Learning

3 Things “The Hobbit of the New Testament” Taught Me

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Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. Much of the Catholic Church’s sacramental life is founded on memorializing events from the Gospels. During the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.” When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,

I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.

Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”

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  1. Persistence pays off: Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way (Luke 19:4). Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.

 

  1. Jesus Chooses the Imperfect: Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Not only did Zacchaeus struggle to physically see Jesus among the crowd, he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen—he was a tax collector! According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)” Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).

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  1. Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing: A final point Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me is that spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Jesus welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness. Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.

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J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future! I took to Zacchaeus, a figure who was not only physically limited, but spiritually limited who saw something transformative and attractive in Jesus. Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.

***“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien***

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Wonder of the Youth

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The great American poet Maya Angelou said, “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.” Aging is a universal problem. Adults lose a sense of wonder with the world. We arrive on the job scene after our schooling years and get sucked into the maelstrom of monotony. I definitely feel like I my spirit of wonder and awe dulled over the course of time. But does that need to happen? Is it possible to return to child-like wonder? Is it possible to be young again while aging? Let me put forth three examples of activities that reignite my imaginative spark and curiosity about the world.

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1. See anything [and everything] as new: As curious individual, growing up I tended in see freshness to nearly every aspect of life. I intellectually devoured information with an endless appetite. Subjects that fascinated me [and still do to this day] included: geography, animals, board games, baseball, colors, science, history, literature, words, order of the world, space travel, and time travel to name just a few.

The adult version of myself still maintains enjoyment on learning about those topics. Difficulty arises with the need to balance, family life, work, volunteering, and hobbies. Thankfully, I have made it a point to read at least 30 minutes a day after my family goes to sleep. Currently, I am learning about Darth Vader’s ascension to power as the Emperor’s galactic general in James Lucano’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Entering the fictional universe of Star Wars reawakens the wonder of my childhood. I feel like I am learning constantly about the characters—old and new alike—and enjoy learning about the wondrous possibilities of space travel! I strongly encourage you to experience the wonder in the written world of fiction. Wonder abounds in a book. To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”

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2. All work and no play…makes Jack a dull boy: There are variations of this old adage. All share the same theme—too much work leads to drudgery and stress. As a committed workaholic I am far too familiar with the dangers of not making time for recreation. God foresaw the need for rest and recreation in humanity’s life on earth. According to Genesis chapter 2, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.”

Following this biblical principle, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “For Christians, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a special day consecrated to the service and worship of God. It is a unique Christian festival. It is “the day the Lord has made” (Ps. 117 (118):24). Its nature is holy and joyful. Sunday is the day on which we believe God acted decisively to liberate the world from the tyranny of sin, death, and corruption through the Holy Resurrection of Jesus.” Oftentimes, I fail as a parent to promote play [and engage in playful activities with my children]. My son and daughter excitedly rushed to our front lawn and jumped in jubilation at the yellow-tinged leaves newly fallen. “Let’s get into the car, I am going to be late for work!” is my default reply lately. I was a curmudgeon, the very person I did not want to be as a father. All work and no play makes me a dull Catholic, a dull husband, and a dull father.

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3. The Golden-Rule leads to true riches: The good news is that every day is a new start. I went to Confession this week. I received the sacramental graces to sharpen my awareness to God’s activity in my kids, friends, wife, and family. When I treat others with respect [i.e. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE] I acquire riches beyond the value of physical gold—I attain joy and a spirit of gratitude. My penance for my confession was to reflect on the gifts God has given me. The priest urged me to grow my gifts and not worry about others’ gifts that I previously envied. Through prayer and advice from other people, I have realized that one of my God-given gifts is writing. Confession and a mindset of thankfulness reignite my desire to write—the past few weeks I have struggled with laziness and have not written enough!

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Life is full of periods where you feel aged, dull, and simply lethargic. This became a problem in my life when habitual laziness and dismal attitude became the norm. I ask for your continued prayers to support me in my journey toward a joyful life. Today I re-commit myself to act as God’s instrument in hope to provide a glimmer of hope and light into you [my readers] daily living!

