Before I begin, I just want to tell you a little about the prayer hotline, first off that all messages are phoned into an answering service, which I check once a day. I then type up the prayer requests, and the requests are then read during Vespers so that all the monks can pray for the callers and their respective needs. I provide call-backs to those callers who request them and to those who I feel God charges me to do so.
Over the many months in charge of the hotline, I have heard a wide range of messages, but Suzan’s stood above the others. Suzan’s call was such a heartbreaking plea for help, that for the first time ever, I cried while listening to a message.
Suzan is a grandmother, who is raising her daughter’s children, ages 6, 12, and 16, because her daughter is a drug addict. Within the last year, Suzan divorced, and her husband, who is not the children’s biological grandfather, is doing everything in his power to take every penny from her. The money is almost gone, and she was sure that Child Welfare Services would soon take the kids and split them up into different foster homes. She mentioned how unbearable that would be, and told me that she considered suicide because she has a life insurance policy that the kids could cash in, feeling she was worth more to them dead than alive. She was, in her words, “broken,” and was beside herself with desperation.
Whenever I pick up the phone to call someone back, Suzan included, I pretty much do the same thing that I do before I start writing the blog posts–I say a prayer and say to God, “Dear Lord, no one, including me, cares what I have to say, but everyone cares what you have to say. Let me neither write nor speak one word of my own, but let all the words be yours. Dear Lord, what do you want me to tell your children?”
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
Like I said, that first desperate call came a month ago, and since then things for Suzan have changed dramatically for the better, although not in the ways you might imagine. She still has no money. She is still being cleaned out by her ex. And she sees a time very soon when her money will run out, and when it does, she may lose the children. So what is different if all that is the same? The difference is her faith. She has come to realize something of vital importance, which is that her trials have brought her closer to God than she had ever been before. Her trials put her to the test, like they do for all of us, certainly like they once did for me as well.
I know how hard it is to see purpose in suffering, especially in the moments we are enduring it. But what we must never forget is God’s purpose for allowing them. What our trials do is force our hand, and make us decide one way or the other how we are going to handle our problems, either with Jesus, or without Him. God knew that enduring these trials would make Suzan desperate enough to come closer to Him, but not to just pray and beg for relief, but to seek something greater—an actual relationship with Jesus.
I have said many times that Jesus’ main priority is reaping our souls from the earth so that we can live with Him in heaven forever, and that is still true. However, Suzan has shown me something I have mentioned, but not stressed enough, and that is the development of a true relationship with God.
It is a relationship with you, me, and everyone that God really wants, and now that He has begun to establish this with Suzan, God certainly sees her suffering as worth it. I know. It’s a hard lesson for a hard world, but to God, how could her suffering not be necessary? Humans have hard heads and often even harder hearts, and the fact is that suffering has a tendency to wake us up from our complacency and demand that we choose–to run into God’s loving arms out of love, or run away out of resentment.
At last, Suzan and God were face-to-face, and He was telling her everything she needed to know about what was truly important in this life. What He told her, is what we all need to hear, and He has been saying it through the blog since the beginning. Still, I think Suzan says it better than I ever did. I think the excerpts from some emails she has sent to me in the last few days, which I have provided below, give us the answer:
Br. Damien, I found this scripture after reading your email today: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has NO WORRIES in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit”. Jeremiah 17:7-8.
Your great faith sounds very much like this scripture and I will strive to attain this. I have identified some “action steps” to work on during this challenging time. I am going to share what I have come up with so that you may offer suggestions or improvements;
1. Write in my “Thank you God” journal every day! (Write down every blessing and beautiful, kind, loving, sweet encounter or experience that I can be thankful to God for every day.
2. Put on my “armor of God every day! (Helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, shoes of the peace of the Gospel, take up my shield of faith, and arm myself with the sword of the spirit which is the very word of God – Ephesians).
3. Read Psalm 91 for comfort.
4. Read Gods word every day, say the Rosary and thank God sincerely.
5. Look for ways to share God’s love with others.
6. Rebuke negative or self-defeating thoughts
7. Ask God and the Holy Spirit to remain close to me in all my daily activities and STAND ON GOD’s Words and Promises.
Brother Damien, you are so right about “value without substance or effort”! Perhaps God allows struggles to come into our lives so that we do not become lazy about pursuing a relationship with him. Relationships are two way streets. When life is comfortable, I am guilty of enjoying the comfort and slacking off on the time I spend with God.
