I don’t do suffering well. Some generous people said that they thought I handled the pulmonary embolism thing gracefully, but a) they would have retracted all of that and slowly backed away in fear if they could have heard my inner dialogue, and b) sitting in a quiet hospital room and listening to my iPod didn’t exactly make me St. Josephine Bakhita. Also, it’s usually the little trials that throw me for a loop more than the big ones: I can kind of go with the flow when major medical procedures go awry, but getting interrupted 50 times when I thought I might actually get ten freaking minutes to write a blog post (no idea where I came up with that example!!!!) sends me into an abyss of despair that makes me angrily question whether there is anything good in the human experience.
Needless to say, when I’m in these kinds of situations, I don’t tend to make great decisions. For example, I have this stupid sinus infection that I (and Augmentin) can’t seem to kick, and the presence of constant pain in my left cheek combined with a baby who wakes me up many times per night has left me in a not-great mental state. (Yeah, I have a neti pot. Hasn’t helped, but I use it anyway because I look so glamorous doing it.) It’s easy to let times like this trigger the beginning of a downward spiral in which I decline opportunities I should probably take, give up on activities that were good and fruitful, and open up my calendar and CANCEL ALL THE THINGS.
To inject some much-needed sanity into my decision making process during these times, I often go through a checklist of questions that my old spiritual director would ask. This post is kind of a rerun since I posted this list a couple of years ago (and I also have a new and wonderful spiritual director now who also asks great questions), but I thought I’d put it up again since these ideas are helping me keep the crazy-think at bay.
6 Questions My Spiritual Director Would Ask When
I Had a Tough Decision to Make and Was Being Crazy About It:
1. Have you prayed about it?
It’s hard to believe that this question is even necessary, but with me it usually is. With embarrassing frequency I’d come to my old spiritual director, Christie, and pour out my angst about some conundrum, ending with shaking my fist at the heavens and wondering why God wasn’t helping me. There were more than a few awkward moments the resulted from her gently asking, “Have you prayed about it?”, and I had to find a way to avoid seeming like a spiritual vegetable while offering the honest answer of “no.”
2. How does it impact your primary vocation?
I can’t overstate the importance of this question. It’s brought more peace to my life than any other thought exercise. The Catholic idea of vocation is that the meaning of life is to serve others, and your vocation (e.g. married life, religious life, priesthood, etc.) is the main way that God intends for you to serve. It’s his primary path for you to find peace and fulfillment — therefore, no legitimate call from God would negatively impact your vocation. God would never call a parish priest to do something that made him feel burdened and resentful of offering the Mass on Sunday, he would never call a father to something that made him feel tied down and frustrated by his wife and kids, etc. It doesn’t mean that the only things you ever do are directly related to the duties of your vocation, but that those duties are your top priority.
Whenever I’ve started going down a path that introduced tension, resentment, or other bad vibes into the family, it’s always turned out to be the wrong decision. This isn’t to be confused with short-term sacrifices that may be difficult, like when Joe was studying for the CPA exam and it was super stressful at times but we were both ultimately on the same page about it; it’s more about choices that fundamentally put you at odds with your spouse or your kids. Over and over again, I’ve found that if a call you hear is really from God (and not just your own selfish desires doing their best imitation of the Holy Spirit), one sure sign is that it will ultimately end up strengthening your work in your primary vocation.
3. What does your spouse think?
Like with #1, I often get so caught up in analyzing things that I forget to ask for Joe’s input, especially if it’s a small matter. My spiritual director would always hone in on this question too, since the Holy Spirit often speaks through our spouses, especially when we’re not doing a good job of listening to him ourselves. (For people who are not married, an alternative might be to ask your parents, siblings, or a trusted friend.)
