I was chatting with some ladies recently about the suffering of Christ when one of them drew our attention to his Mother.
“Jesus knew his suffering would end,” she pointed out, “but Mary didn’t. She didn’t know he would rise from the dead. For her, this was the end.”
Now I don’t know of any definitive statement on this matter, but I can’t help but disagree wholeheartedly. There may have been quite a lot that Mary didn’t know,1 but I don’t think the promised resurrection was one of those things. Jesus hadn’t exactly been secretive about it, after all. Again and again he tells his followers that he will die and rise on the third day.2 And while they somehow managed not to understand what seems so clear to our post-resurrection eyes, Mary wasn’t blind the way they were. She knew just who Jesus was. She knew he could do what he said. So I simply can’t believe that Mary stood beneath the foot of the Cross not knowing his death wasn’t final.
And yet she wept.
Mary knew what was coming. She knew he would rise. She knew death would be defeated and the gates of heaven thrown open. And still she wept.
We call her Our Lady of Sorrows, this woman who was profoundly aware of the coming victory. We paint her swooning in agony with tears running down her face and a heart pierced by seven swords, all the while knowing that her son would be back in her arms a scant 40 hours later.
Despite the promise of joy, Mary was miserable. She knew—better than any of us ever will—that God would work all things for good. And still she mourned, her heart shattered. Because hope doesn’t banish suffering. It just makes it bearable.
Joy is the duty of the Christian, we hear, most especially from dear St. Paul who commands it as though it were as simple as sharing or paying your taxes.3 So we grit our teeth and smile through our anguish, determined that we will be happy regardless of our pain. Then we’re shocked when it all just makes us bitter.
Joy, you see, is not the same as happiness. Joy is much more akin to hope than to happiness. Joy means trusting that God is for you, that he loves you, that he will—one day—come to your rescue. It doesn’t mean calling evil good. It doesn’t mean stuffing down your pain and covering it over with a veneer of pleasantries. Often it means swooning in agony with tears running down your face.
It’s okay to be miserable. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust God. It means that pain hurts and evil should be lamented. When your sweet baby dies or your wife leaves you or the bank forecloses or you get laid off or a thousand other things, it is right and just that you weep. You may well know that it will all come out right one fine morning. But still it hurts. And that’s okay.
It is not Christian to deny people the right to suffer. The model Christian, who knew with absolute certainty that all would be made new, was sore distressed to see her son so wounded. I can imagine Christians of a certain sort standing by her cheerfully: “Oh, don’t worry, Mary. Everything happens for a reason, you know. I guess God just needed another angel.”
It’s banal at best and heresy at worst. Because the joy of Easter Sunday doesn’t deny the pain of Good Friday, it just completes it. To say that those who hope in the Resurrection shouldn’t mourn is to say that evil isn’t to be lamented. It’s just not true.
Should we allow our pain to drown out our hope in God’s promises? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean denying our sorrow or stuffing our pain down, plastering a Pollyanna smile over our anguish. It means standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross weeping over Friday while trusting in Sunday. It means that in our pain we look on Christ crucified and remember the promise of the empty tomb. It means that we follow “My soul is troubled” with “Father, glorify your name.”4
If you are suffering now, be gentle to yourself. Allow yourself to suffer. Remember that this is not the end, that God will triumph, that the battle has already been won. Remember that in eternity all our suffering will clearly have been to good purpose. Remember that God is working for you even when you can’t see him. But remember also that Jesus wept and Mary wept and go ahead and cry—you’re in good company.
For all “Mary, Did You Know?” gets flack in Catholic circles, I think there are quite a few of those things that pregnant Mary didn’t know. [↩]
If I knew you in high school or early college (or probably later college, God help me), I’m sorry. I’m sorry for judging you and lecturing you. I’m sorry for throwing my faith in your face at every possible opportunity. I’m sorry for responding to your crisis of faith by buying you Anselm’s On the Incarnation and telling you it would fix everything–an excellent book, but not the compassionate response.
See, when I first came to know Jesus in the eighth grade I felt meaning for the first time. My life had purpose and my suffering had value and suddenly–shockingly–I was happy to get out of bed in the morning.1 And I wanted you to feel that. I wanted you to know him and to experience the joy he’d brought to my life. I wanted you to know how desperately you were loved.
