This week I am incredibly thankful for the gift of being able to stay home. I relish being my own master (sure, I have four children and a husband to think of, and of course, my Divine Master), of deciding when my day will begin, how it will be organized, when I will take breaks. There is a TON of work to be done in keeping house, cooking meals and homeschooling children, but it’s on my clock, my schedule. I am thankful that my husband works hard to ensure that I can stay home. And I’m thankful for the gift of being able to homeschool my children, even though I complain about it and feel unappreciated from time to time.
The wilderness in the Bible is not a happy place. It is a place of testing, of struggle, of judgement, of purification to a painful degree. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Both Jesus and John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted before their public ministries began. And yet the prophet Jeremiah tells us that there is “grace in the wilderness” (31.2).
Grace is God’s Life in us, the very food and strength of our souls. Without grace, we are dead. I, and I dare say most of us, struggle when bad things happen. When I’m tested, tempted, subjected to trials. If Jeremiah is right, though, that’s exactly where I need to be because that’s where the grace is found.
I’m not saying I need to go looking for the wilderness–far from it! But if I see each trouble as an opportunity for grace, the pain of the moment (for in the light of eternity, even a lifetime is a moment) is made bearable. I can even begin to welcome the struggles, to bear my cross cheerfully, knowing that I’ll find that most precious gift, grace.
Sometimes I get to the point where I am run down, stressed out, and find myself needing to “withdraw…to a deserted place” by myself (Matt. 14. 13). I also find that that’s when I’m called on most to be present for others. So far I think I have succeeded in responding to this need in others approximately zero times. When I read today’s gospel, it struck me that this is a real problem for me and that Jesus and his apostles have experienced it, too.
Jesus was saddened by the death of his cousin and felt the need to get away by himself. So far, so good. The people followed him, however, and instead of getting frustrated and angry at them, “he had compassion for them.” (v.14) And this is where I see that He’s perfect and I most certainly am not. I do not have compassion on the people who dare need me when I’m drained. Less compassion, more ‘enter at your own risk.’
Not only did Jesus have compassion and spend the rest of the day speaking to the people, He would not send them away, like His disciples suggested. Instead (and this is what spoke to me) He said to His disciples, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, “But how? We have nothing to give them!”(v.16, 17)
That’s how I feel. All these people need me: my husband, my children, my extended family, friends, strangers. I ask God to care for them in some other way, but He says, “You give them what they need.” I cry, I beg, I whine and stomp my feet. “But I don’t have anything! I barely have enough strength to be nice, let alone give them what they need!”
Then comes the rest of the story. Jesus says to the disciples’ lack of goods, “Bring them here to me.” (v.18) That’s all I have to do. I have to bring him my stress, my fatigue, my irritation, my ‘barely-holding-it-together-here’ and give it to Him. He’ll bless it and miraculously multiply my lack so that it can feed all those He brings to me. I just have to bring it to be blessed, and then give it away.
“…thy words became to me a joy, and the delight of my heart.” Jer. 15.16
These words struck me as I read today’s mass readings. God’s words are a joy to me and the delight of my heart. Is that true? Many things delight my heart: my children, my husband, books, fall days, temperatures below 70, solitude. Do God’s words make that list? I’d have to say, yes, but I don’t take advantage of tasting that delight and experiencing that joy often enough.
First, a word about happiness and joy. Happiness is a fleeting feeling based upon circumstances (my kids are obeying, everyone liked dinner, we have plenty of money, I did something fun), while joy is an emotion of delight that lasts despite what may be happening. It can exist with sorrow and suffering. In fact, the deeper the suffering I experience, the greater is my capacity for joy.
Anyway, so God’s words–when He speaks to me in silence, through His love letter (the Bible), and through persons and circumstances–bring me that lasting delight. When I read God’s Word, I often feel a sense of calm, of safety, of assurance. That all is right and orderly. Not always. Sometimes I feel nothing. That doesn’t mean the joy isn’t there. It’s just hidden.
My God, thank you for the joy of your words. May I listen to them, delight in them and share them.
It’s been over a week since I wrote last. Mea culpa. In that time, my husband came home from 6 weeks away; we went camping as a family in the loudest, most miserable campground in New England; and I taught 5th-6th grade at a local Vacation Bible School. Yikes. Oh, and yesterday I had every intention of posting something, but we came home from VBS to a fly infestation in our house. We spent the next 9 hours killing and cleaning.
This week I am most thankful for the challenges God sends my way. They quickly demonstrate how far from perfect I am and how much in need I am of God’s strength and mercy. I need that reminder. Ever so often, I feel like, “Hey, I’ve got this!” That’s when God says, “No, actually, you don’t. It’s only by My grace.”
The biggest challenge this week was teaching VBS. It’s my second year as the 5th-6th grade teacher, and the second year was definitely not easier than the first. I think I was a bit more organized but still not prepared to handle three boys with the demanding diagnoses of various forms of autism, PTSD, etc. That’s in addition to the other children in class. Every day I was taking one to the director.
After the first day, I prayed every morning, “God, I come to You empty-handed. I have nothing. I can do nothing. Only let me do Your holy will and whether I succeed or fail does not matter.” I also asked for the intercession of St. John Bosco, patron of troubled youth.
Did I succeed? Well, there were moments perhaps but also epic failures. As it comes to a close I pray only that I did God’s will and planted at least a tiny seed of God’s love into the kids’ hearts.
Yesterday wrapped up the readings from the book of Hosea. In the last chapter, God tells his people how he will heal and restore them if they will only turn back to him. He reminds them who it is that hears their prayers and looks after them. Not the idols they have been worshipping, but himself, God the creator of all. “From me comes your fruit” (14.8).
Christ echoes these words when he says, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15. 5).
Sometimes I forget that any progress I’ve made climbing the Mountain of God has not come from my own efforts, but from the sheer gratuitous grace of God. Any time I have had success in showing forth the virtue of patience has been God’s gift, not my achievement. And so on with mortification or piety or charity or mercy. It is not by my power that any good thing has happened, but only by God’s.
Directly after he murders the king, Macbeth ponders why he cannot say “Amen” after hearing men bless themselves. It is because he has closed his soul to grace and its fruits by committing a mortal sin. If he, like the people of Israel, would turn back to God and repent of his sin, he would be restored and find himself able to bring forth fruits again.
Hosea is one of my favorite minor prophets. Actually, that distinction goes to Jonah (I get how Jonah feels. Check out 4.9). Hosea, though, gives a glimpse of God’s great love for His people. It shows his vulnerable side, his never-ending mercy and desire for His people’s love. When I was reading this section of Hosea today, this verse struck me: “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but without my knowledge” (Hosea 8.4).
The people of Israel have turned their backs on God time and again. Here God is complaining that though He should be an integral part in their lives, having an intimate knowledge and part in all their decisions, He is swept aside.
I hear Him chiding me. Where is He in my daily decisions? Does He have an intimate knowledge of me, my hopes, dreams, fears, plans? Of course He knows all, but He will not intrude where He is not invited. All that I do should include Him. All my choices should go through Him. Oh Lord, I invite You in. I want You to have knowledge of all of me, the good and the bad. The parts I want to show off and the parts I want to hide. I want You to be involved in all my life, small and great. I need Your wisdom in order to follow and do Your holy will.