Until several years ago, my walk with the Lord was pretty much on an uphill climb, in a good way. For more than 30 years, He led me through a whole series of exciting and widely varied life experiences, all of which served to strengthen, mold and refine my faith and relationship with Him. Of course there were little bumps in the road along the way, brief periods of spiritual dryness and small disappointments that made me pause to reevaluate and take stock of my life. But these were only short-lived and I always emerged each one just a little bit stronger and more deeply rooted in the Lord. Even while in the midst of these refining moments, I could still sense the Lord’s presence, reassuring me that it was a needed correction in my life journey.
The end results of these periods of dryness was that my faith in Him grew ever stronger. My joy in knowing the Lord on an intimate and personal basis seemed to be unshakable. I saw His hand everywhere I looked, and heard His voice deep in my heart on a regular basis. Quite often, when reading the Bible, His living word, the words would almost literally jump off the page and embed themselves in my heart. My prayer times were real and intimate encounters with the Lord, where I would share my heart with Him. When praying for the needs of others, I had this firm sense of expectancy and believing confidence and actually saw many miracles happen. I remember several times when I would start praying the Rosary for others, I would get so caught up in the experience that three hours would pass before I stopped. As for Eucharistic Adoration (spending time with the Lord present in the consecrated host), I could not get enough. One weekend, while serving as an intercessor at a spiritual retreat, I spent a total of 14 hours praying in front of the Lord on behalf of the participants. It was first-hand direct spiritual combat, and many miracles happened that weekend. During other similar retreat weekends, mighty and wonderful things would happen, especially during prayer times. Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ could somehow sense the power of my faith and intercession, and would quite regularly ask me to either join them in prayer, or beg me to pray for their specific needs. And of course I obliged these requests, because I knew it was my calling.
Sometimes, when I hit those little bumps in the road, when the Lord seemed to pull away from me, I would turn to the spiritual masters for comfort and sustenance. I read such classics as “The Cloud of Unknowing“, “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross, “The Story of a Soul” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “The Interior Castle” by St. Teresa of Avila and the Old Testament book of Job. Through these books and others, the Lord helped me to grow in the contemplative dimension of my walk with Him. He also reassured me that these times of purification were necessary “detours” my my journey toward heaven. But to be totally honest, I could not really relate to the agony and depth of struggle captured in these anointed works of prose. My own experiences of spiritual dryness were so short, that I could empathize with the depth of agony experienced by these and other holy saints. And quite frankly, I rather smugly considered myself fortunate for not having to go through such trials.
Well, about five or six years ago, my own life came to an abrupt, screeching halt. Just like the prophet Job in the Old Testament, everything was quickly taken away from me. My physical health, my energy and vitality, my savings, my lovely home, my high-level corporate job, my ministry for the Lord, my dearest friendships, everything that was important to me, it was all taken away. I also lost my confidence in my ability to provide for my family. With one important exception, everything that I tried to do seemed to “go to hell in a handbasket”. That exception is that the Lord gave me a wonderful woman as a wife, and frankly I do not think I could have survived the past three years without her by my side. On many days, it feels like we are just one slip-up away from total annihilation. It is taking every bit of resolve and grace just to continue working to better our situation, and it seems like we are being attacked from every angle, like Job was.
For a period of several years, I even lost my faith in the power of prayer. I did not ask others to pray for me, and I cringed whenever someone would ask me to pray for them. This was because in my heart I had no real idea of the purpose of prayer. Due to the relentless onslaught of new challenges coming at me, it propelled me to step back and really reexamine the whole meaning of prayer. I still do not have it back yet, but I am slowly gaining strength and faith in prayer again. It could be that one of the things that the Lord is trying to teach me through all this is that prayer is first and foremost an intimate relationship with Him.
Yet, like Job, I have steadfastly refused to curse God through all this. Why? Because like I wrote in my recent post Experience, my past experiences of God’s love, mercy and presence are more than enough to sustain me through my current trials. I have no idea of why I am in the state that I am right now, although many different thoughts have come to mind. Like Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth, I know that our Lord will not allow me to be tested beyond what I can handle. I must say, though, on some days, I am not sure how much more of this I can take. Sometimes it feels like I will be crushed under the weight of the cross that I am carrying. Yet the Lord always gives me enough grace to keep going. I am often reminded of something my good friend Fred in Oregon said to me: “We all have our crosses to carry; some just have more splinters than others!” I smile every time I remember this.
So, let this be a source of strength and encouragement to you. When you are down and out, stooping under the weight of your cross, when you feel totally abandoned, and you are misunderstood by everyone including your loved ones, know this: our Lord is right there with you, sharing fully in your tears and agony. He feels the cries in your heart, and sheds those tears them Himself. He will always give you what you need to carry on, and one day all this will be over. And you will have emerged stronger, and with a deeper sense of his love and providence in your life.
✝ Oh my loving Lord Jesus, I am truly grateful that you love me enough to purify me through my present adversity. I thank you for helping me to minister your love, healing and strength to others in need through my own pain and suffering. Give each one of your beloved sons and daughters a special sense of how much you love them. Reassure them in their hearts that you will never abandon nor forsake them. I pronounce incredible blessings upon each person who will read this post. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit I pray. Amen, amen and AMEN! ✝
1 Cor 10:13 (NAB)
No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.
Mark 8:34-35 (NAB)
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Job 23:10 (NAB)
Yet he knows my way; if he proved me, I should come forth as gold.
Isa 48:10 (NAB)
See, I have refined you like silver, tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Hebrews 12:5-7 (NAB)
You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?