But I also wanted to win. I wanted you to know that I was right. I wanted you to see that I was really holy. I was awkward and insecure and I thought that if I brought you to Jesus you’d like me better. I had some good intentions when I beat my Bible at you, but not only good intentions and I’m sorry.
When I was younger, I evangelized like a sledgehammer.2 I went at people like they were battles to win, not souls to love. And I did a lot of damage, some of which seems irreparable except by grace. Oh, I know I did some good too. But I don’t think anybody ever sat me down and told me that it wasn’t my job to save souls. And when you think you’re saving souls–and that truth is all it takes–you go at it with the zeal of a crusader and the finesse of a drunken elephant.
My sister has 8-month-old twins. Elizabeth, the older, reminds me of myself in a lot of ways. From the moment she was born, she’s had a big personality with much wider range of emotion than you see from her sister. Lately, she’s taken to screaming like she’s being eviscerated. Turn down your speakers and take a listen (starting at 0:13):
She loves this noise and she really thinks everybody else should love it too. So she crawls over to her twin, playing innocently on the floor, tackles her, pins her to the ground, and sticks her face in Mary Claire’s face, shrieking gleefully as Mary Claire sobs.
Sometimes I think that’s how we evangelize. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We really think they’re going to love what we’re doing. But we don’t listen to them. We don’t feel for them. We don’t open our eyes to see if they want anything to do with our message. We scream in their face (or on their facebook page) about how we are FILLED with the love of Christ and they’d better be too or they will GO TO HELL!!
Friends, that’s not evangelization. It’s not loving or Christlike or even effective. That’s where we get this reputation of being closed-minded and bigoted–from the few of us who come across as closed-minded and bigoted.
But we have to evangelize–that’s a huge part of being a Christian. Our beautiful Holy Father has been speaking on this need to spread the faith at World Youth Day:
Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and gave us, not a part of himself, but the whole of himself.
So what do we do? How do we evangelize if the simple proselytizing method isn’t going to do it?
Before all else, you have to be in love with Christ. Your prayer life has to be your top priority, although that looks different depending on your state in life, as Haley so brilliantly pointed out. So pray. Go to Mass every week without exception.3 Go to daily Mass as often as you can. Read the Bible! Get to confession–aim at once a month. And seek God in silence. It’s so easy to fill our lives with noise and then let the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours be more noise;4 make time every day to be still before the Lord. Even 5 minutes a day will change your life.
Pray for the people in your life who don’t know God or don’t know Christ or don’t know him in the Eucharist. Before you do anything else, pray for them. You can’t change their hearts and you can’t save their souls. Recognize that God is doing the work and ask, seek, and knock on their behalf.
Pray about evangelizing. Ask the Lord who he wants you to speak to and how he wants you to speak. Ask the Holy Spirit to be the one at work in your conversations. Pray before posting something controversial on Facebook, before commenting or sharing or retweeting. Ask Jesus to stand between you and the people you’re trying to bring him to–and to smack you upside the head and shove you away if you’re doing it wrong.
There is no more powerful force in this world than love. Your job is to love the people around you–and not just as a strategy for their conversion, either! Sure, hopefully your love is so powerful that others recognize something different in you. But if you’re loving people so that you win, you’re fake and probably not terribly convincing about it. Your purpose in loving is not to change someone. Your purpose is to love as Christ loved.
The semester I studied in Italy,5 almost everyone I was there with hated the Church. Passionately. They would make filthy jokes about priests and spent their weekends experimenting with different combinations of alcohol, weed, and caffeine. I knew there was nothing I could say to change their minds, so I prayed and prayed and kept my mouth shut. And went out with them to make sure they didn’t get too drunk to get back. And sat with them on the balcony while they got drunk and high at the same time to make sure they didn’t fall over the railing. I was miserable and felt useless.
And then, at the end of the semester, one of my friends turned to me (drunk) and told me:
“Until this semester, I didn’t think there was a place for me in the Church. But now I think maybe there is. Because you love me. Thank you.”
We fell out of touch, so I don’t know what ended up happening to him. But that moment changed my life. I’d spent years looking for openings to preach when all I needed to do was let love speak.
So once you’ve prayed, shut your mouth and love until it hurts. Then keep loving.
Once people know that you love them, they begin to look at your life to see why. The witness of your life is a powerful statement, and it’s not just about wearing a cross and sharing Catholic memes. It’s about joy and consistency and openness.
