Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with meekness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath. If we feel ourselves angry, it is better for us to be silent, because we should speak amiss; when we become tranquil, we shall see that all our words were culpable.”
How do you react when you experience injustice? Do you quickly respond with fury? Do you wait to reflect on the situation? I experienced a frustrating and unjust situation at work where I actually was able to diffuse the anger in my soul. Sometimes, I wish I a re-set button existed for me to push to begin my day again! Well, I experienced a sort of spiritual re-setting midway through today. How did I accomplish such a feat? Actually, it was fairly simple–yet difficult– I asked for help through prayer.
After I experienced the work situation that embarrassed me I used our scheduled lunch break to pause. I texted a close friend of mine an urgent, yet simple plea, “Please pray for me! I am feeling like I am going to lash out in anger to a co-worker.” Recognizing my problem of anger is the first step towards the cure. The next step is asking for help. Surprisingly, my anger dissipated fairly quickly. I listened to the wisdom of the Church as taught by St. James [and St. Alphonsus Liguori above!]. Chapter three of the epistle of James warns against the dangers of the tongue. The letter compares man’s tongue to a fire–gossip and angry words can spread like a wildfire.
I am grateful for the gift of patience and self-control granted to me by the Holy Spirit today. I hope that I may continue to improve on limiting my anger flare-ups on my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I pray today for anyone specifically suffering from the sin of anger and wrath–know that I am with you [in prayer] in your journey to be a better version of yourself as well! God blesses us with a new day–and a new chance– to hit the re-set button.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.”***
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.
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!
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
***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.***
Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, once stated in Happiness and Contemplation,“Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not [fully] happy. And what of contemplation? Its very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” I think every person needs to be daily reminded of this message. It seems that lately I have been encountering a flood of fleetingness. Craziness abounds in both my work and home—demands piles up both from company leadership and my children.
Instead of me thriving and managing the stresses of daily routine, life has become a panicked response to these hurried stimuli. I wish there is some why for me to fight this raining of rashness. I really mean to fight it. I wish I this precipitation of precipitateness could manifest itself in a physical form so I could perform an epic beat down on it. My wife recently started kick-boxing for her morning exercise routine—so please do not think I am always a violent person! Would it not be nice to pull a Chuck Norris and roundhouse kick stress, busyness, and hurriedness into oblivion? Although it may be a pipe-dream to pull that off this donnybrook on stress literally, there are a few tips I have learned from my Catholic faith, my counseling sessions, and through my own life experience that help me stave off the burdens of busyness.
1. Present Before the Greatest Presence: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Oftentimes I fall into the trap of citing official church documents in hopes of slamming the door on any possible counter-argument to the truth. I have recently learned the errors in my line of thought. Great, I cited the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist. But what exactly does this mean for me on an individual level. Do I experience any sort of change or transformation through my encounter with this divine presence?
I wish that I could provide you an answer to all possible questions on this topic. But to be honest, I would only be kidding myself and I would fall short. I would be an inadequate emissary for the Catholic Church. For more information on rational arguments for belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist please refer to my post What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?. What I can provide is my perspective, despite the fact that it is limited. I am actually most at peace in this life when I sit quiet before the sacrament of the Eucharist in Adoration. As a Catholic, I truly believe that during the Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communicating with God through the form of the Blessed Sacrament is where I am most at peace. Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality.
The second place I am most at peace is when I make myself vulnerable to my wife and share my dreams, fears, and worries to her. In the sacrament of marriage the love of God is made manifest in the exchange of a husband and wife [I rely on this type of presence of God more frequently than the Eucharist simply because it is more readily available].
Jesus never stressed about the busyness of this world. Even when he heard the terrible news of his close friend’s Lazarus dying Jesus never hurried. In reply to the concerned words of Lazarus’ sisters Christ calmly states in John 11:4, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Perhaps the worries and stresses God allows in my life was a preparation for his glory and display of mastery of them later in time. Through the sacraments I acquire calmness of mind and heart.
2. Cudgeling through Communication: How do you handle stressful situations? This was an interview question a prospective employer once asked me. I paused for a couple moments to collect my thoughts. I then provided two simple ways: communication and patience. As I stated above, I increase my patience through the graces I receive in the sacraments. Regarding communication, I have worked to consciously improve the manner and tone by which I rely information both at work and home.