After reading your email (the one before this last one), I could not relate to just “having faith” and “believing”, because though you seem certain of God’s will in this situation, I am not sure of “God’s will” given the brick walls I’ve run into combined with the continuous attacks from my ex. It’s more like a spiritual war than a struggle. I’m long past feeling worn out and used up. So I got into my Bible to seek understanding about how to discern God’s will and acquire the faith that I hear you speak, because I desperately need and want faith like that. God says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed that you can move mountains. I need to be able to move a mountain!
During my reading, I came to understand that in order to discern God’s will, we must remain very close to him, be actively engaged with him (as one would be in any relationship) and be willing to read his word to get to know him, attend Mass to have an opportunity to experience him through the Eucharist and to get quiet and listen to him speak into our hearts. It makes sense to write scriptures down that speak of God’s will (I wrote two pages of scriptures that speak of God’s concern for “fatherless children” and orphans). Doing that inspired belief that God will protect and take care of them. I just do not know how.
It also appears that faith is a “muscle” that needs to be exercised (there are so many examples in the Bible of God’s people having to “exercise” their faith when they didn’t particularly want to….Moses who had to face the terrible Pharaoh seven times – remember – he told God several times that he was not good at speaking and didn’t really want to face the Pharaoh, David, who faced Goliath, Daniel with the lions). All of them sought God first before they had the strength and courage to face the enemy. And some of them even spoke to God about their fears and lack of faith. All of them actively developed a strong relationship with God prior to their biggest battles. So, it made sense to make an “action plan” to check off daily to develop and strengthen my “faith muscles”. How can one have great faith without understanding God (his heart, his power, his priorities, his love etc., etc.)? And how do we come to understand God…. by communing with him daily and taking in his words, laws and wisdom.
I advise everyone to follow Suzan’s “action plan” and memorize those last two sentences. How can one have great faith without understanding God (his heart, his power, his priorities, his love, etc.). And how do we come to understand God…. by communing with him daily and taking in his words, laws and wisdom.
It is at times like this, when we are hurting our most, that we must look at our pain through God’s eyes, and we can only do this when we understand God’s number one priority, which, as we have discussed at length, is the salvation of our eternal souls. So often we say that we cannot understand how a God of benevolence would allow such pain in the world, but in this case we see clearly one reason why. Often we do not understand what it takes for God to get our attention–to shake us from the contentment and lukewarm spirit that envelops us when all is well, so that we will give equal weight and attention to the importance of the goal of our relationship with Him. For God, it is absolutely worth it for us to suffer in order for us to face up to our weakness, sinfulness, half-hearted faith, and admit that we need Him more than we have ever imagined. He is willing to allow the suffering that Suzan has endured and is enduring because without it, her relationship with Him would have continued to stagnate, and without a relationship with God, how can we expect to know Him and serve Him and be saved by Him? Suzan’s suffering, like all of our suffering, serves a purpose in the eyes of God, and since His purpose of salvation never changes, we must see the correlation between salvation and the vital importance of developing the relationship with Him that He so desperately wants from us. God wants to save you, certainly, but just as certain, is that He wants to get to know you and vice versa.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made, and one of the most foolish things I ever said, is that God knew me, when up to that point in my life I had not lifted one finger to get to know Him at all. I was fooling myself again, so what did He do? He put me to the test, and He forced my decision so that I could not sit idly by for the rest of my life while any chance of a relationship with Jesus passed me by, and with it, any chance of salvation and an eternity with Him in heaven. Sounds worth it, doesn’t it. You bet it is. As in any relationship, it must be, as Suzan puts it, a two-way street.
Without any effort on our part, a relationship is impossible, and the result is that truly God does not know us. He wants to so badly, but because we are ignorant, prideful, and selfish, sometimes it takes some pain in our lives to wake us up, and get us off the couch to realize just how important that relationship is, and get us on the road to establishing it. After all, the reward for doing so is eternal.