3 Tips to Guarantee You Will Overcome Adversity

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According to Thomas Paine in The American Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written almost 300 hundred years ago, the American philosopher words remain fresh and relevant to our age as they did back in the time of the American Revolution. Facing deluges of stress, busyness, and changes in the workplace, I experienced difficulty in tough times. Last week the stress drowned me and I let anxiety overwhelm me. Probably the best thing I did for myself [and my family] was to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Here I obtained the graces for a clean start, a theological re-booting of my system, and aid to face the adversity this week. Along with Divine assistance, I also had a counseling appointment where I received additional help to stay even-keeled as I boarded the “ship of life” and sailed out against the sea of stress. Below I discovered [actually re-discovered] three practical tips that guarantee you will overcome adversity.

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  1. Seek Help: As a perfectionist I often struggle to admit I need help. My drive to succeed and do the right thing is both a blessing and a curse. In the storm of adversity, sometimes I am not able to keep afloat by myself. Jesus Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew  7:7). To ask for help means to submit yourself to the possibility that you may not have all the answers. Being uncertain about something or not a sign of weakness. Rather, seeking help demonstrates a powerful humility–a mighty weapon to wield in the face of adversity.

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2. Own Up to Failures:  Similar to the first point of asking for help and demonstrating humility, acknowledgment of my limitations provided another bulwark against adversity. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” His words carried real weight for me this week. Working for the banking industry involves balancing regulatory compliance with superb customer service to our clients in order to treat them with dignity and respect. To be honest, I feel like an actuarial acrobat most of the week. A situation arose where I placed more priority on company risk prevention then serving a customer impacted by Hurricane Irma. I felt guilty–even though I really did nothing morally culpable nor illegal. Still, I realized I could have provided our client a better experience. So, I took initiative to actively solve the issue by simply calling him back to inform him of the complete breakdown of disaster assistance our company provides. Almost immediately, I gained a strength to persevere with mettle despite encountering other stressful situations that day.

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  1. Learn, learn, learn: Albert Einstein once said, “A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”  Despite, being a professional physicist, the German genius gave us profound philosophical wisdom in this quote. Throughout my life I encountered people I consider to be “learner yearners”. In other words, people who commit themselves to life-long learning and study. The common thread among “learner yearners” is that they seem to deal with adversity in a calm and controlled manner. Adversity will always pester us and follow us in our earthly existence. The key is donning an educational attitude and seek opportunities to learn. Learning leads to perspective. Perspective leads to patience. Patience is the virtue that allows us to disable adversity’s assault.

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The great English prime minister Winston Churchill stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” More colloquially put, “With great power comes great responsibility,” attributed by Ben Parker [uncle of Peter Parker/Spiderman]. Facing turmoil and adversity head-on seems brings a sense of joy and peace. This seems counter-intuitive, but from my personal experiences so far that has been the case. A habit of seeking help, taking ownership of my failings, and continual learning leads to overcoming of adversity!

***”It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”***

A Humble Hue: My Story about Autism

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On a beautiful Thursday spring afternoon, I was counting down the minutes until closing time at the Municipal Museum. Employed as a part-time custodian and studying as a full-time graduate student, I had a busy week. I was ready for my shift to end. I looked forward to having a sit-down dinner with my wife. Fifteen minutes before five o’clock, a mom with a young boy entered the facility. Sweeping the entryway at this time, I politely greeted them and advised that we would be closing shortly. The mom quickly acknowledged me and rushed after her galloping child as he pursued the exhibits in a seemingly haphazard manner. I immediately noticed this and nonchalantly started to follow the museum visitors as I dusted the display placards. “Why is he acting like this?” I thought.

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The boy appeared to lack listening skills and roved in a peculiar pattern. I immediately thought to myself, “Oh great, I always get THESE kind of customers right at closing time. Don’t they know we close at five. And why is that mom not paying attention to her hyperactive kid!” I forget the details of the end of that work day. But what I do remember is that before the family left for the day they visited the gift shop. “He has autism. My son has had a particular obsession with dinosaurs that past few months,” the mom casually remarked to the museum cashier and myself as the boy searched the gift shop for dinosaur paraphernalia.

