Today’s post is a short one! I stumbled across this Bible verse last week, and I think it’s so helpful for anybody who is struggling. I would encourage you to write it down and put it in your purse or journal, or on a mirror. It’s helped me so much to place my trust in Jesus, and to remind myself that joy is coming, even amidst suffering.
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Catholic young adult conference to remind you how much of a disaster you really are. Perhaps to some people, walking into a conference full of young married couples, children, priests, and religious is the recipe for excitment, but for an anxious me there may be nothing more stressful.
Don’t get me wrong- I love going to talks, I love the Spirit-filled periods of Adoration and Confession that always seem to be present during retreats, and I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. But, for lots of reasons, this conference just wasn’t clicking for me.
I arrived at 9am after working a night shift at the Senior Center, exhausted, with hands shaking from the ridiculous amount of coffee I had consumed, my stomach churning from yet another bout of nausea I’d been experiencing all summer (I’m still not entirely sure what’s causing it), and all the feelings left over from a college student’s first experience with heartbreak. A recipe for the perfect retreat experience, right?
I came into the retreat feeling ill and directionless. For weeks I had felt as though I was teetering between feelings of despair and quiet, timid hope. Anyway, as I walked into the retreat, I put on the mask of happiness we are all too used to wearing and fought back tears for several hours.
“Just pull yourself together!” I told myself angrily. “Your life is good, you shouldn’t be this upset. Get it together!”
But I couldn’t. The feelings of despair built up throughout talks, Confession, lunch, and Adoration. I was desperately unhappy, and so angry at God. If I’m being honest, I think I hated Him that day (don’t worry, I’ve since apologized).
Comparison is the thief of joy, right? Absolutely. I realized that part of the reason I was so upset during the retreat was because I wasn’t living in the moment. I was comparing myself to the priests and religious, and to the wives and mothers. They have their lives figured out. They trust God enough to find their vocations. They look like they are happy and peaceful. And then my friends and the young, single missionaries. They are laughing. They are experiencing freedom in their singleness. So why can’t I? Why can’t I pull my crap together? Why can’t I count my blessings?
I realized that one thing I suck at is just letting myself be. I am awful at sitting in the painful emotions, at leaning into my fears, sadness, and anger. But that’s okay. I’m learning. My friends, if you struggle with this, then be still and know that you are learning too. It’s a journey, and we don’t have to be perfect at it.
Truly, given my mindset, it could be nothing short of Divine Providence that I was able to be even the teeniest bit receptive during the conference. Luckily, God is all-forgiving. Even though I had spent most of the conference grumping at Him, He still blessed me with a talk by Gomer (Michael Gormley) of the Catching Foxes podcast.
(If you haven’t listened to the Catching Foxes podcast with Luke and Gomer, then I highly recommend you do so! They are hilarious, holy, and honest about their wounds. Here’s a link: https://www.catchingfoxes.fm)
Gomer’s talk was exactly what my weary, grumpy, ungrateful heart needed. As dramatic as it sounds (and I sure as I am that Gomer would puke upon hearing this) it truly nurtured my soul.
Gomer was just so honest. He shared about the struggles he experienced with depression after he lost his long-term girlfriend, and the exhausting period of waiting it took for her to accept him back. I found myself relating to his tale of the young drama-queen Gomer, because I’m a bit of a drama queen myself, especially in seasons of waiting or suffering. He talked about the agony of prayer and of living a life on this side of Heaven- a life where we make mistakes and those mistakes have consequences. A life where we don’t realize what we have until we lose it. A life full of sin, separated from God.
After Gomer’s girlfriend broke up with him, he thought his life was over. He pouted and cried and basically just had a miserable existence (he said it, not me). His spiritual director told him two things. One, Gomer needed to read the Book of Job, and, two, Gomer wasn’t grateful enough for the goodness of his girlfriend. Read the Book of Job, and be grateful. I thought to myself “well, I’m pretty much just as dramatic and lost as Gomer, so maybe I should do those things too.”
The topic of Gomer’s talk was “How to Pray”, so I expected a long-winded explanation of the different types of prayer and how I was doing everything wrong. Well, Gomer did talk about how I wasn’t praying correctly, but it wasn’t because I don’t follow a certain format, or because I get tired and distracted too easily- no, my prayers are often flawed, I realized, because I’m not honest with God.