4. Are you taking care of yourself?
At one point I’d been in a rut and was trying to figure out how to get my life back on track, but it felt like my discernment process was going nowhere. My prayer life was nonexistence, and, worse, I found that I didn’t even really care about praying. When I came to Christie to complain about it, and she immediately asked if I was taking care of myself. I explained that if tearing through entire bags of junk food at a time, drinking too much wine, never exercising, and staying up past midnight to surf the web could be considered “taking care of myself,” then yes, I was doing a fantastic job.
She paused for a moment, then said, “I think we’ve found at least part of the problem.” Experiences of suffering can be amazing times of closeness to God…but if your suffering is self-inflicted due to obsessive attachments to the things of the world, it’s probably not going to lead you to any super spiritual experiences. Christie said that before I began looking into any deeper causes for my spiritual dryness, I needed to start taking care of myself first. Sure enough, once I started eating a better diet and getting some sleep I was able to take the first steps toward getting my prayer life back on track, which helped me in every area of life.
5. Are you making decisions based on fear?
If you hear an inner voice telling you that you need to do something because you’ll be a big huge loser failure and everyone will hate you if you don’t, it’s pretty safe to say that that is not the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Christie always had to remind me of this. For example, at one point I was discerning whether or not to homeschool, but all of my thinking was fear-based: I was tempted to homeschool because I was freaked out about something I’d heard about the local school and I had images of my kids getting bullied playing in my head over and over again. On the other hand, I thought I should send them to school because I was sure I would screw everything up and end up with teenagers who couldn’t read and had mostly imaginary friends.
Christie encouraged me to stop living in fear and start boldly asking what God wanted our family to do, to make a conscious effort to trust that he would give us what we needed when we needed it if we just followed his path. It took a while to silence all the trains of thought that were filled with fear and anxiousness, but once I did the discernment process went much more smoothly, and I quickly came to a decision that brought me a lot of peace.
6. Which path would bring you the most peace?
Similar to the above, Christie would sometimes ask me to imagine myself going through each of the various options that were before me in some dilemma, and to consider which one would bring me the most peace. Fairly often, I would find that when I actually took the time to do this, I was filled with anxiety when I thought of going the route that looked best on paper, and felt a perfect sense of peace when I considered taking the route that seemed a little crazy — and the peace-filled option always ended up being the right path.
I usually get a lot of great questions when I bring up the subject of spiritual direction, so here are some additional resources:
- How to find a spiritual director.
- This spiritual direction blog is a wealth of information on discernment and the spiritual life. Definitely worth bookmarking and reading regularly.
- This post called 9 Things to Do When Needing Direction has some great tips on this topic.
For many of you, Dawn Eden needs no introduction. She’s a popular blogger, a former rock journalist, Catholic convert, and author of the bestselling book The Thrill of the Chaste. I recently had the honor of interviewing her for the National Catholic Register, where she spoke for the first time publicly about her own experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse. When I talked with her for that interview, I was overwhelmed by the amount of wisdom Dawn has gained on the subjects of healing and forgiveness. It was immediately clear that there was far more material here than could be contained in one interview.
So I wanted to share with you an informal Part II to our interview, in which Dawn speaks candidly on the subject of forgiveness — particularly forgiveness when you’ve been deeply hurt. The insights she’s gained through her healing journey carry powerful lessons for everyone, and so I am thrilled to share them here. And be sure to check out her brand new book, My Peace I Give You, which deals with these same subjects. Like with these interviews, I believe that the book contains powerful lessons for anyone who’s in need of healing and a deeper understanding of forgiveness.
Q: A central concept of your book is how to go about forgiving the unforgivable. In particular, you mention a quote from St. Josephine Bakhita in which she says that if she could meet the people who kidnapped and tortured her she would kiss their hands, because that was part of her journey to Christ. Do we all have to forgive in that same way?
Though we are all called to be saints, in daily life there may be many things that the canonized saints did that we are not called to do. With regard to Bakhita, what each of us is called to do is what’s within the Lord’s Prayer: to forgive, but not necessarily to reconcile.