This seemingly mundane work experience happened over five years ago. Why am I telling you about a random encounter I had with a child with autism? I have never seen this family ever again. Nevertheless, after my oldest son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum a lot of my past experiences with individuals sharing similar traits to my child revisit me in my dreams and thoughts throughout daily life. See, I thought I knew things about autism before I had children. I acted self-righteous toward that mother five years ago. Today, I want to share three ways my child with autism has humbled me and how our family’s path toward a diagnosis educated me on the uniqueness, trials, and joys of autism!

  1. Kaleidoscopic, not monochromatic:  The error of my previous way of thinking stemmed from a simplistic view of the world. I tended [and oftentimes still do today!] to reduce, or place people into categories. Individuals are either good or bad, respectful or disrespectful, educated or ignorant, right or wrong. I lumped individuals into general categories. Perhaps that was my way [and still is my way] to come to grips with difficult situations and reconcile seemingly contradictory events with the rules and laws of nature. What my precise motivation for having this black/white dichotomous worldview is for another topic. The point is I did not view each person as an individual.

In my journey with learning about my son’s diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, I entered a new realm of possibilities. My old way of seeing the world did not line up with the increasing awareness and knowledge on the study of autism as a spectrum.  According to the dictionary, the word spectrum is defined as “a broad range of varied but related ideas or objects, the individual features of which tend to overlap so as to form a continuous series or sequence.” Synonyms include: gamut, range, span, or rainbow.

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
  • Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
  • Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life

During our journey toward a diagnose, my wife and I had our son evaluated because he exhibited OCD tendencies, social-communication issues, and various periods of obsessions . We learned that our son was on the higher functioning side of the autism spectrum– he needed some interventions and therapy. Overall, he is still able to communicate pretty well. In other words, my son could hide his autism well, but my wife and I wanted to obtain a diagnosis to grant him services to best help him succeed in daily life. In telling his teachers and caregivers, our son’s great gifts and needs due to his autism diagnosis we get a nearly ubiquitous reply:  “Really? He doesn’t look like he has autism.” Autism spectrum disorder is an invisible diagnosis. Being on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum my oldest son appears to be a regular kid. That is the beauty and challenging nature of autism– one shoe does not fit all kids!

Currently our youngest son is trending toward a path similar, yet different from our oldest. He shows the same characteristics as outlined above. A pattern of autism is already present in our family, however, our youngest son experiences different struggles compared to our oldest. Kids with autism spectrum disorder are unique. There are a broad range of issues and gifts, along with a wide array of services available to assist individuals.

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  1.  Ever-learning: According to the Autism Speak website, almost 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A few years ago, I heard a commercial on the radio advising that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with ASD. Why the big increase? Not being an expert myself, I have thought about this situation many times. My wife recently completed her graduate studies on special education and she took several classes relating to autism spectrum disorder. Talking about the rise of ASD, she mentioned that an increased awareness and broadening of the spectrum [recently Asperger’s Syndrome was added] is a factor of such increase.

It is important to realize, that since ASD is a spectrum professionals, in education, psychology, and counseling are constantly learning about autism. In fact, the logo for Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece. Puzzles, like a mystery, contain constant changes in knowledge and basic assumptions may be overturned upon the arrival of new evidence. It is important to realize that if you have a family member, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance with autism be prepared to be open to learning. Winston Churchill once said, “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Actively seek knowledge about autism spectrum disorder and learn to develop empathy. I am certainly working on this and wish I learned this lesson five years ago.

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3.No One is a Full Expert: “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!” This adage summed up my mindset on the subject of autism. Acting in ignorance and pride, I limited individuals with autism spectrum disorder to a generality instead of unique cases. Truly, no one really in a FULL and complete expert in the field of ASD. I need to continually to be wary of judging my oldest son’s struggles and strengths against my youngest child’s limitations and  skills.

As a new parent, I got lots of parenting advice from “so-called” experts. My son did not sleep through the night until he was three years old. I felt like I was being told, “You do not know what you’re doing”. To be frank, a large majority of the time, I spent self-critiquing and self-doubting my ability to parent. Once we got a diagnosis for our son, a weight was lifted. We had an explanation. We had options. I may not have been an expert [nor still am today] but as least my family as direction to help our son.

