Joy and Suffering in the Christian Life

The other day I was driving with my little sister, and I was in kind of a down mood, made all the worse thinking about how ridiculous it is that I should feel even slightly unhappy despite all of the wonderful gifts the Lord has given me, which therefore sent my slightly down mood into a plummeting spiral of unhappiness because now I feel bad for feeling bad when so much in my life is good. Catholic Guilt is real, ya’ll.

However, as I was struggling with this spider web of guilt I realized something- joy comes from God, not circumstances… if this sounds obvious to you, be patient with me, I’m a type A who subconsciously believes that if I can control everything I will be happy. However as we get older we realize that this is not true NOR do we want it to be true. If I controlled everything my life would be a catastrophe. It is definitely best left up to the Lord.

We are all searching for something that can only be found at the feet of Jesus. There are times in our lives when joy is administered to us in doses that are slightly less than we would appreciate, for whatever reason. In Christian circles this is often called the “dark night of the soul” or “a spiritual desert”. Either way, it stinks and we don’t like it. And, if you are like me, you spend a greater portion of your energy trying to wrestle away from it.

However, the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction that day, he brought me to the awareness that perhaps this is just a time of growth for me. Perhaps the Lord wants me to lean in to the struggle, instead of trying to get out. Or perhaps he wants me to lean back and let the God of the Universe control my motions… as if I were floating in the sea of his love. Perhaps I really don’t know what is best for me.

I remember back when I was rowing for UCF, and at the end of my physical therapy sessions after practice I had to get in the ice baths for ten minutes. Oh how I HATED the ice baths! I begged for my trainers to shorten the time, I begged to go into the hot tub instead, I’m pretty sure I would have been willing to barter my firstborn if only time would just please, please tick along faster! However, my lovely trainer Craig would just shoot me a not so patient, “Get in there and stop whining” and walk away to leave me in my misery. Of course, it was exactly what I needed, my muscles did heal and during those months I accomplished goals I never thought my body was capable of.

Healing and growth are never easy. In fact, they are usually painful, but always necessary. These dark hours are also reminders that we are nothing without Christ. We, in many ways must accept the lot that we are given. (Oooh does that make red blooded Americans cringe!) Not that we should be contented to a life of misery- certainly not, but once a person has done what is in their power to live a happy and healthy life, the rest is up to the Lord. This realization and acceptance has brought me incredible joy, because it has helped me to realize that I am like a preborn infant with an umbilical chord to Christ. Without him, I shrivel away. The only thing I have control over is the choice to follow Jesus each day. Aside from that, I have nothing to worry about, because I belong to him. And there is so much joy in that.

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If God Hasn’t Revealed His Plan, Keep Asking

Today we are going to talk about prayer. More importantly, we are going to talk about the way God responds to us when we pray. Recently I have heard people say, when asking what God has revealed to them when praying abut a certain situation, “ Well, God has pretty much left the decision up to me.” (Insinuating that God supposedly doesn’t have an opinion one way or another). I mean, sure, God does leave pretty much everything up to us- its part of the whole “free will” thing. But God also has his own will. I am going to attempt, as well as I can, to not describe God as if I (or anyone) truly can- but when it comes to whether or not there is a right or wrong decision to be made (This is concerning something important, not what toothpaste to use or which type of burgers to buy at the grocery store –> that answer is always BUBBA BURGERS!)… it seems, biblically, that God has a road on which He would like us to go, and pretending not to see that road when approaching a fork usually means that He is telling us something we don’t want to hear.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. “- Jeremiah 29:11

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”–Prov. 3:5-6

“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”- Isaiah 58:11

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” –Psalm 27:14

In the Christian walk, there are certainly times where it seems the Lord is utterly silent and distant and you have no idea where He is or what He is doing (this is part of our purification process and it is good, even though it stinks at the time!) (“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthian 10:13) However, this lack of response or distance from God doesn’t seem to be the constant. (“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24) It may be so for particular periods of difficulty, but it always seems that God’s will is revealed in the end.

While there are thousands of various ways to pray, prayer, in the Christian sense, is meant to be a conversation. A conversation is where one person speaks and the other responds. (“At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved.” Daniel 9:23) There are two parties to a conversation. God speaks to us in a multitude of ways, indeed, however it pleases Him. He speaks most especially (according to the testimony of various Saints) through hardship (“If there be a true way that leads to the Everlasting Kingdom, it is most certainly that of suffering, patiently endured.” — St. Colette), but also through adoration, other people, music, books, realizations, apparitions, and visions; as well as direct dialogue while journaling or in quiet prayer, or in the silent places in the depths of your heart, where the Holy Spirit reigns and where you feel His presence.

God wants communion with us, He adores us, and He wants us to know him, even as He knows us and was willing to lay down His life for us. Will we make the attempt to truly know Him? “‘Many cry to God, but not with the voice of the soul, but with the voice of the body; only the cry of the heart, of the soul, reaches God.’” –St. Augustine.

It was once shared with me that God is the perfect combination of the masculine and the feminine. We can see His masculinity in the strong sequoia trees that rise solid and strong above the earth, masking many in its shade. We can see His femininity in the beauty of a field of wildflowers, delicate yet glorious and moving. How many times have hikers climbed up to untraveled heights, encountering breathtaking scenes of beautiful landscapes? Who sees that? God delights in decorating the Earth and showering it in his majesty, the way women enjoy making each part of a house a home- even if it seems hardly anyone will see or appreciate it.

While I am not an expert in prayer (or much else for that matter), I could say that I have enough experience in being a woman to be somewhat of an expert in that. The thing about women is, deep down inside, in the deep recesses of our hearts, we want to be known. And even more than that, we want to be delighted in. (Boys, let me know if this resonates with you). God has this quality. He wants us to know and delight in Him.

“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” –Psalm 43:4

May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.”- Psalm 104:34

“…then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”-Isaiah 58:14

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”- 1 Peter 1:8

In prayer, in communion, adoration, mass, or any other time that we spend in the worship of our Creator, we are learning more about who He is, and we are delighting in God our Savior. Yes, this can include petition, intercession, supplication, etc- but it could also include mutual sharing and loving and delighting in one another. A Priest once advised me, when I was in a particularly anxious time of my life, to simply sit at the fountain of Jesus’ love and mercy; and to allow myself to be filled with His love for me.

That’s all. He told me to just sit and let Jesus love me and to love Him back.

While this is often much easier said than done, it is my prayer that each of us experiences this type of communion with the Holy Trinity. Let us be open to knowing and acknowledging Him with all of our hearts and let us be patient in waiting on the Lord to reveal Himself to us.