Monday, November 27, 2006

Where is God when we just can't find work?

In recent months, a number of parishioners first at Becket and now at St. Luke have shared with me the distress of being out of work for a prolonged period. During this time naturally they had recourse to God so that they might quickly find a new job and continue to be able to provide for their families. As the weeks lengthened into months and the months into, yes, even years, the searching, failing, and waiting takes a toll on the person we are and can actually shake us to the very depths of our identity and loosen the grip we thought we had on life, on our faith, on God, on ourselves, on our spouses, and on our families.
The very heart and soul within us cries out to the heavens in words and groanings like these: "Lord, where are You? Do you not care that we are without work? When, O Lord, will you answer?" Such heart wrenching prayers are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit himself, and we can find their pattern in the Gospel when the apostles were in the boat on the lake during the storm that threatened to sink and drown them, and in the Psalms, which are filled with such cries that come from the depths of the heart and soul in us.
I know from experience that the Lord wants most of all and actually does support each of us in our persons, in who we are within our situations. That means that the Lord does not always seem overly eager to provide the answer which may seem to us to be so obvious. It also means that, ironically, such hardships actually become occasions to find ourselves closer to God, as we discover that He isn't just a valet who does our bidding or a Daddy who in our child's memory gives us what we need almost as soon as we need it or even before we realize that we need it. That is what makes great parents wonderful, the sollicitude with which they brood over their children's welfare and push away harm and envelop them in good.
Still, even perfect human parents cannot push away all harm or provide absolutely all goods, or they would in effect end up living their children's lives for them. Something needs to remain for the children to do for themselves. That is the gray zone in which children begin to doubt their parents and parents suffer over their children, and why when we go through hard times God suffers with us and in us through Jesus, who though in glory remains quite human too and is exquisitely sensitive and compassionate toward us.
Over the years as people have shared their struggles and stories with me, I have discovered that when it seems most difficult to find new work, what is going on is that the familiar categories within which we were used to function are straining against a lack of opportunity, and as the strain increases, what often happens is that it is the categories that burst open to reveal new ways of doing, or new kinds of work, or hidden gifts and talents never discovered or long unused, and so on, but also opportunities to resist feeling sorry for ourselves, resist the temptation to worry over our welfare, and go in the very opposite direction and with determination continue to trust in the Lord and his guidance and do something completely out of keeping with the situation such as volunteer our time and attention to someone in greater need than ourselves or to a neglected family relation.
Such a time of difficulty can be transformed by God's almighty power into a wonderful encounter of love and service, or restoration of broken relationships and reconcilations, which is the stuff that Christmas stories are often made of. May I join you, Reader, and your family members in praying that the Blessed Trinity may glorify themselves in you and bring out of your distress in your seasons of difficulty this very kind of good news and make you a blessing in yourself, for your family, your church, and your neighbor!
It does not immediately recommend itself to us to share with others our distress, since there's quite enough bad news in the world without adding our own to it. Surprisingly, the very opposite is true. It is precisely when all is not well that the Lord Jesus wants us to tell others the good news that He came to bring to pull the world up out of the misery of relying only on itself. He told us to ever be ready to speak up for ourselves and for Him when we are pushed or persecuted or challenged in our faith. He told us not to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would give us the words to say in that moment.
The most unlikely moment to tell others about the good God is doing is precisely when He doesn't seem to be doing it yet and we are still waiting. That really gets other people's attention, because it is counterintuitive to be full of hope when there are no hopeful signs, but that is precisely what hope is, to believe in the good that is coming before there are any signs of its coming at all. Once we see it coming it becomes evident and past the time for needing hope, which is replaced by certainty and jubilation.
May you and yours have an amazing season of hope-filled waiting for the Advent of the Lord and approach with the fresh joy of childlike hearts the celebration of his coming to us as a blessing for the whole Earth during the festive days of Christmas and its extension in the long winter nights that will bring us to "Candlemas" 40 days later at the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd!

“Were not our hearts burning within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

«Notre cœur n’était-il pas tout brûlant au-dedans de nous, quant Il nous parlait en chemin, quand Il nous ouvrait les Écritures?» Luc 24 :32