When Gomer’s spiritual director told him to read the Book of Job, he was showing him an example of true, honest prayer. The Bible is filled with groaning and wailing, with complaints and anger… especially the Book of Job. Good Lord Job…
“My own utterance I will not restrain;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the Sea, or the dragon,
that you place a watch over me?
When I say, “My bed shall comfort me,
my couch shall ease my complaint,”
Then you frighten me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
So that I should prefer strangulation
and death rather than my existence.”
Quite honestly, there have been many times in my life where I don’t think I relate to any Biblical character more than Job. So often, I look at my life and complain. “I’ve tried so hard!” I think to myself. “I’ve given up so much for God, and this is how He treats me? Why must I suffer?”.
Whenever I begin to think like this, I try to hide those selfish and hardened bits of my heart from God. I wait until I feel a bit better to pray, so I can craft pretty and loving prayers to present to the Lord. Or, if I pray in the moment, I use it to look at the bright side. I’ll try and be upbeat, positive, and grateful, even if I am feeling none of those things. And perhaps there is a place for that in prayer. Perhaps there is a place for positivity in prayer, even when I feel like crap. But, more than anything, God wants us to be honest with Him. He doesn’t want our pretty little poetic prayers- He wants us. He wants relationship. We don’t need to sugarcoat things for God. He knows our suffering, and He wants to journey through it with us.
After Gomer’s talk, I decided to put his advice into action. I was driving home from the conference. At this point, I had been awake for 39 hours, I was still too nauseated to eat, I was hungry, I was sad, and I was anxious. I knew I had two hours to sleep before my next shift, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest with my racing thoughts. So, I spent the 20 minute drive home yelling, literally screaming and crying, to the Lord. I’m sure the other people on the highway thought I was a lunatic. I felt like a lunatic. But, I had also never felt more myself in front of God. Finally, finally, I was telling Him how I felt. I was allowing Him to experience my misery with me. I was so angry and so sad, and I let Him feel all of it. And, in doing so, I felt all of it. Verbalizing my pain to the Lord allowed me to truly feel.
I wish I could say I felt better immediately after. I didn’t. But incorporating this raw honesty into my prayer has been transformative in my relationship with God.
Throughout the book of Job, it is apparent that Job is afraid of the sheer power of God- he is afraid of what God might allow to happen to him. If Job had been all-knowing, then he would have seen that God wasn’t causing his boils and the deaths of his children. God was allowing the devil to test Job, because He trusted in Job and believed he would be faithful. Imagine if we could see our trials through a different lens- as chances to show God our faithfulness, over and over again. But, trust me, I know it’s a struggle to do that. I especially resonated with this passage:
“For what I feared overtakes me;
What I dreaded comes upon me.
I have no peace nor ease;
I have no rest, for trouble has come!”
I often feel like that. I feel that the moment I think I’ve found peace, I get hit again with yet another trial, another test. But like Job, we must take heart in the fact that God is faithful. Not all our prayers should be yelling out in anguish. But many of them certainly can be. In the end, however, we must remember we aren’t yelling at God for the sake of yelling at Him. We are crying out to Him earnestly, because we want Him to know our struggles. Just like in Job’s story, there will be joy in the end.
P.S. No matter how crappy you feel, please go to conferences and retreats like this! Yes, the retreat was difficult for me, but I learned so much about myself and about God, and will definitely be going next year:)
Y’all, I’m struggling. That’s it. Life is really, truly difficult right now. No matter how much tea I drink, sleep I get, friends I chat with, scripture I read, or walks I go on, I am in pain. And I’m trying to teach myself that that’s okay. Sometimes this journey on earth is just freaking painful. I’m trying to surrender my suffering to Jesus, who of course loves me more than anyone else ever could, but it’s not easy to surrender. People far holier than I speak about giving our sufferings to the Lord, and they make it sound so simple. Maybe it is simple, but it’s not easy. The idea of surrender is contrary to every wall I’ve put up and every protective mechanism I’ve created for myself. Maybe, in protecting ourselves from the world we harden our hearts to the Lord. I know I have.
