I want to write beautiful, poignant pieces that inspire and guide people in their lives. I like to write about cleaning and organizing because I believe that when you feel peace in your space, you feel peace in your life. I enjoy sharing spiritual musings because we’re not meant to be on this journey alone, and it’s important to be to be a little vulnerable here so that you, reader, can feel less alone out there.
But the trouble with authenticity is that it’s hard. It’s hard to discern the line between vulnerability and oversharing. Between relating and whining. So pardon me as I stumble through these next few paragraphs, trying to find that line.
Life has been in flux for me lately. I have had several friends bow out, leaving me bewildered and broken-hearted. After a few weeks of tear-filled evenings and sleepless nights, I prayerfully decided that living alone was probably no longer a financially or emotionally viable option for me, so I accepted a longstanding offer to move back in with my parents. And here I am.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, but it rarely feels like that in the immediate wake of heartache. It’s incredible what our worldly experiences can do to our heavenly perception. In 2015, I lost my spiritual mentor and confidant, Fr. Bill Kottenstette. I saw him on a weekly basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation, and I remember him laughing once at me, saying he’d never seen anyone so giddy to come to face their sins head-on. My joy then came from the way that I saw God in Fr. Bill. I saw a man who sat with me in my sin every week, who knew my truest heart, and loved me so much anyway. I began to imagine (or understand) that God was very much that way, too.
Bonus: Read some of Fr. Bill’s strange style of wisdom in this post.
And when Fr. Bill died, I was devastated. Pope Francis wrote later that year that when our primary confessor (priest who presides over the sacrament of confession) dies, it is like our face of Christ dies in a way, too. It’s exactly how I felt. The joy that drew me so close to the Lord was gone in an instant, and I was mourning. Like I said, so powerful is the way that our worldly experiences shape how we relate to God.
Which means that in the last weeks, when so many people that I trusted with so much of my heart suddenly hurt me so deeply, my trust for the Lord was called into question. I’m a spiritual person; I try hard to figure out where I am being called–so how could I have been so wrong that suddenly it was all taken away from me? Was it possible that God was bowing out, too?
So before I could be abandoned by another being (in this case, yes, God. I am that full of myself, apparently) I decided to abandon Him. You can’t hear answers you don’t want when you’re just not listening at all.
I busied myself with other things–work, handlettering, this blog–anything to keep my mind off of my pain or my faith. Until one day it all sort of bubbled over. (That’s the thing about pain–eventually, it will catch up with you.) Lamenting this to my parents, my dad said to me, “Erin, when life knocks you down, just keep getting back up to fight again!”
I said, “Dad, I wasn’t even aware I was in the ring. I was headed for popcorn at the concession stand and suddenly I’m in the middle of a professional fight getting the crap kicked out of me with no idea what I’m doing.”
I wanted to reconcile with the Lord, but that meant visiting those wounds with Him, and going back to that heartache. Sitting back in those memories was painful. You know how when a relationship ends, suddenly even the good times hurt? It was that feeling over and over and over again.
Then a Bible study online crossed my path on Instagram. Proverbs 31 Ministries was offering a study on suffering, reading through the Book of Job. Sometimes, grief makes you blind to true perspective. So I saw this and thought, “I am obviously just like Job, so I need to read this.”
Wrong. Job experienced true suffering. His family was literally flattened by a house. As I read, my perspective began to change.
When Job’s life was tossed into complete turmoil, he didn’t curse God–which is the whole point of the book of Job–but the other thing he didn’t do was ask why. That was jarring to me because that’s all I have been asking for weeks. Why did I trust them? Why was I so foolish? Why would God rearrange my life without so much as a next step set out?
What Job did do was cut off all his hair. He said, “Lord, naked I was born, and naked I will die. Take everything I have left.”
Now, I’m not a vain person, but I love my hair. It’s shiny and soft and vibrant like a Pantene commercial. So Job cutting off all of this hair stirred something inside me. I saw an opportunity to offer a sacrifice of my own volition. After these weeks where it felt like so many things were taken against my will (my mental and emotional stability, my friends, my apartment), here was a chance for me to willingly give something to the Lord to show Him, “Okay, I’m going to trust you. Whatever I have in this life is yours to give or take away.”
So I cut off my hair. I’ve been growing it out for a few years, and had every intention to grow it out until I finally met someone and got married (an arbitrary deadline but the one I dreamt up). I didn’t do a big before-after picture because I wanted it to be about the sacrifice. And I’m sharing it with you now, not to boast, but because I want to be transparent and genuine and honest.
What I’ve been praying about a lot in the last few days has been that we don’t deserve God’s love, but we have it. And He does deserve ours, but often He doesn’t have it. And it’s because of moments like this. These moments when I feel like I’ve checked all the right boxes and done my due diligence and prayed my prayers correctly–so I can bypass the hard times.
But that’s not how it works. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anywhere near healed. The pain of what I’ve been asked to give up is real and I’m struggling to wrap my head around forgiveness and moving on, but I’m trying to shift my perspective to this: We’re given challenging times whether we “deserve” them or not. And praise God for that, because gold is tested in fire. And cushy lives don’t make saints.
So to sum up this attempted authentic ramble: Trust is hard. Being real is hard. Finding that line between under- and over-sharing is hard. I get the feeling that life is just going to be hard.
But that brings me right back to the beginning, friend-o. Tested, we are. But alone, we are not.
How can I pray for you this week? Drop a comment below.