In ministering to victims of abuse, we need to be very clear about the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Many victims are under the mistaken impression that they are remaining in sin unless they reconcile with the abuser, but that’s not true.
Yes, we have to forgive. To forgive someone is to want God’s best for them. Thankfully, we don’t have to do the heavy lifting: all forgiveness comes from the Holy Spirit. When we forgive someone we ask the Holy Spirit to enter into us and forgive that person on our behalf, and we set our will on cooperating with the Spirit’s act of forgiveness.
Q: So there may be cases where people forgive, but don’t reconcile?
Ideally, forgiveness leads to reconciliation. But, unlike forgiveness, reconciliation is a two-way street. If someone is still abusive, the most loving and forgiving thing may be to not attempt reconciliation, inasmuch as having further contact with that person would only give him or her the opportunity to abuse again.
Q: How has this understanding of forgiveness helped you in your own journey of healing?
It is very freeing. No longer do I have to worry about whether I’ve worked hard enough to forgive. I just have to ask the Holy Spirit to work forgiveness in and through me. Then I need to trust that, with my having made the choice to forgive, the Holy Spirit will continue to work in me, taking the wounds that remain and join them to the wounds of Christ.
Q: You mention that it is good for abuse victims to pray for those who have harmed them, but acknowledge that doing so may be impossible without stirring up up painful memories. What do you recommend for those kinds of situations?
I once got a very helpful tip from a Sister of Life. I was talking to her about how I felt that I owed it to God to pray for a certain person, but that it was painful for me to think about this person. The sister advised me to commend this person to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to say to Mary, “Please place this person inside your Immaculate Heart, so that every time I’m praying for the intentions of your Immaculate Heart, I am praying for him.”
Q: That must help channel your negative energy toward that person in a more positive direction.
You know that Twilight Zone episode where there’s a child who has a dark supernatural power, and uses it to cast anyone who crosses him out into a cornfield? He casts out anyone with whom he’s angry, sending more and more people away to this place, which is an allegory for hell.
I think many of us do that in our minds sometimes, cast people away, send them to hell in our thoughts. To place them instead into the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a positive counter to that attitude. In both cases, you’re removing those people from the foreground of your thoughts — but, through Mary, you’re able to wish them into a good and holy place.
Q: Those of us who are longtime fans of your writing notice a change in your topics and tone: You used to be known for getting into heated debates with secular feminists, but you don’t do that anymore. Did this journey of healing have anything to do with that?
Yes. There was one event in particular that led me to reconsider the way I’d been acting out against feminist bloggers:
I discuss this in more detail in the book, but there was a time several years ago when I antagonized feminist bloggers, because I saw them as encouraging the same kind of attitudes that fostered my childhood sexual abuse. Though I make no apologize for proclaiming those truths about human life and dignity that the Church proclaims to be true, it was wrong of me to lash out in uncharity.
A turning point came after a woman named Zuzu began a series of blog posts reviewing The Thrill of the Chaste at the blog Feministe. She was picking and choosing things to insult me about, setting out to thoroughly shame and embarrass me, making fun of me in the most uncharitable way.
At first I just wrote her off as a mean-spirited person. Then one day I saw a blog entry of hers about her childhood, in which she talked about the difficult aspects of her relationship with her mother. She gave specific examples of her mother transgressing certain boundaries, and while they weren’t acts of sexual abuse, learning about them made me have so much compassion for her. I realized that it was a shame that I had burned so many bridges, and therefore couldn’t reach out to Zuzu and say, “I know how you feel.”
It was a point of conversion of heart for me, which led me to seek to avoid vitriol and uncharity in my public witness.
Q: What would you say to someone who feels trapped by old wounds, not sure where to even begin down the path of forgiveness?
I recommend partaking of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That may sound strange, because certainly those who have been abused have no reason to confess things done to them that was not their fault. But, as I write in in My Peace I Give You, although the primary reason we go to Confession is to be forgiven our sins, forgiveness is not the only thing that happens in that sacrament. Christ touches us, and, whenever He touches us, He gives grace.
