On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and Not Having It All Together

I’ve been having a real spiritual struggle lately, and confessed to Nathan this morning that I had not prayed Divine Office prayers since Friday morning. I’d also missed several nights’ worth of Evening Prayers. I’ve been feeling very alone when I pray, even when I pray with my family. This piece from Kyle Cupp touched me, if only because lately I feel as if I’m hanging on to my own faith by the tiniest of threads.

When I try to reach out to God, in prayer or song or scripture, I encounter emptiness more than anything, as if God is more darkness than light, more nothingness than being, more cold silence than consoling love. I have to take simple joys where I can find them–in big hugs from my children and quiet talks with my wife, in happy news from family and friends, in the song of baby birds that alight by my window before flying away to explore their world. These may be the few graces I get, but I’ll take them.

Still, I sometimes feel as though my faith is a fraud, and in these moments especially, I can appreciate why people leave the faith, sometimes in bitterness and indignation, and sometimes just sad to see it go. I’ve been told myself that I must not have supernatural faith given the way I feel and the way I don’t feel the closeness of God’s love. And I’ve had to wonder if the good Christians who’ve said this to me were intending to show me the door. I’m not enlightened enough for their company. If I see only shadows on this dark and dreary road, then I must not see by that superabundant light the gift of faith is supposed to bring. I must be trapped and exposed because I don’t belong.

I’ve been struggling with the same sort of darkness on and off for more than a year, and it’s hard to talk about or admit. I feel like I can’t discuss it, I can’t admit it, because part of me is afraid that I’ll be exposed as a phony: all pretty and happy on the outside, doing all the Things a Faithful Catholic Should Do, but frightened and (do I even admit it?) alone on the inside. As someone who has become completely unsure in her vocation, fearful of messing up and leading my children to ruin instead of Heaven.

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Today I finally admitted to my husband that I’ve been struggling lately, and he encouraged me to pray Lauds with him. It was a turnaround in roles, because I’m usually the one who pushes everyone to pray Lauds or Vespers, pulling us all towards holiness. I think I need to accept that I can’t do that, that I need help — not just from God, but from the rest of the family. I have to relinquish the control that I have fooled myself into believing I had and surrender it to God.

On the Liturgical calendar today is the great feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and the first Psalm of Lauds is one of my favorites:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.

On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for your have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.

I was leading (because I’m more experienced and can help guide him through what is still a very new exercise for him), and just started to break down completely by the second line. Oh, how my soul is thirsting for Him! I am pining, feeling lost and alone and dry. I feel so much like I am just gazing at The Lord from afar, just to see Him, just to know He is near. And sometimes I just feel like I need a glance my way, some kind of reassurance that I’m not screwing everything up beyond repair.

I know, nothing is impossible for God, but I sometimes truly fear that I can put such blockades in the way of other people’s faith —especially that of my husband and children — that they may never turn to Him, or, worse, they will turn away because of what I’ve done.

And then I get angry at God because I’ve tried so hard for much of my life to be a good daughter, someone worthy to be called His girl. And I don’t understand where the consolations of my youth have gone, or why I can’t seem to pass on a deeper faith to my family. And I am afraid to even admit that I am angry at Him. Who am I to act that way? Who do I think I am, in my comfortable life with my loving husband and healthy children, to get angry at God?

But today — today is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, what used to be called the Victory of the Cross. It’s a day when we recall the only throne our King had on this earth: an instrument of torture that became the instrument of our very salvation. God took this horrible thing and brought us the most glorious thing from it. God gave up His only begotten Son to a tortuous death in order that those who believe in Him may have an eternal life of happiness in Heaven.

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There are people who don’t want to believe in God because of the suffering they see in this world, or of the suffering that they, themselves, are going through. I wrote about this before, and came across it again today:

On Sunday at Mass, I was gazing at our crucifix and pondering these kinds of stories of earthly monarchs who did what they could to relate to people and help people feel like their king (or queen) was just like them.

I thought about how God our King came to us, took on flesh for us. And how He, like no other king, lowered Himself for us. Christ spared Himself no pain, took on unimaginable suffering, and died for me.

My King did not keep Himself from pain or harm. He suffered. He lived like me, only perfectly and without sin. He knows what it’s like to navigate in a crazy, upside down world full of fallen people.

My King loves me so much that He took my punishment willingly to spare me the pain I deserve.

When we are tired and hurt, the Cross gives us a chance to realize that these things don’t happen because God does not love us; after all, He suffered, too. By looking at the Cross, we can see that it’s through these sufferings that our Hope rises up, just as Christ rose on Easter morning. There is darkness before the dawn, but God does not abandon us.

In the midst of a time that goes from dry to dark and back to dry again, it’s often hard to remember these things. And sometimes it’s poor comfort to think that the only way to Heaven is through the Cross.

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And yet, when I gaze on the crucifix that sits on my home altar, I see that the only crown given to the King of the Universe was a Crown of Thorns. The only throne given to Him was the Cross. And while He hung there, dying, He prayed for me.

God did not spare Himself the pains in this life, and from the Cross, even Jesus uttered, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”

While I navigate this difficult spiritual time, I must cling to that. I must cling to the fact that Christ, though He was God, condescended to become Man. That He suffered, and so He knows my pain. He knows my fears. He even knows what it’s like to feel a bit abandoned in the darkness.

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5 thoughts on “On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and Not Having It All Together

  1. Take it from someone else who isn’t even close to having it all together: it’s OK. Our brand-new-to-us pastor PREACHED this morning (WOW!!!!) and talked all about how God is asking us to trust him, to have hope, to carry the cross we are given–because he will help us with it if we accept our cross. Right now, this might be yours. Let him help you carry that cross. #MemorareUP!

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    • Thanks, Barb. I told Nathan today that God is trying to teach me to let Him take control. I feel like all of life is spinning out of control, but I also know I’ve never really been the one in control in the first place.

      Lessons are hard. :-p

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  2. From a sometimes-cheesy but sometimes-wise book called “Make Space, Make Symbols” (that’s the cheesy) by Fr. Keith Clark, OFM Cap.: “the hunger you feel inside IS God. He is with you. You could not even want to be found and touched by God if he were not already touching and moving you to seek to be found by him.”
    I found this passage in college and it has been a huge consolation to me for the past 30 years.
    Good God, it’s been 30 years.
    Anyway.
    That’s what keeps me hanging on.

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  3. Hi Christine, Thank you for sharing your heart. I will be praying for you. Please pray for me. Please also keep in prayer my good friend and her two children. Her husband died last week of leukemia. We were at the funeral on Friday in PA.

    See you soon, Tamie

    zeal4thefaith.wordpress.com Share the faith – it’s the new evangelization!

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  4. This was really beautiful, and I think the emptiness allows us to be filled. It also could truly bless your family to see a demonstrated reliance not only on God but on them – to allow your husband to step up could really being a new depth of roles and growth to all of you. So hard, to live what you are living – but your faithfulness is a tremendous witness regardless of feelings. Consolation and desolation are part of the spiritual life – I think it speaks volumes that the Lord allows you such a large stretch of desolation.

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