Choose to be joyful. The world doesn’t need more dour Christians. Live with an eternal perspective. As Mother Teresa said, “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen.” If your life is transparently joyful–filled with hope in moments that should occasion despair, not just chipper and shallow–people will wonder why.
Be consistent. If you can’t be Christian Saturday night, don’t ask me to join you Sunday morning. Modern man can spot a fake at a thousand paces and if your Facebook timeline is half quotations from Pope Francis and half drunken selfies, you’re doing far more harm than good. Get your stuff together. People don’t mind sinners who acknowledge that they’re sinners and ask for help to be better. They hate hypocrites.
Don’t be embarrassed about your faith. Mention that you’re going to Mass when you make plans for Sunday brunch. Pray before meals. Have a chant ringtone. Those little things help people to connect your love and joy to your faith.
Finally–finally–after praying and loving and doing your best to be as Christlike as possible, finally you can say something. Maybe it’s as simple as sharing an article on Facebook or retweeting the Pope. Maybe it’s inviting someone to go to Mass with you or to join your Bible study. Maybe it’s sitting down with a friend and asking–gently–why he doesn’t go to Church any more. Maybe it’s talking to your friends about NFP. Maybe it’s just being open to how the Holy Spirit is calling you to evangelize.
I knew a high schooler once–captain of the basketball team, center of the school’s social life–who signed up for a holy hour every Friday evening at 10pm. He’d go out to dinner with his friends, go back to somebody’s house, start watching a movie, and then stand up to leave at quarter to 10. He just said, “I’m going to adoration. Anyone want to come?” The timing and the invitation changed that school. Kids would caravan to adoration on Friday nights. Because one guy had the guts to ask.
But when you’re asking those leading questions or inviting friends on a marriage retreat or explaining the Church’s position, be humble. You don’t have all the answers, even though the Church does. You’re not better than anyone or smarter or kinder or even happier. But I would guess that you’re better and smarter and kinder and happier than you were; that’s what you’re offering.
So often, it’s the little things that open people’s hearts to the Lord. It’s inviting them to go to confession, buying them a rosary, asking that question, sharing that CD. The Holy Spirit will lead you there–if you’re praying. It will mean more if you love them. It will be compelling if you’re living it.
It’s not yelling at people when they’re wrong. It’s not snorting derisively or calling them out in public. It’s not ever trying to be right but trying to seek truth. Truth and goodness and beauty–not smug correction or broken relationships.
I’d love to hear your thoughts–how do you draw the line between evangelizing like a sledgehammer and inviting people to Christ? Do you think it’s enough just to love people if you’re not actively introducing them to doctrine? Do you have any stories of how the Lord was leading people to him through you and you didn’t even know it?
If you live in the Harrisonburg, VA area, will you do me a huge favor? Will you like my mom’s pumpkin patch on Facebook? And then visit in the fall? Thanks!!
Okay, I’m never happy to get out of bed. But I was happy to be alive and excited to face the day. [↩]
I hope it was only when I was younger–if I’m still doing this, please break it to me gently. And NOT in a comment on this post. [↩]
The Church requires that you go to Mass 57 times a year. That’s 0.65% of your life. Are you really so busy that you can’t give God less than 1% of your life? [↩]
These are great prayers. But if you’re not good at praying them–like me–you definitely need silence too. [↩]
I know, I know. Jesus is particularly fond of me. [↩]
I was raised cheap. I mean it–my mother had a subscription to The Tightwad Gazette, which sounds like a joke, but it was a real newsletter. Don’t worry, though; she got her subscription free. I was checking unit pricing before most kids even knew that different coins have different values. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful that I was taught to live frugally.1 When you’re a hobo, a taste for the finer things in life can really mess with your bottom line.
One problem with being such a natural cheapskate is that unforeseen expenses really shake me. Even if I have the money, having to shell out for something I wasn’t anticipating stresses me out more than anything.2 I get tense and anxious and feel almost guilty. It’s a little bit ridiculous.
So you can imagine what parking tickets do to me. Especially parking tickets a week after I had to get all new tires and rims.3
After a lovely afternoon evangelizing the Santa Monica Pier, I came back to the miserable sight of a slip of paper under my windshield wiper. And despite my disbelief, there was, in fact, a sign 10 feet behind my car that pointed out two different parking rules I was breaking. So I couldn’t even be outraged. Sigh.