A problem that many abuse victims have is anxiety caused by their uncertainty over the state of their soul. They have so absorbed the lies imprinted upon them by their abuse that they have trouble discerning the difference between the lingering effects of the sins committed against them, for which they are not responsible, and their own sins, for which they are responsible.
Recently a friend who suffered from this painful uncertainty asked me for advice on confession. I recommended to her that when she went to confess, having told the priest the sins that she was certain were her responsibility, she should add, “Since Jesus is with me in this sacrament, I want to ask His healing grace while I am here, because I was abused when I was a child. I know I am not responsible for my abuse, but it has led to my having thoughts that distance me from Him. If any of those thoughts are sinful, I am very sorry, because I don’t want anything to separate me from Him. And even if they are not sinful, I ask Jesus to cover me with His Precious Blood and heal my hidden wounds.”
A few months after suggesting that approach to my friend, I went into the confessional and was moved to say the very words I had recommended. It was very powerful. Afterwards, I could not believe it had taken me so long to take my own advice.
A big thank-you to Dawn for taking the time to chat with us. Do check out her book My Peace I Give You, where she shares more profound thoughts on peace, forgiveness, and healing.
There’s been a fair amount of smack directed my way on the ol’ internet lately. For those of you who haven’t been following the fun over at my Register blog, there was was this, then this, and this, and this, and this. I could list a bunch more examples, but you get the idea. Between all the posts, their comments, and the comments to some of my posts, I’ve read at least 1,000 nasty remarks directed at me in the past month alone.
A friend of mine recently marveled that I don’t seem bothered by it. Though she would never phrase it this way, I’m guessing what she was thinking was, Jen, you are one of the most prideful people I know, with the fortitude of a bowl of Jello and a disposition toward uncharitableness usually only seen in convicted felons and dictators. You seem like exactly the kind of person who would lose her mind over this kind of thing. So how is it that it’s not getting under your skin?
If that’s what my friend was thinking, she’d be right. I haven’t been too upset about this stuff, and that has nothing to do with natural virtuousness on my part. It’s just that I’ve had various blogs and websites since 2001, so I’ve had a lot of practice with it, and I’ve also been blessed with excellent spiritual direction that’s provided me with invaluable advice. Since anyone with a blog or a Facebook account deals with irritation originating from their computer monitor at least occasionally, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve found helpful:
8 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity with an Internet Connection
1. Learn to let people be wrong
On a practical level, this is probably both the most difficult and the most important tip. There are few things more exasperating than when you write a status update or a blog post and you receive critical responses, especially when they misconstrue your points and accuse you of saying things you never said. There are occasions when it’s worthwhile to defend yourself and clarify your position, but the longer I’m online, the less often I think that’s a fruitful exercise. Seven times out of ten, all your defensive response will do is prolong the argument and draw out new comments that were even more frustrating than the first ones.
The tough part is that, in order to let these conversations drop, you have to let people be wrong. You have to let unfair comments about yourself stand. You have to read harsh words that insult you personally, misrepresent your beliefs, attribute words to you that you never said…and you have to walk away. The good news is that this can really improve your spiritual life if you go about it prayerfully. (I’ll write more details about that in a future post.)
However you go about it, don’t skip this step, because your online interactions will only be peaceful to the extent that you’re at peace with other people being wrong.
2. Be prepared to apologize
…Then again, sometimes it’s you that’s wrong. And let’s face it: For those of us who aren’t exactly spiritual giants, apologizing sucks. It’s painful to say, “You are right, I was in error, and I’m sorry.” Yet the internet can really become a source of stress in your life if you have a fear of apologizing — the constant interaction that comes with new media means that it’s easier than ever to accidentally offend someone, and if you automatically jump into defensive mode every time someone says you’re in error, it’s going to drive you crazy. Per tip #1, oftentimes the right response is no response; but when an apology is called for, it’ll bring a lot of peace to you and to others if you’re able simply to say “I’m sorry” and move on.
