I was talking with a friend the other day, both of us feeling somewhat melancholy, oppressed from the outside by the horrors of the world and from the inside by loss and chronic illness. We naturally sought out shelter and comfort in our pasts.
The conversation turned to younger years — days when we were absolutely carefree, pain-free, and all of our loved ones were lined up like ducks, healthy and accounted for. We worked; we played. We ate whatever we wanted without consequence to our health. We jumped out of bed and started the day without pain or panic. We worried about little, and that which we DID worry about now seems like so much nonsense.
Was it youth that gave our lives that blush? Or merely circumstance? In the end, we concluded that we were still living pretty charmed lives, though I suspect that privately, interiorly, we both suffer from real despair at times.
The thing is, to be who I was back then, I had to be who I am right now. I know that’s the opposite of how folks generally frame that notion, but it’s still equally true. My life can only be this way, dictated by graces and choices, and I would not trade any of the apparent curses of now for another spin of the wheel, lest it lose me any of the blessings of now.
This is where trusting Jesus comes in awfully handy. My past is acted out, forgiven, and I am living in this moment with Jesus and with the people He has placed around me. I have to know, we all have to know, that the changes that seem like losses are net gains. They must be, or Jesus has lied, and that is an impossibility.
Take a snapshot of your life right now, in this moment. Look pretty bleak? Well, don’t forget to see the whole landscape. Behind you are Jesus, Mary, and all the Saints. Beside you is your Guardian Angel. Your loneliness is a false perception. Do you miss a loved one? Pray for the soul of that person and work on perfecting your own soul, so that you may be reunited. Do you have health issues that prevent you from living the life you want to live? Pray to see the benefit you may bestow on others through these sufferings.
Sometimes when we are besieged by pain, illness, stress, worry, anxiety, or despair, we become bitter and angry, fearful and isolated. It’s so tempting to hide. Hiding is so close to disappearing. We pray for a do-over. And we miss a chance at holiness. Because that pain can be offered up to Jesus for the sins of many, offered up to free souls from Purgatory, and joined with the sufferings of Jesus and His Mother.
There is no prayer like the prayer of a sufferer. It is so deep and real! One who is carefree may have a giving and good heart, but she cannot truly feel to the bone the pain of another. Only identification through empathy and experience can yield that kind of fervent and passionate prayer.
Raise your eyes and see your fellow human beings. Do they all appear to be healthier, wealthier, happier, younger, freer than you? You are mistaken. There is pain, intense and abiding pain, in the lives and minds and souls of so very many people. You can see it if you are looking with the eyes of Jesus. You can see it as they approach the Eucharist. You can see it as they wait at red lights. You can see it on line at the grocery store.
Their minds are full to the brim with images and scenarios, misgivings and terrors, questions and confusions. What do they need? What on earth could help them? A good start is for someone else to simply raise her eyes and see. Then to say, I see you. I am you. I feel that, too. You don’t have to pretend.
I am always amazed at the easy tears of the elderly, of young moms, of strangers who are so incredibly and profoundly desperate for some brand of kindness that even the slightest gesture from me is perceived as miraculous and a concrete grace. What a power Jesus has trusted us with that we can do this for His children! How can we shirk the responsibility to provide that succor for others? In that action is also great and tangible comfort for us. Every single time. To savor the taste of the past for too long, for more than a moment or two, is a waste of now, of this day’s duties.
The past holds lovely pictures. Then maybe, like changing the giant wheel of slides in one of those old projectors, life put in a new set of visuals. And they have not been pleasant or light since. I maintain you must look harder. Look around the picture — look at who is there now, what love you can give, if this is indeed your time to give and not receive.