Mine is a life that hasn’t exactly been fraught with tragedy. It has, however, known a fair amount of financial and personal struggle throughout the years. If the rough patches on one’s journey are tests, I feel as if I should have multiple graduate degrees in Getting Over It Already.
Whenever anything gets too ridiculous, I have relied on a triple-tiered, unwavering support network of family, amazing friends, and faith.
In the past few months, the faith wavered. That’s not wholly accurate: it disappeared.
A little background is in order here.
I have been a practicing Roman Catholic all of my life. I never had a “wander away from the Church” phase when I was young. As a younger road comic, I would go on retreat at a monastery and contemplate whether I wanted to be a priest.
The intensity of my prayer life fluctuates but it has always been there for me. I pray in a variety of ways. Sometimes I begin the day with a prayer of gratitude. Others I’ll pray the Psalms. The Lord and I have always been able to have spontaneous conversations too.
This relationship has been the bedrock of whatever I have needed to get through in my life.
I am not saying that I am, or was, a saint–far from it–I have always just relied on an active faith in God.
When my only child left for college last year, the empty nest was more difficult to deal with than I imagined. I found great solace in prayer and my parish community, as always.
In the early part of this summer, a couple of things happened (not health-related, but a bit personal to discuss here) that shocked me and left me feeling rather untethered. Fortunately, my daughter was home for the summer, so I had that to focus on. However, she’s nineteen and has a job and a life of her own–so there wasn’t a lot of parenting to occupy my time.
My friends and family were there for me, as always.
When I turned to God, he was not.
It didn’t feel like he pulled away. I wasn’t angry with him.
It felt like he wasn’t there and I felt empty. That in itself was as shocking as what precipitated all of this.
That was almost three months ago, and my approach to dealing with it, while not exactly vigorous, hasn’t been passive either.
I will pray for a few days in a row just to see if that starts anything.
Because the Roman Catholic Church is so steeped in ritual, I decided to avail myself of some of them to get things moving.
So far, so empty.
While wearing out one of my best friends with yet another “I don’t know what to do” babble-fest last week, he (also a Roman Catholic) suggested that I talk to a priest. Fortunately, I have been active at my parish for a very long time and have developed good relationships with a couple of the priests there.
I will freely admit that at first I felt like an idiot for not having thought of this myself, but then cut myself some slack because I haven’t really been the poster boy for clear-headed thinking recently.
I am not certain what, if anything, I expected from the meeting. After three months, I’m getting into desperation mode with this crisis. As I told my friend the other day, “I need my faith to come back and come back quickly if I’m going to get through the next few months smoothly.” Also, because I’m a comic, I often think better aloud, so just talking to another human being can be helpful.
The priest let me ramble on for a while before he responded. Naturally, he brought up “The Dark Night of the Soul,” a phrase I had been deliberately avoiding this summer because I didn’t want to admit that I am mired in that big of a struggle. I keep hoping I will wake up and it will just be better.
So much for that.
Can’t get over a struggle if you keep pretending you’re not struggling.
He also suggested a book titled The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God, which I may read, even though I’m not always a big fan of anything that hints of self-help.
He said two things that really stuck with me though.
First, he said God is trying to get to me in a way that he never has before and that what happens on the other side of this could be a stronger and better faith. I can’t say that I completely believe that, but it does give me an intellectualized scintilla of hope that I didn’t have before.
He then told me to keep praying but to stop expecting things, which is what I have been doing this summer. I would pray, then essentially take my “faith pulse” to see if anything was there.
What he did not do, thankfully, was say that this would all be better soon or assure me that everyone has these crises of faith. When someone is struggling with something, assuring them that it happens to a lot of people provides zero comfort whatsoever. That was a lesson I learned when I got divorced. Pain is personal, not a community thing.
My purpose in writing this is to use another platform to think out loud, if you will. I have been dealing with this problem in intermittent spurts and mostly pushing it to the periphery. If there is a greater struggle to be had to resolve the crisis, I need to stop being in denial and let the struggling proceed apace.
My family and friends are people of faith, and from a variety of traditions. I know that their ongoing prayers for me to figure this out are a blessing, even if I’m not sure who does the blessing anymore.
I am also fortunate to be part of a very large, dynamic parish that anyone who visits will tell you is quite unlike most Roman Catholic communities in America.
The map to the path back to God is probably right in front of me.
I am just going to need to look harder.