Q: Dear Father John, since receiving “The Better Part“, I have set aside a time every morning and have read and meditated on the meditation units. However, while I am receiving much help in my spiritual life, everything else in my life is falling apart. I have gotten very ill, have had to have many tests, incurring many expenses to the point where at this time, I am literally without anything material and/or necessary in my life. Other terrible things have been happening to me also including thoughts of despair and despondency. Is this supposed to happen to a person when they try and focus on Jesus as the main and most important part of their lives? Or is it just a coincidence? I am afraid that perhaps the devil is trying to sabotage me. Do you have any insight into this situation?
A: I am afraid I can’t supply an easy answer to this question. We will never know whether these challenges and sufferings would have confronted you if you had not begun to go deeper in your prayer life. We just don’t know, and we can’t know (barring a special revelation from our Lord). Spending too much time trying to find an answer to that question, therefore, is most likely not what the Holy Spirit is asking of you.
The reality is that you are in the midst of a terrible storm, and you can’t see any clear skies on the horizon. Where did this storm come from? What can you do about it? I will share some thoughts in response to those questions, that you may or may not find helpful. But I will also pray for you, and I am certain that will help.
Where Did This Storm Come From?
It is certainly possible that the storm is being stirred up directly by the enemy of your soul. He may be trying throw a wrench into your new spiritual activities because he can tell that God’s grace is beginning to work powerfully in your soul. St. John Vianney, the Curè of Ars, used to experience this. He was a famous confessor, and often when great sinners were on their way to go to confession with him, he would experience particularly intense, even physical and life-threatening, attacks from the devil. After a while, he figured it out. And when these attacks would come, he would endure them largely by looking forward to the victory of God’s grace that he knew would come in the confessional in the next day or two.
It is also possible that the storm has natural, instead of supernatural, causes. The tough times we are living through, combined with our fallen human nature and, perhaps, the influence of past circumstances or actions, can often come together to create “perfect storms” in our spiritual life.
A third possibility also exists. It could be a combination of natural and supernatural causes – the devil exacerbating natural challenges, wanting you to abandon your spiritual efforts and your trust in God through discouragement, resentment, or even simply through distractions. I would say that the thoughts of despair and despondency have their origin here. It is natural to have those feelings in such a trying situation, like yours. Sometimes the only way we can combat these temptations is by turning those very thoughts, as negative and oppressive as they are, into prayers. This is what the Psalmist does many times throughout the Book of Psalms, and it is what Jesus himself did in the midst of his storm, on the Cross. You may want to dip into the Book of Psalms to help strengthen your soul against these temptations. Read prayerfully, for example, Psalm 22 and Psalm 23.
Whatever the cause, however, one thing we know for certain: God is permitting the storm. Just as he did with the Apostles in Mark 4:35-41 and Matthew 14:22-33. Just as he has done so many times in the history of the Church. Just as he has done so many times in the lives of his followers, even in the lives of his greatest saints.
Is There Anything You Can Do about It?
And so the most important question becomes, how should you react? On a natural level, you should certainly seek to use all the human remedies that may be available to help end the storm, including asking for help from others, if that is a possibility. On a supernatural level, you should continue to pray, seeking to know and love God better, and seeking to learn from the example of the Lord how to weather storms. I would suggest meditating on the passages in the four Gospels that narrate Jesus’ Passion and Death. You can also find strength in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist – through visits to the Blessed Sacrament, adoration, and frequent Communion, for example. You will also find comfort and light in the sacrament of Confession.
The Rosary may help you in a particularly powerful way. October is the month of the Rosary for the whole Church, and Our Lady’s presence and intercession are some of our most valuable and necessary anchors and protection in life’s terrible storms. If your parish has small groups that meet for prayer or the Rosary, I would also highly recommend trying to plug into those. We are not meant to carry our crosses alone. Though we can’t explain to everyone all the sufferings of our soul, just being with others who share our faith and gathering in God’s name are sources of renewal.
The most important thing to remember is that God is with you. He is within you. He is accompanying you. He is at your side and upholding you. He has not forgotten about you. He still has a plan and beautiful hopes for you. He knows what he is about, and he will never allow you be to tested beyond your power to endure: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He wants us to learn to let him alone be our shelter and our refuge, to learn to pray from the depths of our hearts what King David prayed during his storms: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
You can be assured that I will pray for you, and that many of our readers will also pray for you. I would like to invite them to comment, if they wish, sharing their own experiences of God’s faithfulness. “The world will give you trouble,” our Lord assured us, “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).