I remember at the beginning of this year thinking that 2020 was going to be a big year for me personally.
I would be finishing my master’s program and making some major life decisions. Would I continue with graduate school and move, for the second time in two years, to a completely new city? Would I stay where I was and build a life there? What would I do for work after my program ended? Would I return to the city I grew up near, rejoining my friends and family?
I didn’t know what would happen but I had a good feeling about things. I was hopeful. I thought, “2020 is going to be good!”
And then the 2020 we all now know began. I had been wrong. No, 2020 was definitely not going to turn out all that well, after all.
Those first couple of months of lockdown were very difficult. I was living in a tiny studio all alone. And aside from daily walks around the block or infrequent trips to the grocery store, I didn’t see a single person I knew face-to-face for nearly that whole first month. I had several family members and friends whom I kept in touch with over Zoom and phone but, as we all know, it’s wasn’t the same.
Plus, on top of my own personal struggle with loneliness, I harboured anxiety and fear about the state of the world, aware that countless people were suffering from illness, losing jobs, and dying.
With the churches closing and an absence of in-person fellowship (I was no longer able to see a group of Catholic friends I had been meeting with once a week), my spiritual life also took a hit. I began asking the obvious question: Where is God?
It wasn’t that I doubted God’s existence or His goodness because of what was happening in the world. History attests to all sorts of wars, pandemics, famines, and so on. In our fallen state, I knew we would not be spared from suffering or difficulty. For me, it was more a question of how, in the midst of these difficulties, can I truly remain close to God?
And on top of all this, I would have to make major life decisions—ones that would have tremendous consequences for the rest of my life.
After a few weeks of general malaise, I started putting more effort into my relationship with God. I began watching Masses streamed online, meeting with a group of guys over Zoom to check in on our prayer life and regularly walking to a nearby church to sit and pray in front of the tabernacle. And while those first few months of lockdown were tough, my relationship with God started to deepen in new ways.
I began to see this time of isolation and loneliness in a new light, as a time for solitude and silence. I now had much more time for prayer, reading, and self-reflective walks. Not only did this allow me to discern what I was being invited to do in this next, critical season of my life (and He did guide me!), but I was reminded of what it means to embrace a spirit of joy and peace—even, and especially while struggling with fear and uncertainty.
God often moves slowly and quietly. He does indeed speak to us, but often in a still, small voice. And this requires that we intentionally take time away from our lives to seek Him. Not just here or there, but consistently and faithfully.
The initial lockdown, and the continued uncertainty about the virus, economy, and so on we’ve all experienced these last several months, reminded me that God is always present, but that I needed to truly, whole-heartedly make space for His presence in my life. Unfortunately, at least for me, it has often required suffering to recall this incredible truth. Suffering is a good motivator for seeking God, and through seeking, finding Him.
Looking back now, I also realize that my expectation for 2020 to turn out a certain way had been based on a desire for control. The last two years of my life had been difficult (moving to a new city, having doubts about my program, being away from family and friends, etc.). And I was eager for the next season in life to begin. That I was due for “better days.” But this isn’t what a relationship with God is about. I had to be reminded of this: walking with God means learning to give up more and more control of our life, even if that’s painful, in order to find something sweeter.
If someone were to ask me about the way God acts and lives in our lives at the start of the year, I would have been able to say the same things. Oh, well He works slowly. He speaks to us in the depths of our suffering and loneliness. He can be heard in silence. And I don’t want to sell myself short, as I’ve experienced this to be true over the last ten years of my faith journey. But, the thing is, I had gotten used to expecting God to work in a certain way in my life, a way that had more to do with what I wanted than what He wanted.
I’m grateful because God once again reminded me that He does His best work with us—shows us just how much He loves us—when we need Him most.
When in our suffering and acceptance of our limitations, we have no choice but to turn to Him to receive His love, guidance, and direction.
It was more than knowing it but experiencing it.
Looking back, has 2020 been a good year? I think it depends on what I mean by “good.” Has it been easy and free of suffering? Of course not. But have I come to appreciate the role of patience and trust in the spiritual life? Have I been reminded of God’s sustaining love for me even in the midst of difficulty? Yes. And by those metrics, it has been.
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