3. When you unplug, unplug all the way
I’ve found it to be really important to have hard stops for my online interactions. Most of us have daily “unplugged” time where we just hang out with our families or take time to ourselves, but it’s tempting to keep one foot in the online world, e.g. glancing at email while the water boils for dinner, getting distracted by the ding of the iPhone during prayer time, etc. I recommend scheduling offline time as part of your daily routine, and making sure you unplug all the way during that time — no sneak peaks at your computer or phone.
4. Plan to lose all your followers
For bloggers especially, there’s a big temptation to fixate on the number of people who are reading your stuff. It’s understandable since nobody likes to write into a vacuum, but caring too much can put you on a dangerous path. If you notice a dip in your number of readers after writing a certain post, you’ll feel tempted to avoid that topic in the future, even if it was exactly what God wanted you to say; on the other hand, if some post gets a huge, positive response that nets lots of new traffic, you’ll be tempted to write things like that more often, regardless of whether it’s really fruitful content. I’ve found it freeing to adopt and attitude that goes something like this:
I’m going to think and pray about what I’m supposed to be writing, and write that. It is probably going to be either inane and boring, or offensive and controversial, and, either way, everyone will unsubscribe from my blog in disgust and I’ll have no readers other than a couple of friends who only check in out of guilt.
And then I try to avoid looking at my traffic and followers stats as much as possible. It’s surprisingly freeing to just assume that you won’t gain any new readers, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised if anything else happens.
5. Protect your inbox
For anyone who has blog comments or social media updates emailed to them, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you set up a filter on your email program so that those updates are marked as read and moved to their own folder without even hitting your inbox.
It’s important to control when you step into the online world, rather than having the internet follow you around when you’re trying to do other things. You should be able to get on email without being distracted by the latest comment on your Pinterest pin or some response you got on your Facebook wall. Having it all moved to separated folders allows you to engage in social media on your own terms. You can wait to read through those folders when you’re in a good mood and in a place of peace, rather than having a bunch of updates shoved in your face when you’re simply trying to dash out a quick email to your mom. Aside from helping you not get riled up by negative interactions, it’ll also help cut down the sheer amount of time you spend distracted by online stuff.
(If your main method of communication is texting or messaging instead of email you might set things up a little differently, but the concept still applies: Separate social media feedback from your main methods of daily communication with friends and loved ones.)
6. Put your vocation first
I actually started this post writing about this point alone: Your vocation will keep you sane. The mundane tasks you engage in to serve your family will act as a lesson in humility, a strong dose of perspective, and a chance to reconnect with God, all rolled into one. (And I’m using “family” broadly here; if you’re single or a consecrated religious, that could mean your parish community, your extended family, your order, etc.) There’s something about getting into a heated online discussion, especially if it was triggered by something you wrote, that can make you feel like WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IS IMPORTANT, and I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DELIVER THIS MESSAGE. Honestly, I doubt Winston Churchill took himself as seriously when giving wartime addresses to England as I have responding to anonymous blog commenters sometimes.
Thankfully, there is a lot of mundane work that goes along with my vocation: I might feel like sitting in front of my computer and saying Important Things about truths that will be lost forever if I do not single-handedly deliver them to the internet, but instead I have to go fold laundry, mix up tonight’s casserole, change the baby’s diaper, read a book with the kids, and sweep the floor. It’s in those moments that I get the much-needed reminders of what the purpose of my life is (i.e. that it does not involve sitting in front of a glowing screen) and where God really needs me. There’s nothing better than humble manual labor in the service of those you love to remind you that your pithy remarks and clever commentary are not the most important things you have to offer the world.
