Persisting When it's Painful
Have you ever felt like God is very far away and not listening? That’s where I am right now. I have had a series of bad days. My four-month-old baby stopped sleeping well (hello, sleep regression!) and has been waking up 4-8 times a night for the past six weeks. I am tired beyond belief. In addition to that, my husband and I just moved 2 ½ hours from everyone we know to upstate New York to start his new job. While I am optimistic about making new friends, and have already made contact with some quality people through our church, the going is slower than I’d like. I often feel lonely and isolated, trying to fit in my work hours while caring for an entire house for the first time, and a baby who simply doesn’t like to be put down (I affectionately call him my little leech.) My child invariably begins wiggling and showing off his impressive vocal volume in church when I try to pray…so much for hearing God’s voice in my heart! I feel ready to give up. Maybe you’ve been there- overwhelmed, lonely and busy, but still asking yourself “Is this it? Is this what I’m meant to be doing?” Maybe you’ve felt guilty about not being grateful enough for all the good things, and have felt that no matter how you cry out to God, nothing changes. Maybe you have gone to mass and adoration, or prayed at home, hoping to find solace and answers, and received nothing.
I’ve been in this place a few times at different times in my life, so I know it can hit you wherever you are- before a change, after a change, when nothing changes, when you’re a teen, when you’re a single adult, when you’re married, when you're old, when you don’t get what you want, and when you get what you want and realize it’s not what you want. So if you are in this place too, dear reader, I want to offer you encouragement. My husband tells me often, “God thinks a lot of you to be handing you all these challenges.” God thinks a lot of you. He thinks so much of you that He is calling you to a deeper spiritual maturity. Remember that Jesus on the cross was abandoned by nearly everyone he knew and loved. His closest followers deserted him. Among Jesus’ final words were “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus knows the feeling of sadness, overwhelm, suffering, and abandonment. In fact, I dare to suggest that his emotional suffering was even greater than his physical suffering.
And remember that one thing he said that one time: “If you love me you will take up your cross and follow me”? But this isn’t how I imagined the cross. As a child I imagined myself embracing my cross and eventually becoming a martyr for Christ. I imagined myself striving steely-eyed toward every challenge, winning souls for Christ with a fire in my veins. Instead, here I am just trying to keep people alive (especially the baby, who forgets about the laws of gravity frequently in favor of diving for my burning hot cup of coffee.) I am waking up bleary-eyed and finishing the day teary-eyed, giving myself a weary little pat on the back if I get the laundry done (not folded mind you; that is too high a goal. Just washed and dried and sitting in the dryer til I take it out in another three days in the future.) I remember feeling in high school that I could do great things IF ONLY this stupid paper wasn’t due tomorrow for English, and IF ONLY I could just skip that geometry assignment. As a young adult, I felt that my life and my purpose would finally start when I found my husband. I felt like I was wasting time being single. None of this feels noble! Where is the glory and the inner satisfaction of knowing that I can make a difference right now?
I again dare to suggest that it is exactly this feeling of abandonment, and our persisting through it, that is making the difference and accomplishing God’s glory. The multitude of small tasks, the exhaustion, and the lack of worldly glory as we go about living out the state of life to which God is calling us is our path to transforming our souls. As my spiritual director says, “the grass ain’t greener anywhere.”
I felt a strong temptation not to pray the other day. I asked myself, “what’s the point? God’s not listening anyway.” And then I recalled the gospel reading a few days back about the widow who went to the judge and pleaded for justice night and day. Eventually the judge granted her her wish, not because she asked so well the first time, but because she persisted. Even when you live in surrender to God, you are not powerless. You are heard. I write this as much for myself as for you, and I hope it encourages you at exactly the moment when you least want to pray, to pray harder than ever. Tell God “I trust you” in the times when you feel that you cannot go on. Be gentle with yourself and the expectations you have for your life. Most of all, stay close to Jesus. He loves you more than you know. When you persist today with no clear answers that your prayers will be answered, you are braver and stronger than ever before.