Everyone goes through rough times at some point in life.
Sometimes, it’s the death of a parent…or child.
Sometimes it’s the loss of a job…or a love…
Other times it might be the diagnosis of a physical disease, or the news that despite best efforts, a child has turned from the faith. Or a relative is fighting an addiction. Or a close friend deeply disappoints. Or a relationship crumbles. Or…
Perhaps we are troubled by some situation we ourselves have gotten ourselves into…and finally recognize the foolishness of our ways and want out…but don’t know how to get there.
Finally, maybe we get to a point when torrential rain after torrential rain of affliction hits us hard, and we desperately seek reprieve, but can’t seem to find peace, or relief. What on earth are we supposed to do, when prayer is dry and hope is distant and we feel far away from God?
Here are some helps I’ve learned and collected from people I respect and love, for how to get through those desperate times:
I know. This seems useless. You feel spiritually dry and as if you are getting nothing from the prayer. You can hardly speak the words, much less think them. Guess what? God sees. He understands. With your good intentions and deliberate prayer despite the challenge and seeming emptiness of it, He multiplies strength and courage and fortitude like He multiplied the loaves and the fishes. One sincere, honest supplication is all it takes. Asking once can be enough to turn the tide of our troubles if it is in God’s will. If it is not, we are united more deeply to Him in prayer and grow spiritually. Guaranteed.
If your prayer life is dry, pray anyway. Each painful, deliberate word uttered in faith, can be used for sanctification, solution, redemption. God sees your efforts, and like a kind father to a frantic child, He has mercy and will take care of you. He sees the big picture. Heck, He IS the big picture.
Be patient. The results of your prayer may not immediately be seen. And God may be bringing you through a dark night for a purpose of growth in trust and holiness and a slew of other virtues. We see the knotty side of the quilt, with its imperfections. In time, the beautiful handiwork of the ‘finished’ side will be seen when God reveals the plan. We will be amazed.
The most powerful spiritual weapons, my sister Mary, a vowed diocesan hermit, reminded me the other day, are Masses, which we can attend, and which we can also have offered for the important intention/s. She also reminded me of the importance of asking for the Blessed Mother’s intercession when our heart is troubled and we experience stress over problems. The Blessed Mother loves to intercede for us. She cried on Calvary and suffered real human sufferings like ours. She wants to bring our intentions to her Son. We should fall, exhausted and trusting, into Mama’s arms. She can help.
Seek Out the Sacraments
Reconciliation and Holy Communion are natural healing balms to the troubled soul…and body. You don’t have to feel them with a dramatic shock to know they are at work. Once my husband was deathly ill, hospitalized for acute septicemia, which came about suddenly from an undiagnosed primary infection. His temperature rose higher than 105, and doctors put him on an ice bed to prevent brain damage. His blood work was erratically abnormal and potent antibiotics were pumped through his veins because of the desperate situation. There was talk of an emergency lift to a larger, specialty hospital. There wasn’t much time. After the reception of the Sacrament of the Sick, however, my husband’s white blood cell count, which was dangerously low, inexplicably began to normalize. His fever subsided. He grew surprisingly stronger and his physical health was being restored. This began the moment he received the Sacrament of the Sick. True story.
When you feel induced to despair or to give in to temptation, my friend Susan says, “Be stubborn. Refuse to give up and give in. Do not entertain any negative thoughts. Any time a dangerous thought enters your mind, immediately and deliberately push that thought away. Just put one foot in front of another, and press on.”
Susan also suggests finding a phrase that you can repeat to yourself until that temptation or thought or struggle leaves. “Passion of Christ, strengthen me” is one such phrase. Or, “My Jesus, Mercy.” She also says that if a certain time of the day makes your thoughts go in a direction that you do not want/should not go, you should change your routine. In other words, avoid the temptation. Finally, she says to find consolation during difficult times wherever you can- in a beautiful sunrise, the refrain from a lovely song, elegant wording of a prayer, the whiff of fresh autumn air, the hug of a child, the tender closeness with a loving spouse…the taste of a homemade spaghetti dinner. She recommends not over-thinking the situation and challenge. . She says not to entertain persistent evaluations, reconsiderations or fluctuating emotions, or go over and over the problem or the private grief. She said to busy yourself with tasks to avoid stewing. Susan says not to think about daily skirmishes and minor spiritual wins and losses in terms of feelings because the only thing that matters is our will and the final battle. “If we stay close to Christ despite dryness, we will be safe. Our time is not God’s time,” she says. Remember that God cannot fill us unless we are empty. If it is His will, in humility, we must allow Him to empty us. Peace.
Take Care of Your Physical Needs
Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat nutritious meals. Sustenance is important when you are enduring a trial. Be kind to yourself. God loves you and you should do what you can to stay healthy physically and mentally during your challenges. You need your energy to think clearly and keep your resolve.
We all need the human touch. We all need to connect with loved ones. During exceptionally difficult trials in life, maintain physical contact with those you love. Snuggle up next to your spouse on the sofa, rock your baby, hug your dad. Reach out, without even saying a thing, and demonstrate your commitment to someone you love. Studies show that people with a network of support weather life’s challenges better. Reach out and hug someone. For both of you.
Maintain a Sense of Humor
Lastly, try to maintain a sense of humor. St. Teresa of Avila is quoted as saying, “If this is the way you treat your friends (Lord), no wonder you have so few of them.” Despite the enormity of the task, do try to find humor and joy in other parts of your life, even while you are enduring your trials. I hop on the recumbent exercise bike and turn on I Love Lucy reruns when I feel desperate and challenged. Lucy makes me laugh and temporarily escape from a troubled heart. Coupled with the other suggestions above, doing this allows me to relax and put things in perspective, even if just for a thirty minute segment of time. God created laughter too, you know. We can have joy in our sorrow. The reprieve is God’s gift.
Lastly, if nothing seems to work, in the midst of your worst troubles, simply try to muster up your faith, say out loud, “I give this to you, Lord”, and press on. This too shall pass. God bless you!
Theresa Thomas is the co-author of BIG HEARTED: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families (Liguori Publications) and Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), family columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™.
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