7. Remember that 99.9999999% of the world doesn’t care
One of the most dangerous aspects of the internet, social media in particular, is that it filters for everything that is not about you: You log on to Facebook and see a flood of people who know you; you look at your blog traffic stats and see only other sites that are talking about you; you Google yourself and, with a few keystrokes, the billions of websites that couldn’t care less about you are wiped away, and you see only a list of folks who are thinking about something you did or said. Especially if you’re getting a big response to something you wrote, it’s surprisingly easy to feel like all 5 billion people on the face of the planet have simultaneously stopped what they’re doing to ponder your status updates. And then you’re back in the mode of feeling like you must SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT because EVERYONE CARES. (You can tell I’m speaking from experience here.)
A good exercise to combat this is to go to some public place (even just driving down a busy road is fine), look around, and remind yourself: Not a single one of these people reads my blog. Not one of these people saw what Anon101 said about how stupid I am. They would all die of boredom if I even tried to tell them about the big Facebook argument I’m embroiled in.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” It’s a harsh but true point that everyone with a blog or Facebook account should memorize.
8. Pray about it…but not too much
Of course we should always speak freely to God about whatever is on our minds, but be careful not to use prayer as another way to fixate on some online situation that you’re attached to. It’s easy to sit there and pray about how to respond to so-and-so, what your next update should be, how to handle that one offensive remark, etc., leaving no time to be still and listen to what God may be trying to tell you. As my spiritual director would point out, God may have a message for you entirely unrelated to this situation, but if you’re not taking time to clear your head and simply listen, you won’t hear it.
I hope some of these tips, hard-won from much personal experience, are helpful to you. What are some of your tips for not letting the internet become a distraction in your life?
I hear from a lot of people who fear they’re losing their faith. They’ve had some doubts come to mind that they just can’t seem to get past, and they’re rattled to the core to think that their entire belief system just might be false.
Since I’ve spent so much time in the spiritual desert, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent a long time thinking and praying about how to respond to people in this difficult situation, and thought I would share my answer, which has two key parts, in case it’s helpful to anyone else.
Explore your doubts…
The first part of my answer is simply to say: be not afraid. Doubts aren’t a bad thing; they’re a sign of a questioning mind. That’s good. My entire conversion from lifelong atheism to Catholic Christianity was paved by asking every difficult question I could think of, and I’ve heard a lot of conversion stories very similar to my own. I also know a lot of people whose faith grew by leaps and bounds when they began seeking answers to what were originally disturbing doubts.
So look at it is an exciting intellectual quest, and get ready to go seek some answers!
But before you start, there’s something you should keep in mind about this process:
…But do so in peace
I’m no psychologist, but I’ve been through a lot of spiritual ups and downs, and I’ve corresponded with countless people who have navigated through intense periods of extreme doubt. And what I’ve learned from all of this is that the search for truth is not as simple as it seems — especially when it comes to the truth about God.
God is love, love itself, so keep in mind that a quest to find the truth about God is a quest to find the truth about Love. And it doesn’t take much life experience to know that the way we approach love can be easily tainted by bad experiences and woundedness. An example I often think of is someone who has a hard time forming healthy, loving relationships because of unresolved hurts from his past: he can’t see the truth about current, potentially positive relationships because his view is clouded by all the lingering negativity. He can’t see the truth about love. Similarly, when we’re looking for the truth about Love itself, it’s as much an emotional quest as it is an intellectual quest, and it’s easy for emotions to throw us far off course.
I think of all the various forces that can cloud our quest for truth like a fog descending on a traveler: you can see bits of the road here and there, but can’t quite get the big picture. It commonly descends in the form of unresolved feelings of hurt, especially if someone feels like he or she has been harmed by:
- family members
- fellow Christians
- the Church as a whole
- God himself (e.g. feeling like critical prayers weren’t answered)
Our relationships with all of these entities are sacred, and should be should be sources of pure love. So any festering hurts in those departments are going to be particularly virulent sources of that “fog” that can obscure the truth.