Please learn from my mistake. Autism spectrum disorder is not uniform in its scope. Initially I failed to see the beautiful hues of humanity within ASD. Individuality exists for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, not conformity or homogeneity. I am by far and expert and I can only see from my humble hue in the case of my son. What I do know is that I am always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught I pray for the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit to be open to teaching with grace.

 

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***The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.***

Toy Cars, Farewells, and Door Knockings

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Concluding a fast-paced morning at work, I headed to the lunch area to heat up my lunch. I was famished and worn out from the busyness of the day. I reached into my pocket for my iPhone as I normally check in at noon with my wife to see how her day is going. Instead, I pulled out a green hot wheels car named Ballistik – I forgot to send this toy with my youngest son when I dropped him off at daycare this morning.  Not being able to reach of my wife, my thoughts wondered as I waited for my macaroni and cheese to cool down.

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The mind is an interesting place. It is the gathering place of ideas, thoughts, dreams, concerns and sorrows. Today, my mind meandered about my son’s early childhood therapy he started receiving at the beginning of August.  The plastic toy car reminded me of the immense strides that he has made toward improvement on his developmental delays. My son is a joy of my life. His high pitched giggles and funny mannerisms infuse life into me daily. I was experiencing a brain barricade when it came to writing. I lacked motivation, inspiration, and endurance to pen my thoughts.  Toy cars, farewells, and door knockings unexpectedly lifted me out of my stupor.

Infants typically begin playing with toys around 5-6 months. My son was a unique case as he only played with toys cylindrical or round in nature. He has a fascination with circles—currently he goes into our bathroom and nearly dives headfirst into the empty tub looking for the round drain cover! Don’t worry; I make sure to disinfect it time. Nevertheless, my child has idiosyncratic interests that make him a distinct, and cute, individual. To get back to the topic of toy cars, the reason why it is significant is that this past week was the first time I captured him playing with cars—the appropriate way instead of flipping them to look at their circular wheels or chucking them in the kitchen! Progress is visible. As a father of a child with autism [my oldest son was diagnosed a couple years ago], I noticed hints of autism spectrum disorder with my youngest. I want to give him the best tools to succeed in life and to improve his communication as well.

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Regarding, farewells my son was not able to communicate verbally during tantrums he banged his head against the ground. Since the start of his therapy, I have noticed a tremendous growth my son’s social-communication skills. Last week he waved good-bye for the first time. Since then, he has been waving to our daycare provider upon my picking him up. These seem like simple achievements, but to a parent of a child with a developmental delay I was overjoyed with my 18 month old’s budding skills!

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Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).  Knocking on educational “doors” was a common experience that past few months as we sought after help for our son. Through the grace of God we got therapy to help him improve his communication. Continual asking for help was a sign of our hope in the Lord to provide for our child in need. Patience and persistence bore fruit in the form of my son knocking on doors recently. His tiny knuckles clinking the side of a front door was one of the most beautiful sounds I heard this week.

If you are experiencing a stressful situation with anxiety or struggle with communication the best way is to continue ask for help. Ask professionals. Ask friends. Ask God. It will take time, but do not be alarmed—help will always find those seeking aid and refuge from worry!

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***For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened***

4 Reasons Why Crying Out to God is Essential for the Spiritual Life

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Emotions ran high in my family yesterday. I struggled with a stressful situation at work and my son fell off his bike and scrapes his knee—a meltdown ensued. Feelings are part of the fabric of what it means to be human. I am not proud to admit this, but I have greatly failed in keeping my feeling in check during the past couple weeks.

On my drove to work this morning, words from a Christian song over the radio jogged a thought I had about prayer and our communication of God. I pondered how natural it is for humanity to complain when things do not go your way. How do we overcome the sin of complaining? Listening to the song lyrics I realized the answer is incredibly simple—cry out to God!

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Using examples from the Scriptures, excerpts from St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, and my own personal experiences I give 4 reasons why “crying out to God” is not complaining but rather an essential part of the spiritual life.