I tried to be okay with it, despite the large price tag attached to my complete failure to check for restrictions. I tried to tell myself that it’s not that much money, that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, that I should never let anything rob me of my joy, blah, blah, blah.
But what I really needed was prayer. Fortunately, I was headed (after sitting in traffic for an hour and a half) to see Jesus. And it’s a good thing, too, because he had quite a lot to say to me.
You know how I do that read-the-Bible-in-a-year thing? Are you doing it with me? Because here’s the first thing I read, sitting tense and frustrated in the Church courtyard:
“You also are now in anguish. But I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from you.” (John 16:22)
Double sigh. Yeah, I get it. The stupid parking ticket doesn’t matter. What matters is Christ and rejoicing in him and getting to heaven one day and whatever.
Then I saw that I had drawn in an asterisk and written a note in the margin:
Can you read that? It says “Don’t let anything rob you of Easter joy.” Okay, fine. Got it. Still joyful even though I was a moron and got that stupid ticket.
But God, apparently, wasn’t okay with my pretense of peace. Reading to the end of the chapter, I saw this:
“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage: I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
I’d been sitting there worrying–unnecessarily because God and his people are so generous and even on a natural level I have nothing to worry about–about how I have to pay this ticket and I don’t have the money for it (which I do) and I’m not going to make any more money (which I will) and what am I going to do? Now, I know rationally that this ticket is not a huge deal, but I was feeling so anxious and I had to have something to feel anxious about, so apparently I decided on this. And God told me, very clearly, that he’s got this. That I might run into some financial issues but it’s never going to be a problem, just like it’s never been a problem in the past. Not a problem he can’t handle, anyway.
Okay, I thought, I get it. Really, this time. There’s no earthly reason for me to be so stressed about this and every heavenly reason for me not to be. Jesus, I trust in you. We’re good.
But God in his mercy (and maybe in his irony) wasn’t finished with me yet. Turn with me to the proverb on my schedule for today:
“It is the Lord’s blessing that brings wealth and no effort can substitute for it.” (Proverbs 10:22)
Friends, I can’t make these things up! I literally flipped to a passage that told me specifically that all the money I have comes from God and I have no business freaking out about it. Because being as cheap as I am isn’t about prudence, it’s about control. And, as in all things, I am not in control. Everything I have comes from the hand of the Lord. He’s always reminding me of this, although he’s usually a little subtler about it. But a hard head like mine doesn’t respond well to subtle. Give me a parking ticket, though, and I sit up and take notice.
So I guess my point is one I’ve made often before (and clearly ignored in my own life): trust God. Even when there’s money involved. Even when the mess you’re in is your own stupid fault. Even when it just seems like one thing after another after another. And especially when he smacks you upside the head with your Bible. Because today’s “catastrophe” won’t look like much in a few weeks. And today’s actual disaster won’t look like much from the other side of your judgment. But the love of God, his providence, his sacrifice for you? Nothing will take that joy from you. Take courage; he has conquered the world. And its parking tickets.
P.S. I haven’t forgotten about that divinity of Christ series. It’s just that things keep happening that I want to tell you guys about!
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
I knew a girl once who had been raised Catholic but had rejected the faith. At 20, she was pretty militantly anti-religion, although I don’t think I realized it until our small talk one day turned into something more.
She was asking me about my work, so I explained her that I was a high school religion teacher.
“Wait, so do you teach them all religions? Or do you just teach them yours?”
“Well, it’s a Catholic school,” I replied affably, “so I teach Catholicism.”
The look on her face was like I had told her that I drop kick babies for sport. “How can you do that? How can you force onto young minds the idea that your beliefs are right and everybody else’s are wrong?”
I was rather taken aback by this reaction–she really thought I was doing something evil when I tried to draw young hearts to Christ. I’ve had plenty of people think my attempts to evangelize were dumb or naïve but never cruel. So I didn’t have a pat answer at hand as I do with most of the challenges I get from non-Christians or non-Catholics. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is always on his game.
“What if you had a friend who didn’t like music?” I asked this music major.
“What do you mean ‘didn’t like music’? Who doesn’t like music?”
“This guy. He’s a friend of yours–a good friend–but he just doesn’t care for music. Any music at all.”