And then, of course, there’s our own sin. I know that in my own life and the lives of people I’ve talked to about this, some common sins that can turn honest doubts into a dangerous road away from God are:
- Pride – e.g. associating lack of faith with the intelligentsia, therefore thinking you’re more sophisticated and erudite if you don’t believe; feeling like your life is 100% under your control and therefore God is irrelevant to you; refusing to see evidence for God if it doesn’t look like you would expect it to; etc.
- Laziness - e.g. feeling lured by the idea of having free time on Sunday mornings; not wanting to sacrifice yourself for others; etc.
- Desire for revenge – e.g. enjoying the idea that it would hurt family / community / church members who have harmed you if you announced that you were no longer a Christian.
- Greed / Vanity: e.g. becoming wrapped up in the glamor of the pursuit of money, status, career advancement, etc. and feeling like the Christian faith is bogging you down.
…And so on. Now, again, rarely do we articulate these things to ourselves. At no point in my own conversion did I say to myself, “I think I’ll bias my research toward atheism because it’ll make me look smarter! And, plus, I’m lazy!” Yet, on a subconscious level, that is exactly what happened. Without doing a regular, serious examination of conscience in a spirit of humility, I never even realized that those forces were at work within me.
It’s all about the big picture
To give you an example of one very small way these sort of forces played out in my own life, I’ll tell you about a day a few months ago when I was at Mass:
I’d been sitting there thinking about the Ascension, and how odd the specifics of the event seem to me. Admittedly, it’s one of the harder Christian stories for me to grasp. Jesus floated up into the air? Behind a cloud? When I first read the New Testament I was amazed by how honest and authentic it all seemed. But when I got to Acts 1:9 I thought, “Umm. Seriously?”
So anyway, that morning at Mass turned out to be one of those survival days. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, including encountering a man who was shockingly rude to me. By the time I had to haul a screaming toddler outside into cold drizzle, let’s just say I was not fully at peace. I felt so weighed down with frustration, so exasperated that something as simple as going to Mass should be so difficult, and so indignant that a fellow parishioner would be so rude in the sanctuary during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
I paced around outside, fuming so much I thought the rain might turn into steam when it hit me. And then it occurred to me: this would be the perfect time to take another look at the Ascension!
“That really DOES seem kind of fantastical!” I grumbled. My mind quickly trotted out some of the old, comfortable atheist arguments about how that kind of story was rooted in ancient people’s ignorance about meteorology, when they thought that heaven literally existed in the clouds, and that it was ultimately a retelling of Greek traditions about Zeus, the God of the Sky.
And there was more! Now, I was on a roll. I did the same analysis for the few other doctrines I had questions about, and by the time the Mass was over I had worked myself into a tizzy in which I had pretty much convinced myself that the entire Faith was false.
But here’s the thing: I had thought of all these questions plenty of other times, when I was in a peaceful state. I had taken the time to do my homework and seek — and actually listen to – the Christian explanations of these teachings, and I found them to be solid. Not only that, but I was able to see the big picture: the overall evidence had convinced me that this belief system is reasonable and true. There were no fatal flaws that I could find. Sure, there were a few things that struck me as odd, like the specific details of how Jesus returned to heaven, but, in a peaceful state of mind, I could recognize that this was not a linchpin on which the Faith hinged — plus, I could see that maybe I was just missing something.
But in my burdened, unsettled state of mind, I was drawn to fixate on details. I just couldn’t pull my head up far enough to see the big picture. I’d fallen down a rabbit role, and I started running.
Now, this situation wasn’t that big of a deal. I ended up feeling fine after we got home, and all my angst about faith dissipated as well. But it’s a small example of what can happen at a larger level in anyone’s spiritual life.
In summary, if you’re plagued with doubts, my heart sincerely goes out to you. I’ve been there, and I know it’s painful. The very short version of my advice would be: explore your doubts, but do so in peace. And never forget the the search for God, i.e. for Love, is inextricably entwined with our spiritual and emotional states. Any kind of unresolved stress in those departments can cloud our vision and keep us from seeing the big picture, and therefore the truth.