Without struggle, joy would be meaningless

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Two days ago, almost a month into this social distancing reality, I looked out the window of my house onto my snow-covered patio. I envisioned myself sitting out there, at a table with a fully extended, bright-colored umbrella (which I don’t have) sipping a glass of wine (which causes indigestion in me these days) and reading a good book. What has happened to me?

Later I looked past the patio to the standing gardens in my newly rejuvenated backyard and imagined them covered with beautiful wildflowers or garden greens, which I longed to lovingly place in the rich, black soil newly wetted from the spring snows. These are disturbing images of a desperate man!

Well maybe that is too strongly stated, but for those who know me, these are indeed unusual if not downright bothersome thoughts from a man who prefers the inside to the outside.  These present measures to keep us safe from this deadly disease are challenging, to say the least. If I am experiencing this, I suspect you are too. I never thought I would say, “I miss going to the office.”

What is perhaps more evident on the spiritual side is the struggle to say the often-repeated prayers that I hope many are offering, beseeching God to end this scourge. Honestly, these prayer rituals can become monotonous at times.

Then the governor says that June or July will be the peak and the weight is suddenly heavier. The old rebellion that is born into the children of Adam and Eve surfaces. “I don’t want to do this anymore!” I feel inside like a petulant child, stomping my spiritual feet and saying, “NO!” Then my adult self takes over and I sulk for a while and begin praying again.

These moments of resistance and yielding are important to the spiritual journey. I have often said to people I advise that 90% of the spiritual life is showing up. By that, I mean a significant portion of our relationship with God in Jesus is putting in the time and making the effort. We go to Mass (or watch it on TV, as unsatisfying as that may be compared to the real thing), we stop and say our prayers and we treat others kindly.

The fruits of our faithfulness to this relationship with God in Jesus are not always evident and, quite frankly, sometimes at the end of a prayer or even Mass or some gesture of charity all I can muster is, “well, I got that done.” Yet I firmly believe that our faithfulness in making ourselves present to the Lord in these ways, no matter how it may feel or what benefit we may experience, is at the heart of our encounter with God in Jesus.

I compare this to marriage. To be faithful to your spouse means you are present in their lives. The effort to live together, to do the ordinary things that are necessary and to spend time together is crucial to sustaining and building the marriage bond. Every encounter is not wonderful. Sometimes it is an endurance and other times it is a joy-filled coming together that is enriching and renewing. However, without the moments of struggle, the joy would be less meaningful. Twenty years from now, what will bind us together and fill our hearts with gratitude will not be the trip to Disneyland that we had to put off. Rather, it will be the struggle we are currently in and efforts we have made to make it through to the other side, still in love and still together.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well. God in Jesus is our ever-present spouse, the husband to his bride, the Church. There are wonderful encounters and joy-filled moments with the Lord in prayer and in our charity toward one another. There are also moments of quiet assurance; moments of simply being there in the presence of one another. There are also moments when a commitment to doing the right thing is the only motivation for continuing.

Through it all, God in Jesus is there, loving us and inviting us to love him in return. Jesus suffered through the darkness of human existence in total fidelity to God his Father. Jesus, in his time on earth, invited us to be perfect in our relationships with one another as God is perfect in his relationship with us. He also accepts our begrudging compliance. God in Jesus is using these difficult moments to invite us into that deeper fidelity which will cement our union in ways that times of joy and happiness cannot. We are called to embrace a radical change in our hearts toward God.

This might be one of those moments. We are invited to embrace God when daily living becomes difficult, when we look out the window and wish to be anywhere other than where we are, when we look at the rosary or the prayer book or the prayer corner and feel like running the other way. In these moments we are reminded that our faithfulness to Jesus is what he is asking of us right now. We don’t know when this will end and how it will end. What we do know is that our faithfulness to God in Jesus will result in victory. Through it all, we will grow and discover anew, and even for the first time, what God, in his infinite love for us, wants to teach us. We will be the better for it.

I might even find myself running to the garden to plant the flowers. Anything is possible.