Friday, February 17, 2017

Don’t Look Back



Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Look down upon my sorrows and rescue me, for I am obeying your commands. Yes, rescue me and give me back my life again just as you have promised. (Psalm 119:153 NLT)
When I read this verse, I was stopped by six simple words:
Give me back my life again.
 I immediately prayed, “No, Lord. Answer my prayers, but please don’t give me back my life.”
My old life? Was very cushy.
I lived overseas. I flew to Dubai for weekends on the beach when I needed a break. Or Paris, where one day sitting at an outdoor café I decided the cure to my blue mood was an expensive purse. Or a month island hopping off the coast of Croatia.
I had a closet full of the latest fashions. I met friends for dinners and drinks several times a week.
I had it all, and I was miserable. When my bouts of depression became too much to bear, I’d head off on another trip, another shopping spree, always in pursuit of more to fill the emptiness in my heart.
Ironically, during this period I attended Mass weekly, I met Pope John Paul when he came to the country where I lived. I considered my relationship with God to be in good standing and patted myself on the back for being a pious Christian.
My life is laughably more modest today. That expensive purse sits unused in a closet. My shoe purchases are snow boots. I take pleasure in knitting my own sweaters in winter and sewing colorful skirts in summer.
In the past year of writing this column, and attending St. Mary’s church, I’ve been humbled by how little I understand my Catholic faith, and how superficial my relationship with God has been.
I’ve struggled with finding full-time employment and a permanent home. Yet, strangely, I am happier here than I have ever been in my life.
How can that be possible?
I believe it is because this time has drawn me closer to God. I spend more time in prayer, reading the Bible, attending Mass.  I am learning that faith can have depths we never dreamed of only after the bottom has been taken away.
Yes, there are nights of tears. Days of tears. Weeks wondering why nothing seems to change no matter how many doors I knock on and the answer remains, ‘no’.
At this darkest, most desperate point we must persist. This is where real growth begins.
Persist in our prayers, persist in pursuing God. And our dream.     
These might sound like empty platitudes, except they are truths won through experience.
People I admire who have gone through extreme trials have shared the transformative gift of this time. During the pain, they turned to God and found consolation, but most of all as they surrendered to God’s wisdom and his will for the outcome of the impossible situation, they found inexpressible moments of grace and mercy in God’s presence that they’d never experienced before.
When things were most uncertain, when they didn’t know if the outcome would be positive or lasting, when everything was stripped away, seemed to be the instant when God stepped in and created the deepest bond.
Perhaps it is in the rare moment of extreme vulnerability that God’s presence can finally be perceived through layers of self.
All of this might be difficult to read, much less believe if you are going through a dark time. But I am sharing the experience of myself so that you can understand that others have been where you are today.
And not only survived, but thrived.
And once the battle scars healed, and the heart mended, they will tell you that the person they have become is something they would never trade. It is a growth that could not have happened otherwise. Where before they passed you over because of your shortcomings, they will choose you for your strengths.
The pain, the desolation, the darkness was the necessary soil that held and nourished the dormant bulb that became a flower.
You too will grow. Your priorities will change. You will become more compassionate, more loving, more patient with yourself and others. You will realize your strength and beauty.

When you have come through the other side of this trial, you will not ask to return to the life you had before, or the person you were then. You will see yourself in a new light. You will see that you have become the incredible person God meant you to be.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