Friends, if any of you are struggling, I pray that Jesus would break down your walls and replace your heart of stone with a heart like His.
Here is a prayer I’ve found from Stacy Sumereau that is helping me to surrender, bit by bit. It’s not easy for me to pray, but it’s so necessary.
A Prayer of Surrender
God, my Father, I thank you for all that You are, and all that you do for me through your son Jesus Christ. I praise you for my life, for your mercy and for your Eucharist. In Jesus’ name, Father, I place myself entirely in your Heart.
I surrender to you my whole self, my heart, my mind, my memory, my imagination, my will, my emotions, my passions, my body, my sexuality, my desire for human approval, my weaknesses, my desires, my sins.
I surrender every person in my life to you. I surrender every situation in my life to you. I surrender every relationship I am in to you. I surrender every concern I have to you. I surrender every fear I have to you. I surrender every doubt I have to you. I surrender all confusion I have to you. I surrender all sadness I am experiencing in my heart to you. I surrender all the woundedness I have to you. I surrender all anxiety and worry I have to you. I surrender all that deceives me in my heart to you. I surrender my whole self to you. I trust you to care for me and others in a perfectly loving way.
As I have emptied myself, and surrendered everything to you, I ask you now, Father, to fill me with your Holy Spirit and all the gifts and fruits of your Spirit.
Holy Spirit you are the source of love, hope, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, tenderness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. Purify my desires.
Help me to open my heart to you. Help me to become perfectly receptive as a pure child. Help me to believe in your love for me. Help me to hope in your love. Help me to receive from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus all grace and virtues necessary for me to become the person you created me to be. I ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Your son, God Almighty Father.
O Most Holy Immaculate Virgin Mary, I entrust this prayer to your heart, and ask you to press it to your wounded heart and intercede for me to your son Jesus. Please help me to be as you are, a perfect disciple, an obedient servant, a true child of God. Amen.
My prayers go out to any of you who may be struggling to surrender your hearts. Peace and blessings, friends.
I’m a daydreamer.
I’ve always loved that about myself. I love that I can create worlds and stories in my mind, that I can imagine and relive some of the best moments of my life. I love that I can see endless possibilities in one person or piece of art.
Recently, though, I’ve realized that my daydreaming has just turned into ruminations on anxious thoughts. Actually, I think my anxiety has corrupted my thoughts for most of my life. I think this perhaps affects a lot more of us than we realize. Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, only to realize that you’ve completely lost your place in the conversation and you have no idea what they are talking about? No one? Just me?
I so often find my mind racing, analyzing the details of each and every moment of my day, my week, my life. I try to accomplish the most mundane, simple tasks, like doing the dishes, and I realize I’ve been on autopilot for 15 minutes and I now have no idea what I’m doing. I have transitioned to existing in one place physically while my mind wanders into an entirely different world.
Our brains are crazy, incredible places. I am constantly astounded by the depth and magnitude of the wanderings of my mind. When put to good use, we can use the great gift of our imaginations to encounter the Lord. We can write The Lord of the Rings! Our minds make us uniquely human, and our imaginations allow us to participate in the creative artistic power of the Lord. But, our imaginations are also capable of incredible evil. We can isolate ourselves, imagine the worst scenarios, and allow the Devil to creep into our everyday lives.
When I was younger, I remember using my imagination for hours on end, writing hundreds of handwritten pages of my “stories” and playing alone with my American Girl Dolls. Then, something shifted. I stopped using my creativity for good. I think the most imaginative people can also be the most anxious. I stopped living in the moment, and I started living in my own fears. It began in church, during Mass when I had time to think, and then it extended to car rides, late hours when I should be sleeping, and trips to the grocery store. Bit by bit, I lost myself, and my family lost me, to the tunnels and caverns of my own fearful imagination. I stopped existing and being present to my family and myself, and this is an incredibly dangerous existence. This is the type of existence that leads one to despair. I didn’t know this until recently, but despair is a great sin, one that separates us from the Father, and shows that we are afraid to trust in Him.
Bit by bit, I lost myself, and my family lost me, to the tunnels and caverns of my own fearful imagination.