1. Lesson from Lamentations: Latent within the Old Testament, Lamentations is not among the first books that pop into my mind for having spiritual insight. I usually think of Proverbs or the Book of Wisdom. Lamentations is a collection of five poems that act as a woeful reply to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Both individual and communal prayers of sorrow are found in this book. For my purposes today I will only focus on Lamentations 3:19-31 which contains an individual lament.

The thought of my wretched homelessness is wormwood and poison; 20Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.21But this I will call to mind— therefore I will hope: 22The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent. 23They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness! 24The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. 25The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; 26It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance. 27It is good for a person, when young, to bear the yoke, 28To sit alone and in silence, when its weight lies heavy, 29To put one’s mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope—30 To offer one’s cheek to be struck, to be filled with disgrace. 31For the Lord does not reject forever.

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The inspired writer of Lamentations speaks directly to me in this passage. His words, “Over and over, my soul is downcast,” calls to mind my state of mind and relationship with God over the past several weeks. I was downtrodden and I frequently wanted to give up. Interestingly enough, I actually pondered the fact that there is a glimmer of hope in my situation. The writer of Lamentations is prophetic again when he states, “I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him. 25The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; 26It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.”

2. Psalm 22: According to Mark 15:34, Jesus cries out to the Father in similar fashion as the book of Lamentations and myself when I encounter the stresses of life. The evangelist writes, “And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”* which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words used to befuddle me. I have since learned that Jesus was invoking the psalmist’s lamenting words in Psalm 22. The psalm begins as a sorrowful prayer to God but similar to Lamentations 3 it ends with hope [see Psalm 22:23-32]. Reading these words, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me on this subject. Verse 30 references homage toward God on bended knee and I already was planning on talking about how lament leads to kneeling before God even before I read Psalm 22!! The movement of the Holy Spirit is mysterious yet true.

3. Dark Night of a Soul: St John of the Cross was a great mystic of the Catholic Church during the 16th century. His spiritual work Dark Night of the Soul is as relevant today as it was when it was originally written. I will only focus on the dark night of the purgation of our senses and tie it to the theme of crying out towards God. The major characteristic of this dark night is the soul finding no pleasure or consolation in the things of God. I find myself occasionally in a “spiritual rut” where I do not receive consolation or experience direct joy from God. St. John tells us to not worry, “It is well for those who find themselves in this condition to take comfort, to persevere in patience and to be in no wise afflicted. Let them trust in God, Who abandons not those that seek Him with a simple and right heart, and will not fail to give them what is needful for the road, until He bring them into the clear and pure light of love” (Chapter X no 3).

Sounding similar to the writer of Lamentations, John of the Cross, reassures us that for growth to occur in the spiritual life a certain period of purgation is necessary to increase our holiness and awareness of God.

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4. Skinned Up Knees Leads to On Bended Knee: This week my wife and I added training wheels to our son’s bicycle and we being teaching him the quintessential summer experience of riding his first bike! We taught him the fundamentals of pedaling and coaxing him when he got frustrated because they were “too heavy”. Things were going well. He gained momentum and cruised on our neighbor sidewalk for about 50 feet. Suddenly he hit a raised section of the sidewalk and toppled off his bike. Tears immediately streamed down his face. My wife added a Band-Aid and after a few minutes of reassurance had him get back on the bike to try again.

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How does this common childhood experience relate to the spiritual life? Oftentimes we get metaphorical “skinned up knees”. Gossip in the workplace or stressful family events damage our relationship with God. True growth is not without pain—both in learning to ride a bike and deepening our spiritual life. Having undergone lots of skinned up knees in learning to ride my bike it makes it easier for me to be on bended knee in prayer to thank God for going through the school of trials to learn more about Him.

The difference between complaining and lamenting is the former lacks the virtue of hope. Complaining is more self-centered in orientations whereas prayers of lament focuses communication with our Divine Creator. Do not be ashamed to cry out to God, but remember that while it is a necessary step in the spiritual process– it is only the beginning. May we always ask the Holy Spirit to lead us toward prayers of thanksgiving after a season of lament!