What I have found out is that clearly and concisely conveying information is a surefire way to mitigate or defeat stressful situations. My counselor at my appointment today advised me to take a different perspective [i.e. try to see things from my manager’s vantage point] before I react and communicate something in a stressful event.
3. Perfectionists are not Perfect: Something I struggle with frequently is my tendency toward perfection. I have always been a perfectionist and an idealist. A large part of this may be due to my OCD inclinations and strong desire to have things in an straightforwardly organized manner. I want things to be predictable. There is an internal conflict within myself over desiring control over situations. I am blessed to have my wife in my life to provide an alternative approach to life. Through her example, I have slowly [hopefully surely!] worked toward a balanced approach to the stressful situations in life. Perfectionists are not perfect. We seek to attain it daily, but we will always fall short.
Does that mean I need to lower my expectations or my standards? There is a question that I may have an answer to later in my life. What I do know is that I need to come to grips with the reality that humanity is fallen. Perfection is not to be fully attained in this life—it is hinted at through the holy witness of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ!
Depression, a short temper, and negativity have haunted me for a large part of my life. This summer has been a season of change and improvement for my family. We have been actively working to obtain academic and early childhood services for our kids. My wife and I are exercising more regularly and eating healthier as well. Together with the physical aspect of self-improvement, I have focused on my mental health as well. I started seeing a counselor to assist me with my anxiety. I want to provide you—my readers—with a progress report of how I am doing in the realm of mental well-being. Furthermore, I am writing on my progress for two specific reasons: to journal my journey and help me maintain my commitment and to provide tips for others who struggle with similar vices. I want to be a beacon of hope for you and my family!
1. Help is Healthy: The old me used to shudder at the thought of asking for help. Resulting from a combination of my hubris and a misconception of counseling by our culture, I used to believe that people who went to counseling sessions failed at life. I dragged my feet at the idea of seeking professional counseling to help me deal with my daily anxiety. Through the fervor of my wife and my mother I finally scheduled—and kept—a counseling appointment! I actually felt relief after our session. In the following weeks, I have incorporated the tactics provided by the counselor.
Needing help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, accepting authentic help to remedy an illness or vice indicates a person’s strength of character. It shows humility and trust- both virtues I need to continue to learn and master daily!
2. Learning Opportunities instead of Failures: A former manager of mine had a poster outside his cubicle that add an euphemistic acronym for the word F.A.I.L.—First attempt in learning. This simple, but profound message has always stuck in the back of my mind.
To be honest, living out the poster’s lesson is a constant challenge for me. However, during these last couple of weeks, my patience level among my failures improved. Re-orienting my negative thoughts on failure, I have moved toward seeing situations that did not go my way at work and home more in a neutral light [tip I got from counselingJ]. Putting a positive, or at least neutral, spin on a tough circumstance allowed my patience to grow.
3. Stockpiling Strategies: Along with acknowledgment help as healthy and donning my positivity glasses, I have collected a sundry of tools to aid me in the battle against anxiety and impatience. I am grateful for the fidget cube craze is coinciding with my oldest son’s
current obsession over Legos. I use the various stress relievers on my generic fidget cub and comic book caricatures of my favorite DC superhero Lego mini-figures to center myself during a stressful situation at work. An added bonus if I get to think about comic books during my break and lunch times!
4. Fleeing My Fortress of Solitude?: Superheroes tend to house their headquarters in locations away access to the general populace. The Bat Cave is underneath Gotham City. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is away from civilization on a frozen environment. These heroes are strong individually but combining their talents and experiences led to the development of the Justice League.
Living in a detached manner from others leads to despair and lack of patience. During these past few weeks I have moved out of my figurative fortress of solitude and found a Watchtower [HQ of the Justice League!] through increased communication with my wife. Together we have leaned on each other for support and help during our summer busyness. I am more relaxed and patient as I work toward teaming up with my wife [and the Holy Spirit!] in the sacrament of marriage.
My pilgrimage toward patience is fresh with excitement that I have not hit any speed bumps or roadblocks. But hardship, difficulty, and strife will happen. I sense it coming soon on the horizon. I ask for your continued thoughts and prayers for me to keep steadfast to me helpmates and strategies as I continue the long and joyous path of holiness.
