I've always heard the word renunciation used in stories about saints who entered religious life (e.g. St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced everything, even the clothes on his back, to follow Christ). Renunciation, in this context seemed a heroic, almost glamorous word, but quite beyond anything I might practice in my humdrum single life. Thus realizing that I could renounce something in a pretty major way, i.e. renouncing, not simply my idea of how I was going to spend my Saturday afternoon, but my idea of how I was going to spend the rest of my life, was quite a revolutionary idea for me (see my previous entry for further details).
What is renunciation? First of all, renunciation implies ownership. To be able to renounce all his possessions and even his relationship with his family, St. Francis first had to be blessed with property and a family. To be able to renounce my love for my ex-boyfriend, I had to have previously called him mine. And this calling him mine was not a bad thing (though perhaps it happened rather too quickly in this particular case). This is going to sound trite, but God wants us to dream big dreams. I imagine when one of his children is falling in love, God wants to hear all about his or her hopes and dreams and plans for life with the beloved. God doesn't want us to hold no one dear anymore than he wants us all to live without personal possessions. The key is to be able to let go of the possessions or the dear one in the blink of an eye if that is what God should ask of us.
Secondly, renunciation implies accepting a change in our plans. In my parish's young adult fellowship group we were recently discussing the life of St. Anthony of the Desert. This amazing saint lived one of the most austere lives on record, subsisting for years on bread, water and salt, living in a cave in the desert. Yet he had had an unfulfilled plan for his life, too. He had desired above all things to be a martyr. But the Roman persecutions ended during the early part of his life, and he had to give up his desire to shed his blood for Christ. His ascetic way of life was his response, a kind of martyrdom of the spirit. I think that his faithfulness to the Lord in the face of this unfulfilled desire is what I found inspiring about his life. St. Anthony had a beautiful plan for his life, but wasn't afraid to drop the plan and make a new one when it became apparent that his plan wasn't going to work out. Instead of giving up on God or staying in Alexandria and sulking, he went off to the desert to live a life of austerity, inspiring countless others who later followed in his footsteps.
It can be a temptation in the face of continually having to give up our own plans simply not to make any plans. Perhaps this is a particular temptation for those who, like me, are living the single life. Many of us don't know for sure what permanent vocation (if any) we will be called to embrace. We've been through many disappointments and our dreams seem like they will never come true. But we need to trust the Lord and keep dreaming them.
I'm well aware that we're only human. We're probably not going to be ready to embark on a new adventure immediately after our previous adventure has been brought to an inglorious end. The Lord doesn't expect us to find a new love immediately after an old love has been snatched away. But he does expect us to be faithful and pray to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete who is ever at our side, for his guiding help and inspiration.
It is in our nature to make plans. It is supernatural to be able to give up our plans in favor of God's and not to lose courage in the grating process of continually having to make new plans.
"We have to learn therefore to have a will of our own and then to surrender it. To make plans and while doing so let go of the plan. The ultimate meaning is found, not in the plan, but in the obedience" (Adrienne von Speyr, The Passion From Within).