I had just received shocking news while on a rare long weekend retreat: I was pregnant. Good Catholics are not supposed to be upset about this news, but I was. I wasn’t in a place in my life where I was ready to accept or welcome another baby, and I couldn’t fathom how I would have the ability to care for another human soul.
It was a Sunday, and my mom and I were on our way to Mass at an unfamiliar parish in a sleepy Michigan town. Every bone in my body and fiber of my being resisted walking into the church. I could not control my sobbing, and for the first time in many years, I didn’t try to. I just let the tears continue to wash over my face, because, after all, nobody knew me.
Thy Will Be Done?
The homily happened to be about the Our Father, and the priest focused on the phrase “thy will be done” for the greater part of twenty minutes. I’d never been in a position where I wanted to flee from Mass, but every prayer said and every hymn sung made me seethe all the more.
Why was God allowing this? Why now? Sarah’s complex care had just gotten more complicated. This wasn’t unusual for a child with her syndrome, but as her mom and primary caregiver, I was tired of more new specialists, more tests, more paperwork and questions and follow-ups. My energy was threadbare, my mental and emotional capacity at a breaking point. How could I accept God’s will? Was I lying when I prayed “thy will be done” in the Our Father?
That day, it felt like everything I prayed was a lie. I didn’t participate, only wept. Nothing made sense and everything was about to change – again.
If you’re reading this, then you may have been in a similar situation to what I described. Maybe different circumstances, but you can relate to the spiritual grappling and restlessness, the sense that God has betrayed you. When we pray, we don’t often think about the words released from our lips, certainly not with the rote prayers, like the Our Father.
Asking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, said the priest, means that we want Him to fulfill on earth His plans in heaven. And the reason this does not happen very often is that we have so little faith and confidence in what He will do. Instead of asking for God’s will to be done, we beg Him to change our children or give us more money or heal us of a disease.
There was no way I was in a place I could honestly say “thy will be done” and mean it that day. All I could think about was how horrible the timing of this was and how much I despised the feelings of rejection for this growing child within me.
Being a Radical Witness of Faith
Living an authentic Catholic life is hard. It’s lonely. It’s beyond countercultural; it is a radical way of witnessing who we are through the way we live. Our spiritual growth isn’t on a linear path upward; instead, it’s a spiral staircase that winds and twists. We have periods of maturity and deepening of faith, but we also have seasons of setbacks and trials that force us to confront common clichés we have always accepted, like “trust in God, because He’ll help you” or “don’t give up” or “suffering is the path to heaven.”
These are true, we know, but when our hearts have been shattered by grief, when we are chronically sleep deprived, beyond exhausted and drained, and have had one tribulation after another with little reprieve, hearing about the gift and value of suffering does not suffice. It doesn’t make sense.
And I think that, while we are certainly called to carry our crosses with dignity, resignation, and even love, it’s okay when we aren’t able to carry on. Even Jesus was crushed under the weight of His cross — more than once. During the times when we cannot accept any more hardship or pain, perhaps it is a time when we should instead pray that God will send us a Simon of Cyrene to accompany us with more than just prayer.
I’ve learned that it’s not shameful to show the world that being Catholic is cumbersome at times, that I don’t get it right always, that I’m not a pious woman who never falls, never doubts, or never tells God off. Getting to a place where I can just let myself be held may the one true surrender that is my silent but submissive admission of “thy will be done.”