My God, I am Thine for time and eternity. Teach me to cast myself entirely into the arms of Thy loving providence with the most lively, unlimited confidence in Thy compassionate, tender pity.
(From the Suscipe of Ven. Catherine McAuley)
The night of January 1st, I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind kept replaying things I’d done wrong in the convent. Over and over and over again. And then it hit me that it’s no longer 2015 and that I no longer have a prayer partner in the community, since their tradition is to assign a prayer partner for the year on New Year’s Eve. It felt as thought someone had punched me in the gut. My last real connection, the last concrete evidence of having belonged to the community was gone. It hurt so badly that I couldn’t breathe … so I asked the Lord to use my pain to bless someone who really needed it and wound up praying for a close friend of mine. And then I just curled up in Our Lord’s arms and sobbed.
“It hurts – IT HURTS – oh please make it stop hurting! …But until then, use my pain to help someone else.”
As I cried, an image of Jesus, beaten and bloody after the Scourging, came into my mind. And I realized that this pain, this feeling torn apart, this sorrow and mourning and loss, this is my cross right now. Here is where I am in union with the Lord. And it hurts terribly … but He is holding me. For:
“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In love He destined us for adoption to Himself…” (Eph 1:4-5, emphasis added)
He loves me. His plan for me is love. And He is making me holy. He has chosen me, and the gift and the call of God are irrevocable.
I could’t have said that when I first returned home three months and three weeks ago. When I first came home, I wasn’t even sure I believed God had a plan for me at all, much less that it was good. When my spiritual director asked me back in November if I believed that God desired my happiness, I couldn’t answer him. I knew intellectually that, yes, God desires everyone’s happiness and that He has a plan for each person and that His plan is good. But I didn’t believe it for myself. Not really.
And when I admitted that to him, my spiritual director told me I needed to pray for an increase in faith. Faith?! I remember thinking at the time. But I have faith – I believe in God and I go to Mass and I pray. I don’t need an
increase in faith. But Father explained that faith, one of the theological virtues, wasn’t just belief in God: it was belief or trust that God has a plan for me, that He is good, that He loves and cares about me, that He truly listens to me. Oh. Well, that’s a little different. I guess I’d never thought about it like that.
He told me that I needed to begin my daily holy hour begging God for an increase of faith. He also reminded me that I had to put effort in, too – I had to hold up my end of the bargain by making acts of faith. He encouraged me to go back to times in my life where God answered my prayers and to actively call those to mind as I prayed.
“Okay, Lord, I don’t really feel this right now, but I’m going to choose to believe that You have a plan for me and that You love me and that You’re still calling me to follow You – and that You will answer my prayers for increased faith. You have answered my prayers in the past – as I tried to decide where to go to college, as I discerned with different religious communities, as I struggled with obedience in the convent, and even… even when I begged You to give me the grace to stay or to let me know clearly whether I should leave. You have answered my prayers, so I choose to believe that You will continue to do so. I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”
At the beginning, my acts of faith were hesitant and usually came only after I’d spent time crying over the Gospel reading or despairing of His love for me. But as I stuck with it, I was amazed to find my heart changing. Advent and Christmas were very difficult for me emotionally, as everything seemed to remind me of the convent and my former community. But somehow, even through the pain, the acts of faith became easier to make, and I suddenly found myself successfully fighting temptations to despair with faith. Not that the temptations stopped, but when they started, I had the strength to pull back and say “No! I’m not going to give in this time! I choose to run towards God, trusting in His mercy and compassion and His love for me. I choose not to believe the lie that He is no longer calling me, that He doesn’t want me, that He wants me to be in pain.”
The difference is incredible – it’s a level of faith and confidence that I have never had before. And it’s made the grief bearable. It’s made me able to look beyond my pain and recognize the opportunity to offer it in union with Our Lord on behalf of someone else. It’s turned depression and hopelessness into something constructive and life-giving. It’s given me a way to hope even while I suffer.
I share this praying that it might help lift someone else’s burden of sorrow just a little and that it might give hope to those of us (me included) who are still waking up crying in the middle of the night after having dreamt of the convent or those of us unable to fall asleep for grief over having left. I can’t say for sure that the pain will go away (I’m not there yet, although I think some of the other LL members may be able to attest to it), but it is possible to believe and hope again even while it hurts. And this faith, this hope truly can give us the strength to carry this cross in union with the Lord who loves us.
I guess the question is: Will you ask Him for faith?