You know you’ve reached the end of your ability to hide your fears when the tears begin to flow as you sit in your car in the parking lot of the post office.
You know you no longer have the strength to worry what strangers think about you when you walk into the post office with eyes red from crying and cheeks wet from tears.
And when you are back in your car alone again, you let out a sob and cover your mouth because you are afraid that if you start crying you may never stop.
And what will people think?
You drive away, and you hear a voice in your head saying, “God loves you.”
It’s difficult to keep going when nothing seems to change.
But keep going.
God has promised that he hears our prayers, that he will dry our tears, that he knows our needs.
Today plant your seeds, tend your crop, and in God’s time you will discover your harvest.
Don’t give up. God loves you.
God has not forgotten you.
“Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The most compelling evidence for the existence of God is this simple quote by Saint Augustine. We might call our restless heart by different names: our search for meaning, our desire for significance, the fuel that drives our accumulation of money and power, but I believe it is our soul longing for its creator.
I feel so strongly about this metaphor that I included it my last novel, A Map of Heaven. My main character travels to hell and is surprised when instead of fire and brimstone, she discovers a place of absolute silence and cold darkness. When she askes a woman standing nearby, the woman explains:
“If God is described as the light of the world, then I can only conclude that hell would be the absence of light. Our souls know there is a God, even if we spend our conscious lives denying His existence. The soul understands the unbearable torture of forever being separated from its Creator. This isolation where the singular craving is for unification, becomes the eternal torment that is more unbearable than any punishment. After all, one can assume that a flame might ultimately consume itself, whereas longing lasts forever.”
That longing lives within us until we find communion with God and experience his love. It is only in God that our restless hearts can rest. Otherwise, we spend our days trying to silence our longing with food and drink and money and sex and power. None of it works.
Pope Francis defined St. Augustine’s restlessness, our restlessness, as: “the restlessness of spiritual seeking, the restlessness of the encounter with God, the restlessness of love.”
The restlessness of spiritual seeking is what we find in the hundreds of names we have for God. The myriad religions, spiritual practices, we may have dabbled in throughout our lives. As a college student, I sought God as I read books on Eastern spiritual teachings, New Age books, and visited countless churches. Eventually I found my home in the Catholic Church.
But I still lacked a personal encounter with God and an intimate understanding of God’s love for me. Recently, I told a friend that although I’ve been a Christian my entire life, it feels as if only in the past year have I begun to encounter and experience the richness of life with God. A life of faith.
What changed between then and now? I believe it happened when encountering God became a daily priority in my life. Spending a few minutes in prayer in the morning. Seeking God as I read the Bible each day. Father Michael once suggested we keep a Bible next to the place we sit down each morning and spend just a minute or two reading a few verses from one of the Gospels. As we walk out the door to begin our day, reflecting on what we’ve read, we ask God to show us Himself as we move through our day.
These briefest encounters create a thirst for more of God, which grows each day. “As a deer pants for water, so my soul longs for you, O Lord.”
At the center of of this longing for God is the most essential: we must experience God’s love. It sounds easy, and for some it is, yet I have often found it elusive. My easy ability to condemn myself causes me to doubt that God could love a wretch like me. My doubt is akin to turning my back on God’s open embrace, not realizing that the antidote for this emptiness is Love. Pure love doesn’t see our flaws as we see them. We were created by the source of love to be loved. God’s love for us cannot be anything but love, because God is nothing but love.
If we are to walk with Jesus to the Cross, we must experience Jesus doing this as love poured out for us. Each step being love freely given. Let’s endeavor to walk so closely with Jesus that our pain is consumed in the flame of his heart, so we are freed to experience his perfect love. Let’s offer our restless hearts to God and rest in his love for us.
My 55th birthday is in March. Which means I’ve been planning the festivities since January. Do you know what else I’m planning for in March?
Lent! I love Lent!
While some will spend Wednesday, March 1st nursing the aftereffects of Mardi Gras, I will head to Mass at 8 a.m. for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of my forty-day journey toward Easter.
Like my March birthday, I’ve been thinking about Lent for weeks. I can’t wait to get started and to share the Lenten journey with you.
You might ask why I’m talking about Lent today when it doesn’t begin until Wednesday? Well, like my birthday, important events should be planned for in advance.
I don’t want you to reach the beginning of Lent and be caught by surprise. I don’t want you to make some lame pronouncement like, “Well, I guess I’ll give up chocolate again this year,” without thinking about the true meaning and value of Lent.
Lent is not a diet plan.
Lent was not thought up by the Seafood Council of America.
Lent is not a conspiracy to force you to go to church more than once a week for no reason, so that you end up resenting church so much by Easter, that you don’t darken the door again until Christmas Eve.
When I was in my thirties I had a best friend, such a kindred spirit that we were like sisters. We had a standing Saturday evening itinerary that consisted of a sushi dinner, then coffee at the bookstore, and finally shoe shopping. Every week. Our conversations were always the same and we knew exactly what to say to make the other one laugh. It was lovely.
But, as these things happen, over the years we moved to different parts of the country and lost touch. Oh, we’d reconnect from time to time, but it was never quite the same.
I believe our relationship with Jesus can feel a lot like this.
In our hearts, we know we love Jesus, but things get in the way. We rush to get out the door in the morning. Then spend the day running from one appointment to another. By the time we get home, we’re so tired we’re lucky if we eat dinner in front of the television and then stumble back to bed to begin the entire cycle six hours later.
And as with that friend we promise to call, but never do, our relationship with God becomes a fond memory.
I like to believe that God provided Lent to give us a chance to re-connect with our real best friend, God himself. Which is why I want us to think about the next forty days in a new way.
Instead of giving up something for Lent, join me in leaning in for Lent. Let’s spend the next forty days pursuing our most important relationship, the one we have with God through his son, Jesus Christ. Let’s approach it in the same way we would if we were re-kindling a relationship with a long-lost friend.
Where to start?
Instead of picking up the phone, speak out loud with God. Share what’s on your heart. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing, God welcomes your honesty.
If you want a model to follow, try the outline of the Lord’s prayer:
- Give thanks to God for everything in your life and for your heavenly father.
- Ask for your needs, your daily bread.
- Ask God to forgive your shortcomings, just as you forgive others in your life.
- Pray that God will keep you safe as you go through the world.
- Finish by thanking God again and acknowledging that his is the power, the glory, and honor, forever. Amen!
If you believe that spending five minutes with God each morning can’t make a difference, try it for the next 40 days and see what happens. Imagine how happy you would feel if you received a phone call every morning from someone you loved, for no reason, except they wanted to say hello and wish you a good day. That’s a glimpse of how wonderful your brief prayer feels to God.
Let’s start right here. Let’s journey with Jesus for the next forty days. Let’s see ourselves walking toward God, toward a closer relationship that will change our lives forever.
Let’s start now.
During the coming weeks of Lent, I will share my Lenten journey to a closer relationship with God. I hope you will share yours, too. Write to me, tell me how it’s going.
As for my big 55th birthday celebration? I’m heading home to Florida, borrowing a friend’s beach condo, and spending a week with Mom. Sounds perfect.
Ash Wednesday Services
St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Breckenridge)
6:30 a.m., 8a.m., 6:30pm
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church (Silverthorne)
St. John’s Episcopal Church (Breckenridge)
8 :15am, 12:00pm, 5:30pm, 7pm
Father Dyer United Methodist Church (Breckenridge)
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.