When you are lonely but afraid to admit it




In grade school, I was a troublemaker.
When our math teacher warned that the next person who spoke would be kicked out of the test, I was compelled to ask if he meant ‘now’.  
During French class, sounding like a crazed Julia Child, I asked loudly and repeatedly, “Ou est le salle de bain?” Although surely I knew the bathroom was across the hall.
I excelled at making my classmates laugh. Which might lead you to believe that I was beloved by all.
Nothing was further from the truth. I was so lonely that I joined the swim team so I could earn the right to sit at the popular kids table during lunch.
Although I became a state swimming champion and received an athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan, I never made it to the popular table.
Even now, so many years later, people often confuse my ready smile with ease and extroversion. But my closest friends recognize when I’ve retreated into my house for too long and need to be called back into the world.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)
Loneliness is insidious and invisible to the casual observer.
I take it for granted in my own life, but recently I was surprised to find it surface in friends who I assumed were surrounded and nourished by loved ones.
But that’s the mask of loneliness.
It hides behind busy-ness. Your lovely friend who volunteers for every committee, the one who is known as a people-connector, or the quiet one who smiles and nods as we sit around a table talking not noticing her silence.
Being lonely has nothing to do with being alone.
It is all too often that after an evening spent with friends, I come home and realize that the blue dog of loneliness has slipped into the house behind me and is now curled at my feet as I turn on the TV and pick up my knitting.
Or at the end of a meal, just as companionable conversation begins to approach real intimacy, we glance at our watches, pay the check, and reach for our coats.
We don’t do it on purpose. We don’t notice the nudge of need, except for that closing of our throats as we try to tell someone how we’re doing.
But we stop ourselves, embarrassed at the burden of our vulnerability.
We are in the company of friends so how could we feel lonely?
But recall, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. He knew what he faced and so he asked his disciples, his closest friends, to wait with him, to keep him company on his last night on Earth, on the last night before he would suffer unspeakable pain and degradation.
He was only gone an hour, not more, just a short time to pray and ask his father if this cup of suffering could be taken away. He knew the answer, of course it could not.
He returned to his friends and found them asleep.
Alone and heartbroken. Jesus understood he would face the darkness alone.
(And therefore you must share your loneliness with Jesus. He understands your desolation and despair. His heart will hold your pain and replace it with love.)
Companionship is when we share a meal, a walk through snowy woods, a movie.
Intimacy is manna from heaven created for souls to find in each other and in our relationship with God.
Which loneliness seeks to devour. It isolates us and tells the lie that we are no longer loved or needed. That the one who died or left us was the only one who could save us. It builds walls around us so that all we hear is the echo of our emptiness.
But loneliness is a paper tiger. Easily, effortlessly destroyed with time and attention.
The most effective weapons against loneliness are unremarkable.
Looking someone in the eye when they speak to us.
Listening without interruption, without hurrying to make a comparison.   
Giving the gift of undivided attention. Asking how they are doing and waiting for more, after they tell us they are fine.
It’s not easy to open our heart to the loneliness of another person because we might unearth our own.
We want to skate across the surface of our relationships. And most of the time that is all we need.
But we should open our heart to seeing a friend or acquaintance who may on occasion, if only for an hour, need the soul-linking of real conversation. To know they are seen and heard, and no longer invisible.
Time and attention are the blade of our most fearsome weapon. Love.
And when we are the one who is lonely, we must gather our courage and reach out. Find our most trusted friend and say, “I am lonely, can we talk?”
And know that it is okay, because. We are all lonely. We are all afraid of the dark. We are all souls longing for connection.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


   


Thursday, February 9, 2017

God calls us to step out of our comfort zone



I work from home as a writer. Which suits me just fine since I am a confirmed introvert. I'm happier working on my own. 
Like most introverts, being around people is both exhilarating and exhausting. I enjoy the companionship of my friends, but at the end of the day out, I relish going home and being alone.
The other day I was reading the assigned passage in the Lectio Divina Journal and was stopped short because I felt that God was calling me out of my comfort zone with these words:
I know how much you trust the Lord, just as your mother Eunice and your grandmother Lois do; and I feel sure you are still trusting him as much as ever.
This being so, I want to remind you to stir into flame the strength and boldness[a]that is in you, that entered into you when I laid my hands upon your head and blessed you. For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.
If you will stir up this inner power, you will never be afraid to tell others about our Lord or to let them know that I am your friend even though I am here in jail for Christ’s sake. You will be ready to suffer with me for the Lord, for he will give you strength in suffering. (2 Timothy 1:5-8)
I love writing my weekly Fatih column for The Summit Daily News or blogging about my walk of faith. 
But if you were to ask me to share my faith with someone in person, I would find it incredibly difficult and uncomfortable. 
On the other hand, my mother seeks opportunities to share her faith with strangers every day. She's an extrovert and thrives on meeting new people. But when she is called on to write down an experience of her faith journey she is overcome with self-doubt.
Yet that is what I believe God calls me and you and others to do each day. 
God calls us to step out of our comfort zone, to do the thing that is difficult or uncomfortable. Not because God enjoys watching us struggle, but because he knows that we will grow stronger as individuals and in our faith when we try new things.
No, it doesn't get easier for me to step into new territory, but I am more willing to risk embarrassment or failure because I know that it will help me to expand my horizons and grow. 
Where is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone?