I thank you, my God, for this illness that is forcing me to slow down, quiet myself and rely on Your strength to go through my days. You are Goodness and Mercy itself.
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.
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.
“…you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written, not with ink but with the Spirit of the Living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3.3
I am God’s letter to the world, bearing His Word, His Beauty, His Truth, His Goodness, His Mercy. What a responsibility! How then should I act? Sure, I should be kind to those I meet–the cashier at the grocery, other drivers, fellow shoppers, etc. But what about those in my own home? Am I not Christ’s letter to them as well? Aren’t they the first to whom I should bring His Word, Beauty, Truth? How often, though, are they the ones who bear the brunt of my bad mood, my irritation? For me, it’s easy to put on a happy face for the few moments of interaction with the gate guard on base but much harder to be pleasant with my husband when I’m tired or stressed out. It’s easy to chit chat with the mail clerk but tortuous to listen to my children’s silliness when I am irritated.
Yes, I have a responsibility to bring Christ to the world, but it starts with the people He has put intimately into my life.
For the past few days I have been finding out about friends’ and loved ones’ struggles, pains, heartbreaks. And my heart hurts. It hurts for the marriages that are close to breaking; the emotional, mental and physical pain that many are going through; the loneliness; the wrestling to find meaning in the midst of trials. I bring these people to the feet of my Lord, and I beg Him, “Help!” But I can’t seem to let go, to remember that He is the Savior and I am not. I hold on to the pain, taking it on as my own. Like I can save them.
Today, as often happens after loved ones’ pain is revealed to me, I had a horrible temptation to despair. The problems came rushing to my mind, I started to pray, and a little voice started whispering, “Why pray? What’s the point? If God knows all, allows all for the Good of the person’s soul, what’s the point in praying for relief of pain, for comfort, for mended marriages?” And then I couldn’t pray. I would start to say, “Lord, I pray for _______. Heal/comfort/etc….” And the little voice came back, “Why? What if it’s God’s Will? What if you are actively praying against God’s Will for this person?” I think, “Yes, what if I am praying against His Will? What should I pray? How should I pray? What’s the point?” I know I need to pray. Something about relationship. But the how and the what are escaping me right now. So I’ve got, “My Jesus, mercy” and the Rosary. I’m thankful for that much.
My reading today helped some. I am nearly finished with A Song for Nagasaki, a book about Japanese radiologist and Catholic convert, Takashi Nagai. Amazing story. I cannot wait until the Catholic Church recognizes his sainthood. In his later writings, as he lay dying from leukemia and radiation poisoning (he was a victim of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki), he writes about prayer: “…some prayer is ‘plain superstition’ or ‘no different from purchasing a lottery ticket.’ Real prayer does not make difficult demands…No, we can pray as soon as we can speak with the loving Person who is the source of all dynamism in the universe (133). Speaking to his children, whom he would soon leave as orphans, he says,
“Your Christian faith will be no drug that anesthetizes pain. But I can assure you of this: your…path is precisely what God in His Providence has chosen, specially for you! Accept it as such and often ask Him: How can I use this for Your glory? This is no popular psychology, no clever method for shaking off the blues. No, it’s the one authentic response to the mystery of life. Sickness and trouble are not a sign that we are far from God or that He has rejected us….we don’t believe in a God of small deeds who lets His favourites win lotteries and whimsically ignores the others. He is too big to act like that…the only life that interests me is one lived for Him….one day at a time, supported by prayer…Some get themselves into a knot over the ‘unfairness’ of God’s Providence…I can assure you of this: if each of us accepts ourselves as we are it is absolutely certain that a day will come when we can see how God’s plans have been accomplished, and precisely through our weakness…(149-150).
Yes, some comfort, but I guess I will continue to keep Thy steadfast love before my eyes and try to walk in faithfulness to Thee (Ps. 26.3) And keep repeating, “My Jesus, mercy. My Jesus, mercy.” My friends and loved ones, I’m still praying for you. Honestly, I don’t know what to ask for or how to ask for it. But I’m praying and I know He’s listening.
I just recently went to confession after, what was for me, too long a hiatus. I try to take advantage of the sacrament often, because of the abundance of graces poured out on me when I meet my Lord in the Sacrament of Mercy. I never understand why people wouldn’t want to go to confession. After I confess, I feel like a new person, like all things are possible. That God has given me a clean slate (though I still have to deal with the consequences of my sins). Like a dear priest has said to me many times in the confessional, “In confession, we start again. Not at the bottom of the mountain, but at the top.”
