Our God - always full of mystery and surprises - defines power, love, and self-discipline in different ways than we without-a-clue mortals do. God actually turns these words' "popular" meanings upside-down.
Love, for God, is self-sacrifice, surrounding ourselves not only with loving and "positive" people who boost our self-image and return our love, but also with needy people who haven't been loved and may not have a clue about how to maturely live in relationship with us. Love, for God, is our willingness to be a listening and helping friend, spending time with people - or animals - who/that are suffering, even though being involved with those who suffer rips our hearts to shreds.
Self-discipline doesn't necessarily refer to diet or exercise, although both are important components of healthy respect for the gift of our bodies. God is more interested in how we discipline our tongues, refraining from spiteful comments, gossip, hurtful jokes, statements that praise ourselves and "diss" someone else, and harmful arguments. God asks us to exert self-discipline in how we use our time, so we take time to waste time in spiritual reading and prayerful solitude with Him.
God does not define power as the world defines power. The power of the Holy Spirit is the spiritual power God gives us so that we stay strong in our faith in spite of persecution, stay strong in our values in spite of the world's values, and stay strong in loving personal witness when we'd rather save ourselves by hiding or trade insults with people who disagree with us. This is the spiritual power of young Etty Hillesum, a "powerless victim" by the world's standards and a powerful witness to self-sacrificial love by God's standards.
"I don't want to be anything special," wrote young Jewish student Esther "Etty" Hillesum. "I only want to try to be true to that in me which seeks to fulfill its promise." Esther "Hetty" Hillesum (1914 - 1943) was a young, emotionally conflicted law student, searching for truth and for wisdom, whose diaries and letters describe life in Amsterdam during the German occupation, and who died at Auschwitz at the tender age of twenty-nine, having grown into a spiritually transformed woman. Her diary and letters were published posthumously in 1981.
Etty worked with the Jewish refugees at the transit camp at Westerbork, from which a train left every Tuesday to take groups of terrified Jewish men, women, and children to the concentration camps. She consistently turned down offers to go into hiding because she wanted to share her people's fate. She became a camp internee so that she could stay close to her mother, father, and brother. In September 1943, the family was sent to Auschwitz, where Hetty died two months later.
Surrounded by violence and terror, Etty could still write "Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning." Trapped in a world disrupted by war, she knew her only salvation would come in delving deeper and deeper into herself:
"I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rotteness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned."
The girl who longed for a convent cell lined with bookshelves and a view of a cornfield where she could find peace and clarity eventually accepted that to find peace and clarity in such surroundings would be "no great feat. It is right here, in this very place, in the here and the now, that I must find them."
Pope Benedict the XVI is a great admirer of Hetty. He once said of this unassuming Jewish woman " I am also thinking of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin, who died in Auschwitz. At first far from God, she discovered Him looking deep within her, and she wrote 'There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then He must be dug out again.' (Diaries, 97.) In her disrupted, restless life she found God in the very midst of the great tragedy of the 20th century: the Shoah. This frail and dissatisfied young woman, transfigured by faith, became a woman full of love and inner peace, who was able to declare 'I live in constant intimacy with God.'"
Most of us live quiet, unassuming lives, often filled with the normal tragedies of life, and the quiet daily heroism that only God knows about. Remember: it is in faithful, self-sacrificial love that we achieve self-discipline and are powerful beyond our knowing and imagining. God holds us close and transforms us into His own hands, feet, and heart, as He did Etty Hillesum, who didn't want to be anything special and yet today is regarded as a spiritual master.