This summer my wife and I celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary! In honor of this event, I figured I would dedicate a post to our marriage. I also want to highlight the positive effects the sacrament of marriage has on society and why I believe the sacrament of matrimony is vital to a salubrious society. Along with our own marriage celebration, I want to personally recognize my cousin’s testament to the married life. He got married to his bride this past weekend. I present 4 reasons why the sacrament instituted by God is necessary for a healthy society.
1. Unity in Diversity: The four marks [i.e. defining characteristics] of the Catholic Church according to the Nicene Creed is that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Each of those traits are found within the sacrament of marriage as well. I will highlight the qualities of the oneness [unity] and catholic [universality] within this sacrament. Men and women are different. Differences are not bad. True equality is not to reduce men and women to be the same in every single aspect of life. Rather, true equality is in reference to equality of respect and dignity for how spouses treat each other. From my own personal experiences, I look to my parent’s marriage as an example of unity found within a diverse relationship. My mother and father come from completely different backgrounds. My dad’s family lacks divorce and has long life spans. On the contrary, my mom’s family exhibited more turmoil as her dad passed away when she was only 12 years old and her sibling relationships are splintered. Men and women communicate differently. By embracing such diversity a unity may be found.
I think somehow this diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of marriage has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needs to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis. I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.
To sum up this point I refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154” (CCC 1644).
2. Full of Fruits: According to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:43-45,
A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. 44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. 45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.
The same may can be said about the sacrament of marriage. Before I continue, I do want to distinguish between different kinds of fruits: physical and spiritual fruits. I will highlight the spiritual fruits marriage offers society later on. For now, I want to focus on the fruit of children in the sacrament of marriage. The Catholic Church leaves the married couple the freedom to elect how many children they want to have. But it is important to note that openness to fertility is essential for an authentic Christian marriage. The Church states,“By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (CCC 1652).
Children are a gift from God, not a product for married couples to control or purchase. I think a renewed sense of children as gifts would go miles to infuse society with a new mentality that is other-centered instead of self-centered. Admitting, I too sometimes struggle to make my children in my own image and control their daily activities. I more than anyone else needs to be reminded that God gifted me with children and I am to thank Him by raising them to be gifts for all of society as well!
Society grows through the family unit. Ultimate long-term success for society hinges on families that practice sacrificial love instead of self-love.
3. Use the Force: A certain power is found in permanency. Things that last long periods of time seem to gather a force and power as they age. The best example I think of is the sacrament of marriage. My grandparents recently celebrated 67 years of marriage earlier this month! You heard me: 67 years! Feeble knees, dimmed hearing, and other ailments that go with advanced years do not diminish the power and force my grandparent’s marriage hold. Whenever I tell a random stranger, friend or co-worker the length of their marriage there is always a momentous pause…then a statement of awe and wonder will always follow. My grandparent’s marriage is not successful because they are amazing. It is successful because they rely on God to help them forgive each other. My cousins’ new father-in-law gave pithy, but profound advise to the new married couple from this weekend, [after telling my cousin and his wife to sit close together] “See that little space between you. Always be sure to include the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have them
fill that space. Everything else will work out, maybe not necessarily the way you think it will, but everything will work out!”
It is only through a sacramental marriage that married couples are about to use the force…the force of our Triune God!
4. Victory through Virtues: Authentic victory is to be achieved not through military might or political prowess, but rather through personal virtue. Having virtuous and charitable citizens are the only way for society to be renewed and remain healthy. While children are the more visible of the fruits of marriage, I maintain that the more universal fruit of sacramental marriages is virtue. Not every married couple is able to conceive a child. Such marriages are not to be held as less holy or effective as couple that has children. In fact, the number of children is not to be correlated with an increase [or decrease] in holiness.
It is through my experience that the longer a couple is married and the more they tend to remind themselves that marriage is a sacrament that greater virtue abound. Patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, and gratitude are just some of the many virtues I notice in my
parents, grandparents, and even my own marriage [when I embrace the sacrament]. Societies that tend to have citizens who exhibit virtues and charity towards others, I have noticed, tend to be more unified and healthy.
On a closing note, I want to make sure I am clear that people who participate in sacramental marriages are NOT better nor more holy than single people or priests. What I want to stress is that marriage along with being a sacrament [visible sign from God] is not a right, but a gift. Not everyone is called to be married! And that is okay. Diversity of vocations: married state, single state, and ordained state all contribute to a healthy and holy society!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!