I’ve found different ways to deal with these thoughts, but they still plague me from time to time, sometimes for hours on end. This summer, I decided that I wanted to stop living in my imagination and start living in the real world. So, as one step of many I’m currently taking right now, I started a course in Catholic Mindfulness. This online course is designed to be eight weeks long, and it teaches Christians how to exist with God in the present moment. The author, Dr. Gregory Bottaro, lived as a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal for four years, and he also has his doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Dr. Bottaro combines his years of prayer and formation as a friar with his clinical experience as a psychologist to create a multi-faceted course for faith and mental health.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade once said, “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond our wildest dreams”. How many moments of joy might I have missed because of the fears that are swirling around in my mind? With this course, I am taking my life back. I am choosing to live in the moment and to acknowledge my fearful thoughts, but I won’t dwell on them. I am choosing to recover, and I am choosing to be happy. Happiness, as I am learning time and time again, is a choice.
“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond our wildest dreams.” ~Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Each week of this eight week course, I’m going to make a post on my journey. Each week has a slightly different focus, and I’m hoping to draw one main lesson from my practice to give you an idea of what Catholic Mindfulness is truly about.
God speaks to us in the present moment. He speaks to us through our experiences, our desires, and through the people we interact with. Dwelling on past mistakes, holding grudges, or fearing the future is not what God wants- these are tools used by the Devil. And, friends, I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of him being in control. That’s why I’m taking this course- because I want to live in the moment. I want to fill my mind with all the joys and sorrows I experience in my everyday life, instead of fearing the future or dwelling on the past. God is here with us now. Don’t you want to be here with Him?
Some of you may know the C.S. Lewis quote my blog is named for, but if you don’t (or even if you do!) this post is for you!
I am continually inspired and uplifted by The Chronicles of Narnia, particularly by one scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this scene, the characters are headed through dark, dangerous waters towards the Island where Dreams come true. As the crew realizes where they are headed, they regret the risk they chose to take and all begin to panic. Lucy desperately prays, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” In the midst of the chaos and fear, all look up and notice a strange creature, an albatross, flying above the ship. Lewis writes:
“It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart’, and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”
“Courage, dear heart.”
C.S. Lewis beautifully articulates the situation I find myself in over and over again. I feel afraid, lost, and in the darkness. I feel despair. I know that God loves me- deep down inside, I know this is true. I know that he delights in me, and that he loved the idea of me so much, he created me. But, when I feel lost and alone, I forget all about that. I feel like Lucy, aboard a boat I cannot control, in the midst of dark and stormy skies, with nothing but choppy, inconsistent waves beneath my feet.
I wish I could say I handle these situations with grace, like Lucy does. And on the rare occasion, I do. I think I have this whole suffering thing figured out. But then, just as I begin to regain my confidence in myself and the Lord, just as the clouds begin to part and I remember what it’s like for the sun to finally, finally, shine, storm clouds descend again and I am thrust into darkness.
One of the great voyages, if you will, that I took a chance and embarked upon was attending college almost 3000 miles away from home. Though there were many moments in my freshman year of college when I felt isolated from God, one particularly painful one stands out in my memory.
The Freshman Retreat
I remember being proud of myself for attending that retreat. Most of my closest friends were not going, but I knew I wanted to grow in faith and in community, so I said goodbye to my dear roommate and left the comfort of my dorm room to go to a camp in the middle of nowhere with a bus full of students I hardly knew. I felt pangs of anxiety throughout the whole retreat, but nothing was so bad as Adoration. I was ridiculously excited for Adoration. I wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, holding my lit candle (a tiny beacon that signified I had gone to Confession) and bare my soul to He who loves me. I wanted Him to comfort me, as He had so many times before. I longed for the intimacy one can only achieve when in the presence of Christ Jesus. I knelt down before the Lord, and I settled into the beginning of one of the loneliest moments of my life.