“That’s ridiculous! I mean, has he listened to Rachmaninov? Or the Beatles? Everybody likes some kind of music.”
At this point, I’m wondering how on earth she hadn’t picked up on where I was going with this. But I kid you not–I might be fudging some details, but the trajectory of the conversation is 100% accurate.
“Actually,” I put forward, “he’s never really listened to any music. Or maybe he has, but it was all electronic stuff out of awful plastic toys. But he’s never experienced anything real, anything beautiful or moving or even catchy and pleasant. Could you be friends with him?”
“I guess I could,” she said, embracing the hypothetical. “But–I’d make him listen to music! I mean, how can he live without it? I can’t imagine life without music–it would be…worthless.”
“Because you love music that much? And it brings you that much joy, right? Not because he’s a stupid jerk for not loving music?”
“Of course not,” she said. “It’s not about being right. It’s about wanting to share something that makes me happy with someone I love.”
“Exactly.” I swear to you, she didn’t see where I was going until that moment. She started to object, but then stopped to think. I gave her a minute before continuing. “I don’t evangelize because I want to tell everybody they’re wrong and fix them so they can be like me. It’s about love. I’ve found something–someone–so beautiful that brings me so much joy. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t want to share it? I teach people about Christ and his Church because I love them and I want them to be happy.”
My music analogy didn’t convert her–as far as I know, she’s still not a Christian–but it got her thinking. And tonight, it’s got me thinking, too.
Why do I evangelize? Why do I live this crazy life? Because I know him in whom I have believed. But more than that–because once I didn’t.
I was raised with Jesus, but I rejected him early on. I didn’t know him until I was 13. And I was miserable. Cry-my-eyes-out, wish-I-was-dead miserable. The only meaning I could find in life was getting other people to like me and I wasn’t very good at that. And so, from at least 3rd grade, I spent most of my life feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I bothered to get up in the morning.
But then–oh, friends–light. I had walked so long in darkness and when I found Christ, I found meaning and joy and purpose and hope and the world was new. I had to give up all of my favorite vices. I made myself a target for the people whose approval still meant so much to me. But, incredibly, I was happy. Today, I’m a homeless, unemployed nomad. I have no husband or children. I have nothing that this world says will make me happy, but I am. Deeply, irrevocably so. Despite my tendency to freak out and my propensity for making myself miserable, my life is built on Christ and his comfort gladdens my soul.
I’m going to speak for a moment to those of you who may be reading my blog, for whatever reason, who haven’t experienced this Radiant Dawn I’m so in love with. I get it. It’s hard to believe, hard to accept what you think you can’t see. Maybe Christianity is too demanding. Maybe you enjoy your life just as it is.
But for many of you, I think there’s a darkness. There’s an emptiness, a longing that you can’t quite seem to satisfy. Oh, maybe you’re okay right now–maybe your love for your family or your service to your community or your success or whatever has taken the edge off your hunger. But I think it will be fleeting. I think you know, like I did, that something’s missing.
Forgive me for being so forward, but I can’t help it. Whether I know you or not, I love you. I really do, and I want you to be happy. I want you to be at peace. Forget the fact that I’ve been intellectually convinced of the truth of the faith–I’ve found joy and love and hope and beauty and I can’t keep that to myself. I need you to know that he loves you and longs to draw you gently into the light of a life lived in joy and peace and love. I’ve been where you are. I wouldn’t go back. Not for anything.
For the rest of you, thank God that he has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. If you’re like me, consider who you were and praise the Lord that he’s brought you so far. If you’ve never felt that deep, terrible darkness of the shadow of death, praise the Lord for having claimed you even in your youth. Wherever you were, recognize that you’re not there yet.
This is what Advent is about–reflecting on the darkness dispelled by Christ and the darkness that remains. There are still many dark places in my life, deep crevices that I keep hidden from the light of Christ. But daily he pushes me, stretches me, and brings joy and peace even there.
If you don’t know him yet, maybe now’s the time to try.
