Since I wrote and posted How’s Your Spirituality? last week, I have tried to pay more attention to how I feel about my relationship with Christ, and to how I have shown, through my actions, the value I place on my relationship with Him. I have reflected and tried to assess whether each day has been lush with hope, or spiritually dry from a poor or indifferent attitude, and whether or not there was any particular aspect of my feelings or behavior that I could improve.
For the most part I had a good week. I was happy with the way I had shown charity to others and for the way I kept my cool in some tense situations. But, I felt I could have done better by taking my prayer time more seriously and so I gave my hour of adoration on Monday a little kick in the butt to make up for it.
Then Tuesday rolled around. It started off on a good note but turned into a hectic morning at the office. There was a particular issue that arose, one of those situations where you can choose to do nothing and let the pieces fall where they may, or you can step in and fix it as quickly as possible to stem the bleeding, so to speak. I chose to do the latter. Wrong decision.
Actually, it felt like the right decision for about four hours. Then it turned sour and it became obvious that it had been the wrong one. Big time wrong. It wasn’t like a mortal sin, rather, it was just a major bone-head moment that included poor judgment that resulted in a serious leadership faux-pas that would impact things outside of my realm of responsibility. By the end of the day I was bewildered. I was absolutely convinced when I made the decision that it was the right one and, so, it was disturbing when it finally sunk in how wrong I was. I went home that evening and barely talked to my family. I hardly slept that night. I profusely apologized to my boss the next morning and sincerely hoped that what may have been the worst mistake I had ever made in my career wouldn’t be my last one.
While I was licking my wounds and pondering what went wrong and why, I thought about turning to God and praying for understanding and that things could be made right. But, I just didn’t feel like doing it. I didn’t have the right words or thoughts in me. And, because I didn’t feel I could do the exact thing I knew I ought to do – turn to Him – I felt even more frustrated. I suddenly felt like I had been transported to Yuma, Arizona in the middle of the summer – kind of a spiritually bone-dry desert with no hope of survival.
Then, God-moment number one appeared.
On Wednesday morning, after I had diligently worked all morning to round up the cats and stuff them back in the bag, I took a moment during my lunch break to go to a blog site I visit from time to time by Father Robert Barron, founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. The subject of his blog post for the day, believe it or not, was “How should we address spiritually dry periods?”
He quoted Sir Winston Churchill when he was asked by someone, “What do you do when you’re going through Hell?” to which Churchill responded by saying, “You keep going!” You get through it, and get it behind you.
Fr. Barron went on to say that when God draws us in, he allows us to feel uplifted, excited and enthusiastic about the experience. But then, God will often withdraw that feeling from us to show us that we’re not supposed to fall in love with the experience, we’re meant to fall in love with Him.
According to Fr. Barron, God puts us in a desert that can feel like a time of pure desolation. So, what do you do? You hang in there, you keep going, you don’t give up, you get through it. You keep your eyes focused on God, not on your good feelings or your bad feelings.
He used the analogy of a marriage. After the wedding day, the euphoria goes away. You’re not supposed to fall in love with your feelings, you’re supposed to fall in love with each other, through good times and bad, for better or for worse, and so on. “It’s the same way with religion, you’re either in the garden or you’re in the desert. But, that’s life. You keep your eyes focused on God.”
This was a whole new perspective worth considering. I had to ask myself if, in the newness of my faith, I have been in love with the feeling and with the activity of being Christian? I truly love being Catholic, but am I truly loving, and keeping my eyes focused on, God?
Enter God-moment number two.
After leaving Fr. Barron’s blog site, I continued to surf around on-line. I came across a passage from the book That Tremendous Love by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. To be honest, I didn’t, and still don’t, know much about Archbishop Sheen but I have often seen references to him and to profound things he’s said. I thought I would finally actually read something attributed to him so I read the passage:
“At the beginning one loves God for only his gifts or for the emotions He sends us. He treats us then, ‘like a young woman who is being courted.’ If gifts are no longer given in abundance after true marriage has occurred it is not because the husband’s love is less, but because it is greater. For now he gives himself. It is not the husband’s gifts that his wife loves nor his compliments, nor even the thrill of pleasure she gets from his company. She loves him. The moment the Lover is loved for Himself, then the nature of the gifts ceases to matter. If God withdraws all sensible gifts it is only because He wants the union between the soul and Himself to be more personal and less dependent on His generosity.”
Now, what do you think the chances were that I would, in the state of mind that I was in at the moment, find not one but two articles, in two totally separate locations on the internet, directly related to my acute spiritual condition of the day? Slim to none is my first guess. No, I believe God intended for me to find those. He intended for me to ponder our relationship and for me to ask if I was in love with him or if I was in love with the feeling of being new in Him. He was telling me I need to focus on Him even when I feel small and incapable of doing so. He was telling me to not give up when the going gets tough and the environment gets dry, but to keep on going and to turn to Him for help. He was telling me it’s nicer in the garden than it is in the desert.
Where are you, in the Garden or in the Desert?
“O my God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me … Therefore, I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost I will not fear, for You are always with me, O my dear God.” – Thomas Merton
(The post, “Are You in the Garden or in the Desert?” first appeared in Reflections of a Lay Catholic.)
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