Maybe a person is scared that God could never forgive his sins. That somehow, his sins are “too much” for God. Jesus says to St. Faustina, “There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted, it increases” (Diary #1273). St. Paul also speaks of God’s fathomless mercy: “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Not, of course, to mean that we should go on sinning, but that God’s mercy and grace are boundless for those who come to ask it of Him.
I have heard priests speak before on the limits of God’s forgiveness. Now, I’m not a priest or a theologian (Thanks be to God!), but I’m of the mind that we cannot out-do God’s mercy. We can shun His mercy; we can harden our hearts through repeated unrepentant sin, but each time we come to Him truly sorry, truly seeking repentance, mercy and grace, He gives it to us without a moment’s hesitation. He loves us. Prodigally. Extravagantly. Recklessly. St. Paul says: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8.38).
Because His love never fails. His mercy never ceases. He wants, desires, longs to lavish His love on us. From the time of Israel until now, He has kept His covenant, kept His promises. After telling the allotments the tribes of Israel received in the Promised Land, the author goes on to state, “Not one of all the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed: all came to pass” (Joshua 21.45).
And so it is with us today, under the New Covenant. Not one of God’s promises has failed, nor will they ever. Because He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13.8).
He stands waiting, watching for His dear children to return to Him. To fall at His feet and say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” He will pull us to our feet, embrace us and say, “My child, my dear, dear child. How I have longed to welcome you home.”
I may have mentioned before that I like Star Trek and that I’m re-watching the episodes of Enterprise. One of the main characters in this series is T’Pol, a Vulcan science officer. When I originally watched the series, she was my hero. Cool, calculating, master of her emotions (read: master of suppressing her emotions), living by logic and reason. Simon and Garfunkel would be proud. *cue “I am a Rock”* On last night’s episode, “Fusion,” the crew of the Enterprise meets a strange set of Vulcans: friendly, open to trying new things, cooperative. These Vulcans claim that the teachings of Surak have been misinterpreted and that Vulcans were never meant to suppress their emotions but to integrate them with logic and reason. T’Pol disagrees, calling the sect, “Vulcans without logic” and warns the captain that they are dangerous. “Just because they smile and eat chicken doesn’t mean they have learned to master their emotions,” she quips.
What does this have to do with saints? Well, I often find myself making the saints into Vulcans. They are perfect. They have reached Kolinahr–mastery of their emotions. They always please God because they are perpetually living in happy land where nothing bad ever affects them, sadness is received as joy and pain as pleasure. And after last night’s episode (which showed that T’Pol was right), I was slightly distraught at the apparent “score one” for the Vulcans. I know in my heart that the Saints were not Vulcans, but how were they different?
Then this morning I read in St. Faustina’s Diary that she was greatly upset by something false someone had said about her. She says, “My heart felt a twinge of pain.” She resolves to show greater kindness to the offending person. “I became aware, however, that I was not strong enough to bear this calmly, because the matter lingered on for weeks. When I saw the storm building up [I took this to mean storm of emotions]…I went before the Blessed Sacrament and said to the Lord, ‘Lord Jesus, I ask You to give me the strength of Your actual grace, because I feel that I will not manage to survive this struggle. Shield me with Your breast'”(#1150).
What?!? A saint feeling offended, overwhelmed by a storm of emotions, unable to fight hurt with kindness and accept false accusations? Yes, actually. The saints didn’t please God because of their super-human control, the suppression of their emotions. Saints experienced pain, sadness, anger, humiliation, melancholy–all the emotions known to Man. But they knew how to take both the negative and the positive to God, to thank Him for the opportunities for growth in virtue, to beg mercy, grace and consolation, to give Him praise in all situations. They knew their weaknesses, knew and humbled themselves to ask for grace and mercy and for forgiveness when they fell.
I don’t displease God when I feel emotion. And I don’t please Him when I suppress emotion. He made me; He made emotions. “And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good” (Gen. 1.31). Emotions are good. They can be misused and abused like any good thing. The answer is not to suppress them, to stop feeling, but to acknowledge them, take them to Our Lord, thank Him, praise Him, ask for His grace, His assistance, whatever the situation requires. Well, at least that’s part of the answer. Still working on it myself, to tell the truth.
Watching Enterprise the second go ’round, I find myself pitying T’Pol. Emotions are terrible, but they are also wonderful. She may not be able to feel sadness or pain or disappointment or anger, but that also means she cannot feel joy, exhilaration, love. What a loss.