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Here’s an early Christmas present for you:
If only there were some way to attach one’s wristwatch to one’s wrist…. Seriously, what was wrong with me?? [↩]
For those shaken by yesterday’s shooting–another in a long line of acts of senseless violence against children–tomorrow’s celebration might seem callous. Gaudete Sunday? Rejoice? When children are killed in their desks, ripped apart in their mothers’ wombs, beaten by their parents, forced to slaughter each other as child soldiers, sold into slavery, how can we rejoice? When Friday, as horrifying as it was, is not out of the ordinary in a world where children are killed by the thousands in “ethnic cleansing” crusades? When children themselves become murderers on the streets or in their nice suburban homes? When thousands of children die of hunger each day while you and I shell out 20 bucks for dinner without batting an eye? Now, you tell me, rejoice?
When Israel had been destroyed and Babylon was knocking down the door of Judah, how could they then rejoice? When even priests and Levites worshiped idols? When the best you could hope for was to live in peace and die in peace and then…who knew? When all the world was trapped in the darkness of sin with only the barest hint of a promise of the Light to come, how could they then rejoice? But Zephaniah calls from the darkness:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
Zephaniah has no reason to hope, in a world of sin and slavery and suffering. But he knows the One who is hope, the One who turns mourning to gladness, the One whose mercies are renewed each morning. And despite the wisdom of the world, he looked to God and found joy in the midst of sorrow.
When Christ had died and his disciples were following him in ignominy and death by the hundreds and the thousands, how could they then rejoice? When Paul had been beaten and shipwrecked and imprisoned, how could he rejoice from the darkness of his prison cell? When Jesus had promised to return again and yet…nothing–how could they rejoice? But Paul writes from his cell:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rejoice, he says. Have no anxiety, he says. Seek the Lord and you will find peace, he says.
But still hunger and violence and torture and rape and how oh HOW can we rejoice?
When the Savior of the world was born amid noise and filth, how could Mary rejoice? When armed men were sent to slaughter him, when he was saved at the cost of dozens of other young lives, how? How could she flee into Egypt and lose her son for three days and remain a woman of joy? How could she watch him rejected and ridiculed and beaten and tortured and killed and stabbed and laid in a tomb and still trust in God?
And yet she did. In all things, her spirit rejoiced in God her savior. Facing life as an unwed mother, she trusted. At the foot of the Cross, she trusted. When he left her again to continue in a world that had slaughtered her only son, she trusted.
Scripture is so clear on this, my friends. Joy is not contingent on the circumstances of this world but on God who is so much bigger than our circumstances.
Sing out, oh heavens, and rejoice oh earth. Break forth into song, you mountains, for the Lord comforts his people and has mercy on his afflicted. But Zion says, “The Lord has forsaken me. My Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forsake her infant? Be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forsake you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name. Your walls are ever before me.-Isaiah 49:13-16
Though he slay me, still will I trust in him. -Job 13:15
God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Therefore we fear not though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea, though its waters rage and foam and the mountains quake at its surging the Lord of hosts is with us, our stronghold is the God of Jacob. -Psalm 46:2-4
We hold these treasures in earthen vessels that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not constrained, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying about int he body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. -2 Corinthians 4:7-11
Though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vine, though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment, though the flock disappear form the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God. God my Lord is my strength, he makes my feet swift as those of hinds, and enables me to go upon the heights. -Habakkuk 3:17-19
But I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope: the favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness. My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore will I hope in God. -Lamentations 3:21-24
When cares abound within me, your comfort gladdens my heart. -Psalm 94:19
At times like this, it’s easy to respond with discouragement and despair.1 Without Christ, I can’t see how I would respond any other way. But my God saw how miserable this world was and couldn’t stay away. He sent his only Son to enter into our mess, to suffer with us and for us. My God ached for love of us and so he changed everything. And he longs to do it still. He longs to turn our mourning into dancing. He longs to bring peace to our troubled hearts.
This is terrible. There is so much evil and so much suffering and misery and desperation in this world. But we were not made for this world. If you are suffering today–and I think we all are–I’m so sorry. But I know a God who is bigger than your pain. Let us turn to him and–in everything, despite everything, because of everything–let us rejoice. At the end of the day, God is still so, so good.
And of course, and always, we pray. We pray for the deceased and their loved ones. We pray especially for the young souls who witnessed such violence and will spend the rest of their lives trying to recover. God help them.
Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. -Romans 12:12
In case the assurance of God’s sovereignty isn’t enough for you, here are some reminders of the goodness he’s put in men’s hearts.
