The Eternal Sculptor

Letter from Cecelia Bender

Photo by Julie Lai

Dear Sisters,

We are clay in the hands of God, the sculptor. He works with us to form and perfect us, the unfinished sculptures, as we journey through this life. However, without the sculptor, we are formless, cracked and incomplete.

This was me. Throughout my life I had worn a mask of holiness, faith, happiness, and purposeful living by praying, going to mass, and playing the “good Catholic girl” only because it was expected. There was no desire in my heart for a real relationship with God, and it seemed more than sufficient that I simply go through the motions. I’d worn this mask for so long that I easily convinced everyone that I was these things. I’d been wearing the mask for so long, I came to believe it myself.

But honestly, I didn’t hear God’s voice. I’d drowned it out with what I thought and what I believed was best for me. Until there I was, a small, insignificant, and slightly terrified young person going through what I thought was to be the hardest thing I was to do in life: Medical school. And it actually was going okay—I was studying, learning, and taking steps to achieve what I believed was my life’s purpose.

But I was empty.

Empty without wanting to acknowledge it.

I had thrown the Sculptor’s hands away from me, saying “I can do it myself.”

And I was cracking.

The week before spring semester classes resumed during my first year of medical school, I had scheduled an appointment with my optometrist due to some worsening issues with my vision. In good student-doctor fashion, I’d already self-diagnosed myself with a retinal detachment, not believing it was too bad because I was young and healthy. It would be an easy referral to an ophthalmologist, some laser treatment, and I’d be on my way.

But it wasn’t.

My optometrist looked in my eye, confirmed my suspicions, called in his colleague, scheduled my ophthalmology appointment for that day. My new ophthalmologist looked in my eye. He gave me options. I talked to my mom. I signed the consent form.

Bright and blinding lights.

He sat back and ran fingers nervously through his hair: “The laser isn’t going to fix your retina. You need to have surgery immediately or you will lose your vision in this eye permanently.”

I was numb.

But I had this.

I pushed away God’s hands.

More cracks in me.

I remained numb to the situation for a few months after that first surgery. Went through the motions. Thought I was so strong for getting myself through a painful eye surgery. Was proud of myself that I had lost parts of my visual field, had ongoing symptoms and issues and wasn’t whining about it. Was proud that I’d made it through another surgery when my retina re-detached again that summer. Was proud that even after my third retina surgery at the start of second year, I was able to stay caught up with my classes. Was proud I was suffering and did it without complaining and without God.

I was crumbling in my own hands as I tried to sculpt myself into the perfect image of trust in God, humility, selflessness. I thought I could be those without Him.

There seemed to be no future or potential for my life as a physician if I lost my vision. The reality that I would never see fully out of my surgical eye again was devastating. Due to extensive scar tissue formation on, through, and under my retina, parts were physically removed, leaving me with permanent blind spots. Due to my poor vision and health history, it was just a matter of time before my “good” eye developed a similar trajectory as my “bad” eye.

The stress and anxiety became too much for me to handle. I didn’t know how to go on fashioning the sculpture of “me” without being a normal, healthy, seeing 20-something in medical school.

And I broke.

It wasn’t pretty: the insomnia, panic attacks, no studying, a failed exam.

I was so tired and so utterly exhausted from trying to maintain my life when it had crumpled around me. But mostly I was angry--angry at God that He’d let this happen to me and that He’d let it continue on and on with no end to my suffering in sight. I felt abandoned, and broken into so many pieces I wasn’t certain who I was anymore.

But God works best in our brokenness.

It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t receive any compelling dream or revelation. I didn’t quickly develop deep trust in God and everything was better.

Handwritten quote from the writer

Handwritten quote from the writer

It started with simply telling God my life and everything in it was completely His. And I resisted this thought because it felt as if I were losing anything I might have left, losing my pride or my control. But I really had nothing more to lose. I said it, and I wholeheartedly meant it.

After that, my anger at God dissipated. However, the hard part was the effects of giving Him my life. They were slow, quiet, subtle movements. Little by little, I let go of my pride, sought help, made myself truly present to God by setting aside time to pray, immersing myself in the sacraments, and really meaning it when asking God what He wanted from my life.

Where I had been apathetic towards prayer, it then came to be the most important part of my life. Where faith had been optional, it came to be integral.

The Sculptor’s hands gathered the little pieces of me, and brought me back together so gently, and filled my soul ever so gradually I barely noticed.

But I know now.
I can trace the mended cracks.

I see how He worked through my weaknesses and suffering to teach me humility and strength. By bringing the broken pieces of me back together, I see how He taught me trust in Him.
I wouldn’t change the Sculptor’s plan one bit.
I don’t regret Him for letting me ignore Him, for allowing me to suffer, for leaving the prognosis of my eyesight a question mark. To this day, I don’t regret anything except thinking I could plan a better life than He’d planned for me.

We sin and as a result we will crack and even break sometimes.

But the eternal Sculptor is always there, ready to make us whole. Ready to work in our lives. All we have to do is place our hands in His and let Him.


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The Eternal Sculptor Cecelia Bender The Catholic Woman

Cecelia Bender The Catholic Woman

About the Writer: Cecelia Bender

Cecelia Bender is a second-year medical student in Indianapolis. Her professional niche of interest is serving underserved populations. Of her hobbies, she is most passionate about vegan food, running, traveling and drinking tea.

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