Everyone assumes everyone else has got it together and they are the only ones suffering. But the more I live (not so subtle reference to my wisdom-laden thirty years), the more I find that we are not alone, that the human condition is really pretty similar.
The particular human situation I refer to is that of disappointment, or major setbacks in life, of dreams that come tumbling down, or life just not turning out the way you thought it was going to. Either this sounds like an overused homily to you, or you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you are going through it right now.
You did everything right, you worked hard, you got your degree, you applied for jobs, you even went for interviews. And yet here you are, unemployed, and waiting, waiting. This was not how life was supposed to turn out. This was not where you thought you would be at this stage of your life.
Or you were working on your dream project, the culmination of your hard work, brainstorming, focus, determination, blood, sweat and tears... It seems inspired by God, you followed His leading... and then CRASH! It all falls flat. It's sabotaged, destroyed. It's all gone down in flames and you can't understand why. Why?
Or you were in a relationship that seemed like IT, the one you were waiting for your whole life. Everything seemed right, all the signs seemed to point to this being The One. You looked ahead, and said "Yes. I think I'm ready to say forever." And then something changed. He didn't want the same thing. She wasn't the person you thought she was. Family interfered. And he accepted it. And now you're alone, all those dreams crashing and burning.
Or you found the person to marry, you went through all the things everyone does- you spent months planning a wedding, receiving the congratulations and well-meaning platitudes from all one hundred and sixty seven of your aunties and cousins and coworkers, you received the gifts, and moved into the new home, and you started this rosy life with so much anticipation... and now it's not what you thought it would be, because of the painful gut-wrenching experience of infertility. Or anxiety. Or depression. Or unfaithfulness. Or a spouse with deep unresolved anger issues.
Or you had it all, the dream did come true, but then so did unexpected and crippling loss in the form of a miscarriage, or your spouse or a child dying.
Where do you go from here? How can you go on when your chest is tight and your stomach hurts and you've forgotten what it feels like to be excited about the future?
Stop comparing. The burden of social expectation is too heavy to bear, and anyway God hasn't even asked you to carry it. Facebook makes it seem like everyone has the thing that you don't- the perfect job, the romantic spouse, the exotic getaways, the picture perfect children, the close, bonding family get-togethers. But you just don't know. Nobody has exactly the life they hoped they would have. So many have hidden sorrows. Each one has their own apportioned sorrows, and their own particular consolations. So you're not left behind. Everyone is at different places, but they have their own journey to make.
Accept that it's okay to feel hurt and confused: I read a beautiful reflection from Bishop Robert Barron about Saint Joseph- 'Joseph had become betrothed to Mary and this union had been blessed by God. And then he finds that his betrothed is pregnant. This must have been an emotional maelstrom for him. And at a deeper level, it is a spiritual crisis. What does God want him to do?' Saint JOSEPH was confused? He must have gone through an EMOTIONAL MAELSTROM??!! If saints can have deep pain and questioning, then we can too. It doesn't mean you need to get your act together. Sometimes it's okay to just feel pain... just allow God to hold you as you pummel his chest and cry your eyes out.
Reject unnecessary guilt, blame and over-analyzing: Pain doesn't mean you messed up. Pain doesn't have to be someone's fault. Sometimes it is. And if it is, come before God with a contrite heart, beg His (and anyone else's) forgiveness, and move forward. Make the changes you need to get your life back in order. But a LOT of the time, disappointment, suffering, and pain just happen because we live in a broken world, and that's part of the human condition. No matter how much you try, you can't avoid pain. So stop blaming yourself. And stop blaming everyone else.
Okay this one is the hardest:
Don't believe that just because you can't see the big picture. there isn't one: Continuing the Joseph story: 'Then the angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” He realizes at that moment that these puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.'
You heard that?
These puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s.
Your particular puzzling and painful event is part of some greater plan of God's. What could it be? Like Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof, "Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?" Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were to get what I want, for my life to play out the way I hoped it would?
Well, that's where you have to take the big leap of faith and say- I am not God. God is God. I don't get it. But I am weak, helpless, with a limited perspective. I've been wrong about many things before. So maybe it's possible I'm wrong in thinking THIS particular outcome was the perfect way my life should have gone. God draws beauty out of brokenness. Sometimes we get glimpses of it- "Oh, THAT'S why You allowed that. How perfect." But sometimes we have to wait a long time to see it.
Choose to hope: Not about the thing that has been left behind, but about the future. Bishop Robert Barron again: "Jesus wants to cast a consuming fire on the earth. Not because he delights in seeing us suffer; rather, he wants to burn away all that is opposed to God’s desire for us. He has to clear the ground before something new can be built." God is doing something in you (if you are allowing Him into your suffering). He is burning away old attachments, dependence on particular outcomes. He is shaking up comfortable notions about the stability of this world, because He wants to give us more than just this world. He has something more, something new! I know, it's hard to believe sometimes.
But if you are a Christian, we DO believe in happy endings. Just not necessarily in the exact way we thought it would be. Bishop Barron: "Christians are basically and irrevocably an optimistic people, believers in the divine comedy—in good times and bad, in success and failure. I always think of Thomas Merton in this context, telling one of his novices to get rid of his long face—and meaning it as a positive command. Christians have no business moping around...the overwhelmingly good news is that we have been saved through the mighty power of God, and that's the reason why we are an essentially joyful people."
Allow yourself to be led: Bishop Barron: 'Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.' Now what? Now seek Him. Spend time in silent prayer, in an Adoration chapel. Lay it all before Him, and ask HIM the question: "Now what?" He will not only quiet your heart, and the loud voices shouting that this is a disaster, that this suffering is too much, that you can't handle it. But He will also guide. He promised to. Should you make a change, start something new, take a new direction? Should you get help? It may not be a voice from heaven, or dreams and visions like for Saint Joseph. It may even be just circumstances changing, doors closing, other ones opening. But He will show you. Let go of the resentment, the resistance, and go with the flow.
Build your life on the truth that God alone suffices: 'Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.' -St. Teresa of Avila. Can it be true? That as good and beautiful as the many joys of this world are- successful projects, the intimacy of a happy marriage, the satisfaction of raising a family, of seeing the fruit of your hard work, a steady paycheck and a fulfilling job... all those things are passing away. And nothing will remain but love, and the God of Love. So don't hold on too tightly to the things that pass. One thing remains. And if He is all that we have for the rest of our earthly lives, He is more than enough.
I'm praying for all those of you who are going through a hard time this month.