simple.


Well, we give God everything we have and everything we remember, but the days go by and suddenly we find a whole complex of emotions that we had forgotten about. Something happened with a friend, long ago, and it was never resolved, but it was forgotten. Why does it have to come up now?

This is why:

Whatever we have experienced is still part of our lives. Whatever strong feelings we have swept behind ourselves because that was the only way to move on, are still there. Now that we are stronger, God invites us to become more whole. Or perhaps we are not stronger, but weaker, and the things we’ve been sweeping behind us are getting too heavy to sweep. Either way – a larger field of our lives has to come into our personal relationship with God.

In our joy at finding the treasure, which is God’s love, we generously accepted responsibility for a whole field of reality, not realizing how large the field really was. It is very large, and whenever we seem to have tamed our space, a new vista opens up. Why shouldn’t it? We belong to the body of Christ. Where do we suppose the boundaries of our responsibility should stop?

You can always quit – perhaps someone generous like St. Therese will cover the rest of that vista? But she might be busy with people who really don’t know God at all. Hmmm. This is getting complicated.

But anyway, it’s not about testing in the sense of cold-process checking to see who makes the grade. It’s all about love and strength, and there’s always more because Love and its adventures are infinite. That’s all.

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