I knew a 3-year-old who was desperately trying to buckle her car seat. She howled from the back of the min-van, “WHY DID GOD MAKE MY BUCKLE SO HARD TO BUCKLE???” I love that her car seat was somehow God’s manufacturing design.
But I’m totally like that when it comes to minor inconveniences. I get frustrated and, yes, sometimes cry, and complain to God for not making everything in my life perfect. Yeah, because he doesn’t have anything else to do.
Here are some things that have ticked me off in the past 3 days:
Um, so, chill pill much? I’m not exaggerating when I say I could easily grumble or shout about something 50 times a day. I’m that irritable.
I’d guess that most of you are, too, especially in this world of instant gratification and expected perfection. I feel so sorry for myself when I don’t have air conditioning for two weeks. Forget the fact that I have running water and a fan and a car with air conditioning and access to air conditioned churches and libraries and homes–I’m hot and you should feel bad for me!
But the other day I read a short essay by Chesterton in which he suggests that irritation is all a matter of attitude and I began to wonder.
Why on earth am I annoyed at a red light when I was running early anyway? Doesn’t #4 cancel out #10? Shouldn’t I be pleased that I can avoid the awkwardness of being early?
But I’ve conditioned myself to be annoyed at everything that inconveniences me. I’ve decided how life ought to treat me and I think it’s unfair if anything doesn’t go according to plan. How arrogant! How completely unchristian!
What a waste of time.
Forget virtue for a minute (I know I usually do). If I want to be happy, this is just dumb. Why don’t I choose joy? In minor issues that don’t make any real difference to my life, why don’t I let myself be happy?
I’m sure it all comes back to pride–it always seems to. But Chesterton’s right (as usual): it’s an attitude issue. I can’t change the minor inconveniences that plague me, but I can choose to rejoice anyway.
St. James gives us a little attitude check at the beginning of his letter:3
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (Jas 1:2-3)
Now James is probably talking about actual suffering, which is a matter for another post, but I don’t see why we can’t take his (and Chesterton’s) advice and be a little bit Pollyanna when it comes to the minor inconveniences that give us “terrible days.” You’ll remember that Pollyanna always played “The Glad Game,” finding something happy in the most miserable circumstances. She didn’t let her situation dictate her mood but chose to find what was beautiful in a given situation. She’s code for trite optimism, but I think we could all learn a little from the way her choices govern her character.
Why do I choose irritation? Why do I choose stress? And it really is a choice; most of the things that “ruin my day” are so minor that I might not even notice them if I’m distracted. But it feels better to be angry about traffic than it does to recognize that I wasn’t going anywhere important anyway. Or even if I was, how important could it really be, in the grand scheme of salvation? How many of the things that drive me to sin are really that serious?
I’m not saying that real suffering shouldn’t be honored. I’m saying that most of us probably aren’t dealing with real suffering when we’re upset. We’re probably indulging in some worthless (and possibly sinful) self-pity, which only serves to make us more obsessed with ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need the help. I’m plenty self-absorbed as it is. Sirach’s good and blunt about this:
Do not give in to sadness; torment not yourself with brooding…. Distract yourself…. Envy and anger shorten one’s life…. (Sir 30:21, 23a, 24a)
That’s all there is to it. Quit whining about your buckle, change the shirt you spilled chocolate sauce on (or rewrite the email you lost or settle in for some smooth jazz while you wait in traffic or whatever) and be a grown-up. I’ve been babysitting all week. God knows the world doesn’t need more temper tantrums.
Mother Teresa once admonished: Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen. So maybe that’s our litmus test: is this worse than Calvary? Is this so bad that even the pierced hands of Christ on Easter morning couldn’t drive the sorrow from my heart? Would I be embarrassed to mention to the risen Christ that this was the reason I lost my cool?
And then maybe look for the good. Or just acknowledge the annoying element and compare it to the other good in your life. Or get over yourself and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Consider it joy. The little stuff, anyway. That’s my challenge to myself this week: to choose joy even in frustration. I’ll let you know how it goes.
You can tell I’m back in Northern Virginia when half my post is about traffic. [↩]
Which is why this list now has 20 items–or did until WordPress decided that I meant to have 1 and 2 on top of each other which shows up as one before two with a blank spot that I can’t erase. See number 17, which was actually on here even before that happened. [↩]
Probably not the St. James of today’s feast day which will most likely be yesterday by the time I get this thing published. [↩]