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.

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