In a short beautiful article on religious life, Henri Nouwen spoke of the little river. “Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine died. He was a classmate, and they sent me the tape of his funeral service. The first reading in that service was a story about a little river. The little river said, “I can become a big river.” It worked hard, but there was a big rock. The river said, “I’m going to get around this rock.” The little river pushed and pushed, and since it had a lot of strength, it got itself around the rock.

Soon the river faced a big wall, and the river kept pushing this wall. Eventually, the river made a canyon and carved a way through. The growing river said, “I can do it. I can push it. I am not going to let down for anything.” Then there was an enormous forest. The river said, “I’ll go ahead anyway and just force these trees down.” And the river did.

The river, now powerful, stood on the edge of an enormous desert with the sun beating down. The river said, “I’m going to go through this desert.” But the hot sand soon began to soak up the whole river. The river said, “Oh, no. I’m going to do it. I’m going to get myself through this desert.” But the river soon had drained into the sand until it was only a small mud pool. Then the river heard a voice from above: “Just surrender. Let me lift you up. Let me take over.” The river said, “Here I am.” The sun then lifted up the river and made the river into a huge cloud. He carried the river right over the desert and let the cloud rain down and make the fields far away fruitful and rich.

There is a moment in our life when we stand before the desert and want to do it ourselves. But there is the voice that comes, “Let go. Surrender. I will make you fruitful. Yes, trust me. Give yourself to me.”

The deserts in our lives are important because they put us in our place. There is this mother who lost her only daughter. There is this father of four who is dying of cancer. There is this couple facing divorce because they just cannot live together any more. We suddenly lose control and we either let go or else enter into more anguish.

Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote this gem, “Let us not then be disturbed, neither dismayed, when trials befall us. For if the gold refiner sees how long he ought to leave the piece of gold in the furnace, and when he ought to draw it out, and does not allow it to remain in the fire until it is destroyed and burnt up: much more does God understand this, and when He sees that we have become more pure, He releases us from our trials so that we may not be overthrown and cast down by the multiplication of our evils. Let us then not feel sorry for ourselves or lose heart when some unexpected thing befalls us… for He does this for a useful purpose and with a view of the profit of those who are tried.”

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.