Sometimes God feels really far away. Like on those days when it feels like the world is falling apart and everything is a mess and oh it’s also a Sunday so you’re “supposed” to drag your butt to church but that is literally the last thing you want to do. Yeah, I get it. That doesn’t go away once you pass the threshold of your mid-twenties or something.
On those days, I can recite to you 39 reasons why church is a good idea and the best thing for my soul but it doesn’t matter… I still won’t feel like going, or feel like praying, or reading scripture, or really anything but lying in my bed scooping nutella into my mouth as rapidly as I can.
And that is normal.
Not the nutella in bed part. That is gross.
It is normal to go through highs and lows in your spiritual life and emotional life. Mountain tops and dark valleys if you will. Everyone experiences it!
I’ve gotten a bunch of emails in the past few years from people who feel like maybe they should give up trying to be catholic because so often they don’t “feel” like God is there or they “feel” like Mass is boring, or they don’t “hear” God in prayer or see writing on the wall (Old testament Bible reference for the scripture nerds out there).
And I say, “yes, welcome to the spiritual life, now how will you be mature about it?”
This is the 2nd week of Advent and in this Sunday’s first reading (bc yes I went to church) from Isaiah 40, God says,
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together…
When I heard this scripture, I thought about those mountains and valleys, those highs and lows in my life. They are making me into a saint. Walking the path of difficulty through the mountains and valleys, that is what makes you stronger and holier and more compassionate and loving to others. If you never, ever had a hardship in your life (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) how would you have a heart soft enough to see the sufferings in others and love them through it? How would you grow in virtue if you never had to practice it? How would you know the glory of God unless sometimes you didn’t see or feel it?
Do you get it? The person with mature faith sees the highs and lows of the spiritual life as the path to sainthood, not the obstacle.
Hillsong has a new Christmas album out and the song “Seasons” speaks of the same idea! Some of the lyrics are:
You’re the God of seasons. I’m just in the winter. If all I know of harvest is that it’s worth my patience. Then if You’re not done working… God, I’m not done waiting.
You see? The shaping of your soul is a lifetime affair, with many different seasons. It’s not a one-and-done winter followed by an endless sunny summertime.
However, understanding the pattern of the path to holiness, those mountaintop moments and the death valley desolation… I’ve begun to see that despite what I feel in my spiritual life… God is there. It is a truth that holds fast regardless of my feelings. And that truth is my cornerstone that holds me together.
You know what the last line of Sunday’s gospel was? Betcha’ don’t because generally it goes in one ear and out the other right? Same. Same.
John the Baptist says in the last line, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
If you are a baptized Christian you have the power of God the Holy Spirit with you and within you. He is the gamechanger here. He is the one who can empower you to see the glory of God all around you no matter what you are feeling or what mountaintop or valley you find yourself in.
Like the verse from Isaiah — the mountains made low, the valleys filled in, the glory of God revealed — this is the reality for the person who remains tapped into the source of the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to flood your soul with grace and give you the eyes to see God through it all.
What I’ve experienced is that through the grace of the Holy Spirit, no matter what high or low I’m in, it can all be evened out when I focus on the glory of God. You have to train your eyes to see the glory of God in everything. In nature, in music, in good food, in friendship, in exercise, in joys and in sorrows, in the natural, normal experience of being human and struggling… His glory is in it all.
And all of it can be lived in order to GIVE Him glory! This doesn’t mean wallowing in the lows of your spiritual life when you “feel” like God doesn’t care. It means going through the motions you know feed your soul — like church, and prayer, and scripture — and doing it not for your own sake, but for the sake of giving God the glory He deserves! For the sake of loving Him! For the sake of being part of a faith community and being there for your brothers and sisters, not just for yourself.
Try to see it this way during the rest of Advent. Try to see that God takes His time. He didn’t save us in an instant, He saved us by sending a child who took a lifetime to accomplish the task. It takes time to grow in virtue. The struggles are normal. Thank God for them.
You Are Enough
Don’t ever forget that okay? You are beautiful and precious and deserve good things — and I can’t tell you that enough! Look I even dedicated a side-bar-box-thing to it. God has a plan and a purpose for your life and He died and rose again because He wants to spend forever with you! Okay, read on. Important reminder over.
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God & Spirituality
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3
If we attach God’s blessing to our fertility and our families it would mean I am more favored by God than the woman next to me who can’t have children. And we know God’s love doesn’t work that way.
And the salt in the wound of my tender millennial christian heart was when the “things” meant more to people than people. When the rosary and the praying of it was more important than looking and seeing your neighbor’s need wasn’t a holy card but a smile and a hug.
So yeah, I’m not the perfect Christian. Not always the loving, well-behaved daughter of God. But He is big enough to handle my big, complicated emotions. He is understanding enough to listen to my angry ranting and raving.