In Lieu of Silver Linings

There has been a lot of talk about looking for silver linings in the Time of Coronavirus 2020. The pandemic is affecting everybody, to varying degrees. There is fear, there is anxiety, and there is boredom and frustration. Those of us who can are working from home, schools are closed, and, for those of us who are parents, the family home has become a kind of petri dish in which the flaws and strengths of our relationships are coming into sharp focus. It’s not easy. On media and social media, one quickly gets the impression that many people are experiencing a deep sense of foreboding and a deep-seated fear in the face of marked uncertainty. To counterbalance the “doom and gloom,” many are looking for silver linings, such as increased family time, a forced slowing down, or even, as I read somewhere, the opportunity to look our fears squarely in the eye.

I attended an online conference for Catholic women this past weekend and we received some amazing advice on facing current circumstances, including from Kimberly Hahn. She said we need always to remember that although it’s good to make plans, we must always make them with the caveat “God willing.” God’s will for many of us right now is to stay home, to thank Him and praise Him for all that He is permitting to happen, to trust that joy is ours even in the midst of sorrow (the Paschal Mystery!). So I’ve decided I need to work less on seeing a silver lining and more on seeing the Light of Christ Who is already here.

It’s not always easy. One moment I am inspired and hopeful, but winds change and the next moment my heart is heavy with grief. But the Light of Christ seems to be a theme in my life right now:

A few nights ago, I was enveloped in grief, the grief of losing my son, but not only that: the loss of formative years for me establishing a good family rhythm, a secure and happy home, etc. Instead, I was emotionally volatile, I spent a lot of time lying down and ignoring my living child and household duties thanks to depression, and I was in such great pain I could not bear to maintain an actively intimate relationship with God–I did the bare minimum, and I tried to avoid personal prayer as much as possible because facing God meant facing my pain, and I just couldn’t. But recently, just before COVID19 swept the Western world off its feet, so to speak, I began to see that I had the strength to cultivate once again the intimacy God has always invited me to have with Him.

But one thing I’ve learned in the past few years is gentleness with myself: I don’t have to push myself–in fact, I don’t have to do anything–even though I didn’t pray much the past few years, I was well aware that God was with me, watching me, loving me. I knew He knew I loved Him and wanted to love Him more. I knew He was giving me space. Like the wonderful man I married, the Lord is gentle and patient and ever-faithful. I trusted that in time, He would draw me to Himself. This was a profoundly different approach to faith than the striving and effort and, well, fear that I had experienced in all my life prior: worried that I wasn’t holy enough, that I didn’t do enough, that if only I were better then life would be so much better and the whole world a much better place. I pity former Me, trying so hard, wanting so much, and unable to simply sit and do the one thing that is needed: not worry about myself and simply adore Him.

That night, a few days ago, when I was enveloped in the grief of losing my son, my family dreams, and my intimacy with God, I prayed with a rare desperation. I wanted a hug–no, I still couldn’t bear His touch–but I wanted to be close to Him! The Lord must have suggested then that I ask for His Light, that I might be enveloped in His Light, warming myself in it, and allowing it to rest gently upon my aching heart.

Prayer is a strange thing. In twelfth grade, I had the gift of being able to write about a section of the Catechism for an assignment. I chose the fourth section, on prayer, driven by my thirst for relationship with God. I learned a lot, and I went on to read more and more after that. At that age, I found it frustrating that prayer itself is mysterious. I half wanted a checklist that I could satisfy so that I could know I was on the right track. Instead, all the answers I received led me instead to contemplation. We’ve heard it often said that prayer is not a technique. Many times I’ve been told that ultimately it doesn’t matter tuppence how a person prays. All that matters is that a person does pray. But if there is no “how,” then how can one do? Ha! It’s amusing, isn’t it? The simplest things are sometimes the hardest.

The section on prayer in the catechism begins with a quotation from St Therese of Lisieux, if I remember correctly: something about prayer being the leap of the heart towards God. How simple! How utterly simple! And how beautifully expressed, although experience suggests to me that “leaping” can also be “panting on the floor unable to move.” Prayer is relationship with God.

COVID19 is, I have read, causing many people actual grief. I don’t doubt it. For many, it is the greatest uncertainty they have ever faced, and uncertainty is one of the most painful and challenging states of life to be in. I have read some people writing that, much to their surprise, they find it harder than ever to pray now. When I saw that, I knew immediately the sort of thing they were suffering. I’ve always found it a strange thing that most people apparently only remember God and pray to Him when they are in trouble. I love talking with Him in good times, but when the bad times hit, oof! Give me some space, Lord, my heart hurts too much. Perhaps, without acknowledging it, I’m angry at Him. I don’t know. But I do know that fear and uncertainty can fill a person’s heart to the extent that it becomes very hard to open the door to Christ.

If this is you, do not be afraid. God is bigger than any of our closed doors. He is always waiting. He loves us. He expects nothing of us. He only yearns for us to allow Him to love us. We need do nothing. If you find you can’t pray, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that prayer is not a formula. This may be a season in life in which you enter into a different kind of prayer, just as I did when my life felt sunk. Do the bare minimum (which right now is very little indeed!), and then allow God to love you as much as you can. Sit in His Light, or curl up in a fetal position in His Light. It doesn’t matter. He loves you and is always with you.

I’m not saying there aren’t silver linings, or we shouldn’t count these blessings, but we should find our comfort ultimately in God.