I think I can only describe those few hours of Adoration as desperate. I begged Jesus for even an inkling of His presence. I knew He was there in front of me, but I didn’t feel Him. I felt many things, but not one of them was love. I felt my guilt gnawing in my stomach, after a rather mediocre confession experience with a priest who I’m sure meant well, but really just made me feel incredibly guilty and unloved. I felt the stabbing fear of the future, of having my whole life laid out in front of me, and not knowing if any of it would turn out how I expected- my career as a Speech Language Pathologist, my ministry ideas, my vocation- none of it was clear. I felt the quiet, constant loneliness of one who does not have many good friends in a state that has nothing of home. I dryly sang along to the praise and worship songs. I went through the motions- kneeling, standing, bowing, journaling- but I never felt anything. Around me, students were weeping, praying out loud, singing to their Lord, having (as I would later learn) some of the most pivotal, faith-filled experiences of their lives. And here I was- empty. I felt as though I had blindly trusted the Lord and gone on this retreat, only to have Him abandon me. I wandered out onto the dark waters, hoping to see a lighthouse, and not even given a lamp.
I continued to sit in the darkness, feeling dry and lonely, for all of Adoration. Finally, the agonizing period of prayer ended, and my classmates and I headed out into the crisp autumn air and back to the retreat house. I listened to stories of my peers’ dynamic and emotional prayer experiences, politely smiling and nodding. I should not be jealous, I told myself. I’ve experienced Christ before. It’s okay- someone else can have a turn. I sat rather numbly through the rest of the retreat. My prayers remained, in my mind, fruitless. I was incredibly disheartened, and I alternated between blaming God and myself. I thought I was being punished. I must have done something wrong. I racked my brain, agonizing over details of my life and my brokenness, trying to find an answer.
But, friends, I don’t think God wanted me to find an answer. I still don’t have one. Many months later, I still do not know why I felt such fear, sadness, and confusion in my soul during the Freshman Retreat. But I do know one thing. Despite the despair I felt, despite the fact that the LAST thing, the very last thing I wanted to do was continue attending Mass and praying and having small group discussions, I chose to continue with the retreat anyway. I chose to keep following God, wherever He lead me. And now, looking back, I think something miraculous happened to me on that retreat. I think God showed me something of my smallness. He showed me my desperate need for community, for connection. I participated in one of the best small groups of my life during the Freshman Retreat. I am still friends with many members of that small group. I continued throughout all of Freshman year to seek guidance from my small group leader, who also happened to be my RA. God taught me to see Him in others, even though couldn’t see Him in the Eucharist that weekend. I learned the value of connection. I learned to push on, to continue to seek friendships, to continue to choose to see the light, even with an angry, seemingly endless darkness churning in my heart.
Did I feel better coming back to campus from the retreat? Honestly? No. I felt horrible when I got back on campus. I felt desperate and alone, isolated from my Father. But I came home to campus with a network of acquaintances, who knew nothing about me other than my love for the Lord. I think, perhaps, that the Lord may have taught me through that retreat that I could seek Him in others when I am not strong enough to find Him myself.
Like Lucy, I was able to trust God when He led me out on dark waters. I couldn’t see Him or feel Him, but I knew he was there. I knew to keep searching for Him. Unlike Lucy, I did not experience the small, still voice of God. Most of us will likely not experience this whenever we ask for it. But, God does remind us that He is present with us, no matter how hard it is to hear His voice. I do truly believe this. Like Lucy, we will also have an albatross. Perhaps he will have a voice, or perhaps we will just know to trust him, like Drinian. During my time of darkness during and after the Freshman Retreat, my albatross was present in my small group. The Holy Spirit shone through my small group leader and my peers, as they offered me a place of connection and safety, even though I didn’t feel that connection with God in prayer. God is always present, just not in the ways we expect.
I believe- no, I know– that God and the angels and the saints in Heaven love, encourage, and cheer for us. God constantly whispers in the depths of our souls, “Courage, dear heart”. He desires for us to joyfully choose to be courageous. In our courage we will find our freedom. In fact, I’m so convinced of this that, after the hardest semester of my life (well, up until last semester) I got Aslan’s words tattooed on my arm, as a reminder of the encouragement God whispers to me constantly, even if I cannot hear it. He is there, loving us, even in the darkness.
My prayer for you, my friends, is that you would have the gumption to step out in faith onto the stormy seas. My hope is that this blog might help you to feel less alone in the chaos, because, believe me, I am there with you. And the Lord is there with all of us.