Word of God Among Us

It is a frustrating and humbling reality that when I am in a crisis or find myself in an extremely emotional situation, when I am feeling stressed and at the end of my rope, that the thing I need to hear the most is the very thing I do not want to hear.  Sometimes it’s someone outside the situation listening to me complain, and they just blurt out the most obvious answer!  Other times it’s the people closest to me, the ones who mean everything to me who pull me aside and give me their wise observations.  Regardless of the source, I have one basic response to these would-be do-gooders: I politely listen and then ignore what they say.  Instead of finding comfort and a moment of insight, I instinctively resist  and dismiss their observations out of hand, because, after all, I am smarter than they are and I can find my own way out of my mess, thank you very much….  In reality, I’m too stressed, too wrapped up in my own issues to see anything other than the corner into which I’ve painted myself.  And I’m afraid that if I listen to them and take their advice to heart, I would have to release my fears and step forward in faith.

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

I’m in the hospital waiting room pacing back and forth in a room full of strangers whose faces suggest they are there carrying burdens similar to my own.  I’ve got my rosary in my pocket and I’m clutching a paper cup of the worst coffee in the world.  I’m flipping through magazines I would ordinarily never even pick up, let alone read, but there they are and I’m so stressed I will even look at Sports Illustrated and Seventeen.  I’m trying to keep my fear under control, praying that the time will pass quickly and that I will hear something in the way of good news that will make this day bearable.

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

The funeral is finally over, the prayers have been said, and the hymns have been sung.  The body has been taken to the crematorium.  The family and friends have left me alone in the house with platters of food everywhere, flowers in every corner, cards on every table. It’s over. I sit now with a growing awareness that there is a huge, gaping hole where my loved one once lived.  I never expected to lose someone I loved like this.  The future? There is no future.  There is only the past, there is only missing and reliving and rewriting the past.  It seems preposterous that the sun is able to shine on a day like today.  How can the rest of the world continue on when there is such blackness and grief in my soul?

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

I hear the devastating news of a terrorist attack while I am on campus, taking the most boring excuse for a class ever invented.  The prof tells us he is not going to allow us to see the news broadcast, that we must learn how to behave rationally because, after all, what would we do if this were happening in our classrooms, our rooms full of children?  At break time, I run out into the hall and call home.  When class is over, I call everyone I can think of, email every one of my friends who lives in proximity to New York, making sure they are all okay.  At home, I hold the remote with one hand and my fork with the other, balancing my dinner plate on my knees as I keep watching the same terrifying images again and again.  It’s not just the towers that have crashed: my fundamental faith in my security has also come crashing down.  My safety and the security of those I love has been an illusion.  What’s coming next?  How can I ever be safe again?   

 “Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

 Jesus’ assurance is hard to hear and often I don’t want hear it. It sounds sentimental or like one of those silly, meaningless comments people make at funerals when they don’t know what else to say.  “I know just how you feel, I lost a cat and a dog last year.”  “God needed him more than you did.”  We’ve all experienced the simple and well intended platitudes from people who really do want to show they care, but whose words get in the way. 

The Gospel of John reports that Jesus himself had a troubled heart when he learned that his friend Lazarus died. He wept. And when Judas was preparing to betray him, he wept again – only this time with such anguish that drops of blood spilled from his brow. Jesus knows anguish and pain and suffering, and he knows all too well what it means to have a heart weighed down by sorrows.  Our God has firsthand knowledge of human suffering, so his advice to us is not just a pious platitude, it really is a way to move forward through hard times.

“Let not your heart be troubled, Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe in me.”

Preparing his disciples for a future without him – something incomprehensible to them at the time- Jesus offers precisely the word they and we need to hear – the word we have the most difficulty hearing and yet the one we most need to hear.  This is not the sentimental consolation of a person uncomfortable with grief.  It’s not a rhyming poem from Helen Steiner Rice.  In other words, this is not a human word – this is God’s word for troubled hearts. God’s word is not a prescription pill or an illegal substance that will allow temporary escape from pain.  It’s a gift that invites us to change our perspective even if we can’t change the circumstances of our situation.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus says.  “Believe in God, believe in me.”

God is still speaking to us at every moment, at every turn in the road, at each intersection of pain and disappointment and sadness.  God speaks to us in the joyful and triumphant moments and invites us to be grateful for all of it.  Where we have been is the past and we cannot change it.  The story is what the story is, but our past the sum total of who we are.  Our future is unknown and in the hands of God, and we are powerless over it because only the Almighty has power over tomorrow.  That leaves us with the eternal present, that fleeting yet everlasting moment that allows us total freedom to make better choices all the time. 

As my honors world history students have come to realize over the course of this academic year, security is something very difficult to achieve and maintain in this world.  Other forces are always in play, other people’s choices.  Humanity has yet to construct anything that is completely secure and foolproof and good for everyone on the planet.  Security and safety, then, have nothing to do with our own inventiveness and everything to do with surrendering our attempts at controlling our lives to a loving God.  Knowing that God has brought us this far and will not abandon us is the source of genuine security in the most troubling of times.  And let us not neglect the word of God spoken to us by the words of our friends, loved ones and acquaintances—and our students– which are often precisely the word from God we were meant to hear.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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