Q: Dear Father John, Ten years ago my husband left me after 25 years. We had been together since we were 15 and had three Artemisia_Gentileschi Mary Magdalene 2 Wikimedia commonsboys. But one day he just said he wasn’t happy, met someone else, got remarried and had two children. One of my sons is in a job full of serious risks. I get sick to my stomach with worry about him, along with feeling terrible confusion about my life in general. But then I feel miserable that my trust in God is not strong enough to see me through this. It’s okay for a while, and then I give in to this feeling of despair. I don’t know what’s wrong. I feel like life is passing by and I know God wants something of me but I don’t know what. I work forty hours a week and have to commute for three hours every day. I get home so tired, and I can’t do much more than just plop onto the couch. I have no passion for life anymore. Everyone tells me I just need to move on, and that God will take care of me if I just trust in him, but no one tells me how. Can you?
A: The most important thing for you to remember is that you are not alone. You have not been alone. God is with you, has been with you, and will never leave your side. And his accompaniment is not just generic. He actually knows what you are suffering. He too was unfairly abandoned; he too lived a daily life full of toil and repetition, for thirty years; he too felt the absence of his Father while he was dying on the cross. You are not alone. He is with you.
In a sense, you have been going through a season of spiritual darkness. You have felt a certain helplessness in the face of the challenges and disappointments that are pressing down upon you. When God permits seasons of darkness, he works in hidden ways within them, purifying our souls, detaching us from passing realities that we were hoping would make us happy. Only God can make us happy. Not even a perfect marriage (if there were such a thing) or perfectly successful children (if that were possible) can fill the God-shaped hole that we have in our hearts; only God can do that.
To move forward in this season of darkness will require at least three things from you, I think, though it is really hard for me to get a full picture only through email. I can only make a few general suggestions.
NO LONE RANGERS
First, you need fellowship. We are not meant to walk the path of Christian discipleship all by ourselves. We need friendships and support from people who share our faith. We need to offer that support and to receive that support. Christians are not meant to be lone rangers. We are members of a body, the Church, and we need to stay connected with that body. Sunday Mass is the absolute minimum, but in today’s secular and aggressively anti-Christian culture, that is almost never enough. I would encourage you to reach out, to look for a place where you can go on retreat or a pilgrimage, or plug into a parish Bible study, or get involved in some kind of ongoing Catholic education or faith-sharing team. I will also ask God to open some doors in this area for you. The enemy of our souls wants to keep us isolated.
INTIMACY WITH THE LORD
Second, you need to keep making an effort to grow in your intimate friendship with Jesus Christ. He really does want to show you how much he loves you, how much you mean to him, how deeply he desires your closeness. Daily mental prayer, personal study of the faith, and frequent reception of the sacraments are the bread-and-butter of this intimate friendship. And that life of prayer will overflow in your normal, everyday activities. You will find yourself wanting to live your day in a way that will be pleasing to Christ. You will find yourself not just going through the motions at work, but really wanting to engage in your duties and your relationships, living actively and proactively, as Christ lived and as he calls us all to live. But we can’t put on that dynamism from the outside, as so many self-help programs seem to think we can. No, the dynamism and energy that we yearn for have to come from within, from our soul having deep, regular, and intimate contact with the Lord.
We have written a lot of posts on these topics, and you may find it helpful to search through them for ideas. Also, the book “Navigating the Interior Life” could really help you jump-start this area of your life.
Third, you need to keep loving. Your husband’s departure and your children growing up and leaving home have cut off, in a sense, the most natural channels for your love. This, I am sure, has contributed to your sense of aimlessness and discouragement. But you are still made for love, and you still have the power of love in your heart. I would even say that your experiences of the past 10 years have increased the power of love in your heart, because someone who has suffered can love more deeply.
When I say you need to keep loving, I am referring to Christ-like love, not necessarily to romantic or sexual love. No one loved more than Jesus, but his love wasn’t romantic and sexual. The Blessed Virgin Mary is next in line for intensity and depth of loving, and she too was chaste and celibate. I am not discounting the possibility that, if there were grounds for annulment in your situation, God might use matrimony to lead you closer to him. But that is by far not the only option, not at all!
Unfortunately, our culture tends to try and convince us that real love has to involve sexual love. Not true. Loving means self-giving. You have a lot to give. You are created in God’s image, and you have a unique combination of personality, talent, experience, and opportunity. With God, you can make a difference in people’s lives. How can you put your gifts at the service of others? Ask God to reveal this to you. And don’t wait for a complete answer – rather, follow where your heart leads you. Reach out to serve and to give and help others who are in need, whether those may be people close to you, or others. This is the path to renewal, to the abundant life that Christ came to give to us.
It would be extremely helpful, in this season of your life, if you were able to find someone to meet with for spiritual direction or even for some spiritual mentoring. I would encourage you to search through some of our previous posts on finding spiritual directors. But don’t wait on the three things I mentioned above – you can begin all of them now, even without a spiritual director. And God will be with you. He will guide you. I will pray for you; I promise.
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