I found this passage from his chapter called "Retreats" very insightful:
The kingdom of God had to be worked out on earth, for that was the meaning of the Incarnation. It had to be worked out by men, by other Christs; it had to be worked out this day, each day, by constant effort and attention to just those persons and circumstances God presented to them that day. (145)
His description of one's sphere of responsibility here is very accurate. An often repeated line in his book is "working out salvation in fear and trembling"--and the cold of Siberian labor camps certainly provides the trembling!
Wojtyla did manual labor (quarrying) to pay for his studies during the war. I grew up near a quarry and can only imagine how time-consuming and labor intensive things were in comparison with the work of some of today’s machinery. In the same way, I have been in shock at how physically strenuous the labor camps of Siberia were in Soviet Russia.
While Wojtyla was in Poland working, Walter Ciszek S.J. was in Siberia shoveling coal:
I was marched down to the hold of the ship, given a shovel, and told to spread coal as it came cascading down a conveyor belt. I worked until I was ready to drop—which was rather soon because of my condition—and then had to go on working for fear of my life. There was no way I could stop the conveyor belt, and if I stopped shoveling, I would have been buried by the roaring coal. So I had to keep moving, stumbling and slipping over the shifting coal as the hold filled up, working the shovel as best I could even after my arms and chest grew numb and I had no sensation at all in the mechanical motions I made. (96)
Countless other stories of Ciszek stretching himself to the physical and psychological limit abound in his testament of faith, He Leadeth Me. It is a first-hand account of all of the horrors of the War from the perspective of a priest. And rather than become embittered by the ever-increasing Marxism, he deepens his love and trust in God as a child would with his benevolent father.
The quarry I lived near was full to the brim with crystal clear water. I could see straight down 40 feet to the bottom of the jutting rocks on a clouded day. Ciszek compares his time in Russia as a child learning to float in such immensity of clear water:
What he wanted was for me to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at his disposal. He was asking of me an act of total trust, allowing for no interference or restless striving on my part, no reservations, no exceptions, no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking a complete gift of self, nothing held back. It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatsoever—only to find that the water truly holds him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed. (81)
How men can endure such difficulties and live to tell a hopeful tale speaks of tremendous surrender into the hands of the living God. As Scripture says, “it’s a fearful thing” and yet, totally fulfilling.