A Struggle of Faith in Crisis

Faith has never been something that’s come easily for me. Perhaps it is better said, it’s trust -trust in God and in his help and mercy- that has never come easily. I’m not saying that as something of which I am particularly proud, nor am I ashamed. It’s just something that happens to be, well, “it is what it is”.

I’ve always admired (and stood in a little bit of wonder and bewilderment) at my friends who are so incredibly on fire in their faith and in their trust in God at every step….through good (which is understandable enough), bad (understandable, if perhaps in a slightly diminished sense), and even the horrible (this one astonishes me). Nothing and no one can shake them from their faith, from their trust in the love and mercy of God- even when it seems as though He isn’t listening or seems to have completely checked out of the scene. This level of faith and trust is something that amazes me, and leaves me wishing I could be so on fire- especially when dealing with the life-threatening illness of my child.

I have no clue as to how to achieve an unbreakable, unshakable faith / trust on the level that I see (and would love to attain). I just don’t get it. I do, however strive to reach that height, to make that manner of faith and trust my very own. I slowly chip away at the concrete with which I’ve managed to encase my heart and soul over the years- sometimes, I can see the progress. In other times, I realize I’m much farther back from where I started. The key is, I pick up again and start edging forward. And even in this, I am not perfect. I have spent recent months just mired in place, mostly angry at God for what’s come about than surrendering to any semblance of trust and being hopeful (in His even being there, let alone in His mercy and help)…..and forget any idea of being thankful. Thankful for what, my child’s suffering? The impossible situation in which my wife and I found ourselves? I became blind in my despair.

Things had become overwhelming, and even though I was still in touch with family and friends, I was starting to feel rather isolated in matters. Out of the blue, a monk with whom I’m friends on social media reached out and offered a simple reminder that he was there (along with his brethren) and praying for my child and family. Suddenly, the seeds of faith and trust I had unwittingly planted over the years before crisis struck began to offer up shoots. Some of the shadows that had me wallowing in despondency and self-pity lifted, and I was able to slowly regain a bit of my lost footing. I began to pray again, and to find myself trusting (however minimally) in God’s mercy.

It has been and continues to be a long road….but on reflection, I can see the progress I’ve made (as well as the setbacks) along the way, in building up a faith and trust of the sort I see in my unshakable friends. Will I ever get to their level or anywhere close to it? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that I *never* will if I stop trying to reach that goal. Even if I just inch along and have to restart from a few feet or miles previously walked, I know I need to keep moving forward as best as I can- in so doing, faith and trust becomes increasingly made manifest within me, and the concrete shell around my heart and soul slowly cracks and sheds its flakes, pebbles, and sometimes bricks.

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Your Sons Are Watching You.

A week or so ago (as I am writing this), I was driving in the car with my sons- the eldest is ten, the youngest is a mere toddler. I was exhausted from a preceding difficult week and a lack of sleep (thanks to back discomfort- old injuries reminding themselves that they are still with me). Needless to say, I was a little more on the grumpier side than usual, and was quicker to impatience with a few instances of careless drivers. Instead of using the opportunity to exercise charity and reserve, I was annoyed and grumbly to put it mildly. While I wasn’t screaming and flipping anyone off, I mumbled less-than-charitable thoughts to myself in the circumstances that arose -or so I thought (to myself), anyway.

A few days passed, and in talking with my wife, she made mention of my mumblings. As it turned out, the utterances that I thought were between “me, myself, and I” were in truth overheard by my eldest (who, after all was sitting right next to me), and he had spoken of it to her in the course of passing conversation. I was embarrassed- she and I had a brief discussion about it, which closed with her words that I used in the title of this post: “(don’t forget), your sons are watching you”.

We are all human, we are all fallen by nature, and no matter how straight the course for which we strike, we are going to veer, stumble, or fall down a time or many. None of us are perfect, nor will we ever be in this waking world. On that same note, we can never be Christ, but should always strive to be Christ-like. It doesn’t matter how often we veer, stumble, or mess up. What matters is that we keep trying, that we keep moving forward.

Your sons are watching you.

So too, are your daughters. Your children are watching and learning from your example. While we may have our less-than-spectacular moments in life, we should always try to keep that fact in mind, to let it be among our guiding thoughts. We need to be as best an example of what it means to be a Catholic man / father / husband as we are able to be. There is plenty out there to tempt our children away from their Catholic foundation, to set lower bars of expectation, and to form the groundworks of base behaviors and behavior patterns. We need to be the light in the darkness, to be a shining -Catholic- example to which our children can aspire. Can we expect a sense of charity and caring for our fellow man (friend and foe alike) to awaken and live within them if it’s not what we ourselves are demonstrating in their company? Can we really expect them to put any stock in even being a Catholic (over the long haul of years) if we aren’t living out the joy of our faith and resting in its strength? Talk is cheap. The proof is in the deed, in how we actually conduct our lives. We must always do our best to be the Catholic role model(s) on which the standards of our children are founded. We need to be a “constant” and actively lead our children to Christ in living example, through not only our actions but also in the manner of our expression(s). We can’t expect them to cleave to that which we seemingly do not adhere ourselves. Always remember: your sons (and daughters!) are watching you.

Disappointment

Life is full of disappointments. Some, we readily shrug off and forget. Others seem to linger, or even to take deep and firm root within our hearts. In one regard, this is only natural- we look back on our lives and smile at the moments and choices that resulted in satisfactions, but we also regret those certain decisions we’ve made or perhaps had failed to make. With this latter especially, we may set our minds to wondering about “what might have been”, “if only…..” and other such ponderings that leave us mired in our disappointment(s) and longing for an imaginary present (stemming from an imaginary past)- This is particularly true when things aren’t going quite to our plans or in line with our efforts, or when we’ve hit a notably rough patch of road on the going.

The real problem isn’t being disappointed. Rather, it is in our lingering or dwelling upon our disappointments where the problem lies. When we dwell on the fantasies of “what might have been, if only……” or we concentrate so much of our time and emotional energy on the situation /  person / thing of disappointment, we not only lose the moment which God has given us (and one, I may add, we will never have again once it passes from the present), but we lose our sense of peace. We lose any manifestation of the inner stillness with which we are blessed when we are otherwise concentrated on  regrets. We miss out on the real beauty of the lives which God has given us, and we lose touch with the mere joy of living. Granted, it doesn’t mean that we are always going to be leaping and dancing, laughing, and full of smiles as in some dreamy, utopian sort of “heaven on earth”. Instead, the joy we have within is a gift of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows us the strength of spirit to accept the challenges, difficulties, and even pain that will come our way in this fallen world. It allows us to experience these things, and have the conviction to move through them in faith, fully trusting in God’s mercy.

The enemy of our souls would love nothing more than for us to lose our focus on God, to disconnect from the knowledge and trust of his mercy, to lose sight of the greater goal for that which occupies the immediate. Every bump in the road is a chance to become misled into that dim forest of despondency, wandering among the underbrush of our disappointments, which tear at our clothes and flesh like the sharp thorns of tangled briars. Life is all too short and it is easy to waste what little moments we are afforded in clinging to regrets. We must remain watchful and focused, giving but a fleeting notice to a moment of disappointment or regret- these moments will come and will naturally catch our attention. However, we must not tarry there, but instead engage our will by the grace and mercy of God to let such moments go. Otherwise, we blindly fall into the enemy’s trap, and are led astray in the bleakness of our bitter thoughts. We are then made more vulnerable to his urgings, to be more easily turned from the love and grace of God. In this, we are robbed of our joy, and kept from the wholeness of heart and mind that keeps us on the path to salvation.