“Dear Lord, if this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few!” -St. Teresa of Avila to Jesus.
These are the feelings that have been consuming me lately as I look back on my life.
While I ponder all that has happened in the 34 years since my birth, I am left with one very difficult question:
Why is it that God seems to allow my life to be a piece of cake during the times when I have drifted far away from Him, while preferring to present me with challenges and suffering during the times I have worked hard to draw closer to Him?
As a child, I was an on-demand Altar Server, CCD All-Star whose parents allowed me to sit in on RCIA classes they taught out of our home. And despite my closeness to God at that time, and my faithfulness to Him, I was also a child who was fraught with a difficult illness and frequent hospitalizations.
In contrast, during my years in college I wandered. While I continued to attend Mass regularly, my adherence to the Catholic faith dwindled. Branding myself a Cafeteria Catholic at the time would be rather generous. And yet, life seemed to be free and easy, with nary a problem in sight.
After getting married and having our first child, my wife and I resolved to work hard to return to our faith in a more authentic way. We made the drastic decision to kick contraception to the curb, and even went so far as to become NFP teachers. Then, we lost a pregnancy.
We pushed forward, and allowed that moment to draw us into an even deeper relationship with Our Lord and the Church He founded, and now we’re faced with the impending death of a child.
All I’m left with is frustration, confusion, and anger.
As I sit and ponder this apparent reality, however, I have come to the realization that I’m letting myself believe in a lie.
If I actually delve into my past, there were tragic things that happened in my life during times when I was less on fire for the faith.
The passing of my mother, the failing of a test for my professional license, and the list goes on and on.
So I’m left asking myself why I’m stuck on this myth about God pushing me to the brink during times I’m trying to do my best.
Then it hit me.
I’m expecting a return on my investment.
During the times I’m working hard on giving myself to the Lord, I’m expecting that He is going to reward me for my effort. My day-to-day life has taught me to expect this: we get raises and promotions at work, at-a-boys from loved ones, good grades in school, and opportunities to move up the ladder of life when we exceed expectations.
That isn’t Christianity, though.
In Christianity, we are at our strongest when we are weak, we are brought toward sanctification by way of trials, and we are crowned leaders only by being servants.
The paradoxes of our faith are a great mystery, and can quite often lead to those aforementioned feelings of frustration, confusion, and anger.
And yet, at the same time, these exact mysteries are the only way we can make sense of the world.
We will get a return on our investment of growing in faith and striving for holiness, of that I am sure.
But it’s not coming this side of Heaven.
About the Author
Tommy is a Catholic husband, father of four boys, and the author of The Catholic Hipster Handbook (available now!).