Everything is grace. Everything is grace. Everything is grace. Maybe if I keep repeating this to myself, I will believe it. I heard this the other day in a homily and I can’t forget it. Now, I’m just trying to get my heart to believe it. I’ve always been a person that functions presuming the logic of cause and effect. If I don’t get something, whether it be a material good, a promotion, or love from those around me, I assume that I must not have deserved it. I must have done something wrong, not worked hard enough, or made a mistake. And the same is true in positive situations. When I receive praise, attention, accolades it is because I have earned it. So, to break this cycle – to believe that I am inherently good enough and deserve love without doing anything or perhaps even that things happen that we don’t deserve, is a fundamental struggle for me. In some ways, it is a struggle because I don’t believe it to be true. But I know that I also struggle because my pride is at stake. My pride keeps me worthy, keeps me deserving, and most of all – keeps me in control.
This summer, God’s lesson to me on control was taken to a whole new level. In July, while traveling in Europe on a pilgrimage, I found myself very ill and weak in the middle of the trip. So much so that I couldn’t keep up with the group and I spent a couple of hard days back at the hostel while the group continued with tours. This time alone for me was very scary. Of course, not feeling well always makes things worse but the hardest part was my mind. It kept focusing on my discomfort and my fears creating overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. My struggles with depression and depression-like symptoms were attacking me full force. Moments of comfort would only come when the group would return from their day excursions. I kept thinking I just needed to be stronger and I would get better. My condition didn’t improve so I ended up flying back to the states early. At the time, I felt peaceful about this abrupt end to my trip. I knew there was some kind of purpose for it. And truthfully, I felt so sick that I was relieved I didn’t have to worry about how to keep up with everyone. I thought that I would come back to the states, go to the doctor, and I would be better again. There was a different plan for me.
After returning home I improved somewhat but still felt essentially debilitated. I found myself no longer able to do the things I used to be able to do. Walking up the stairs to my bedroom was exhausting, sleep was almost never restful, my day was full of swings of feeling ill-accompanied by thoughts of hopelessness to moments of feeling ok and an unspeakable relief. Trying to keep functioning at my job was almost impossible. People would tell me “oh that happened to me once, they never figured it out but in time (months), I recovered”. This did not bring me hope. If anything, it brought me more fear. Could I handle this for months? I started going from doctor to doctor, each concluding I was very healthy and nothing was wrong. This just didn’t make any sense. One year prior I was finishing an Olympic triathlon and now I found myself winded and exhausted from walking on flat ground to my car. During this time, I felt a deep trust that whatever this was, was supposed to be happening to me. But frequently, this would be overcome by fear, loneliness, frustration, and an anger that I didn’t deserve this. Looking back, I realized that I talked to God very little during this time. I would pray in a pleading kind of way, but I never talked to God in a personal way. It was too much for me. The times that I did, were the days that I had nothing left. Those days where you break down in the shower balling, and finally, talk (yell) to God. I felt so sure that God was putting me through this for a reason and yet at the same time I felt far from Him and didn’t understand what he was trying to do to me/teach me. What was the point? What did I do wrong? Those around me were doing all they could to support me, but they couldn’t make me better. They couldn’t give me the energy and means to go back to normal life. To make it through a workday, to stay up later than 8 pm, to have the energy to engage with others, to physically exercise. They could listen, they could hold me, they could sit with me.
Now, after months of doctors’ visits and testing, there is little to no explanation for how I was feeling. The idea that science couldn’t explain what was going on with my body had me at a loss. If the doctors can’t help me, then who can? Will I feel like this forever? How could there be no explanation for any of this? I still don’t know the answers to these questions. Some days I feel angry about missing the end of the trip. Angry and sad that I couldn’t be more present for my best friend as she prepares for her wedding. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but to let go. To trust that everything is grace.
It is said that to make space for more of God there needs to be less of us. God is showing me how to live with less of me. Honestly, though, it doesn’t always feel like there is more of God. Some days it just feels emptier. But I wonder, could I be experiencing spiritual poverty and abundance at the same time? Perhaps it is in the moments of completely falling apart – sobbing into the shoulder of a friend that I am abundantly held. Could these be the moments that God is holding me, waiting for me to open my eyes and look at his face? Could these be my most grace-filled moments?
Everything is grace.
For further reflection, Jason Upton’s “In the Silence.”
Tired of telling you, you have me
When I know you really don't
Tired of telling you I'll follow
When I know I really won't
'Cause I'd rather stand here speechless
With no great words to say
If my silence is more truthful
And my ears can hear how to walk in your way
In the silence you are speaking
In the quiet I can feel the fire
And it's burning, burning deeply burning all that it is
That you desire to be silent, in me
Oh Jesus, can You hear me?
My soul is screaming out
And my broken will cries teach me
What your Kingdom's all about
Unite my heart to fear you
To fear your holy name
And create a life of worship
In the spirit and truth of your loving ways