Laura K. Roland, overwhelmed by events in the world around her, learned she needed to listen to her own advice and turn back to God.
When I was a middle school religion teacher a student once asked me why she didn’t feel God close to her. “Where did he go? Is He mad at me?”
I replied, “God never moves away. He is constant and always present. In my experience, it is because we fear He won’t love us in our sinfulness and closed hearts that we move away from Him. Once you realize what’s happening, well that’s half of the battle. You just need to take one small step in His direction. His arms will find you and bridge the gap.”
Would that I had remembered those words myself these past few months I might have experienced a lot more peace and rest, a lot less weariness and anxiety. Before I realized what happened, I found myself asking the same question – why didn’t I feel God close to me anymore? His peaceful, quieting presence had been replaced by an unnerving silence broken only by my own voice, seeking not His will but the world’s. I had moved away both physically and spiritually from God, and as is always the case when a space is vacated something inevitably fills it. Sometimes you don’t even notice the shift until it’s almost too late, the space in your heart that once held loveliness now filled with nothing.
When COVID hit, regular opportunities to attend Mass, receive the Eucharist, and go to confession taken away, the shift came hard and fast. My daily prayers started to become more like occasional prayer, then once a week and finally no regular prayer at all. My Bible, usually opened with a highlighter and journal sitting next to it, got closed and put on the shelf as I was uninspired to become inspired by the words God had for me in that beautiful book. By the time the world awoke to the news of the death of George Floyd, what was my usual optimistic and encouraging disposition became sarcastic and jaded. The jagged edges of my soul, softened over the years by the myriad of graces received through regular prayer and the sacraments, returned. I was raw and too tightly wound. I became untouchable.
With no voice to listen to except my own, the question of why I was so numb, so tired, so weary, went unanswered. I shut down but no one noticed. Well, no one except me.
I don’t really know what prompted me to pick up my June copy of Magnificat the other day. But I did. Reading the prayers and readings that had gone unprayed and unread this past month, I remembered that conversation with my student all those years ago. I began searching for words that would help me take that one small step back to God. There in the middle of page 71, I found this simple yet profound reminder of my way home in Psalm 116:7, “Turn back, my soul, to your rest.”
In all the tumult and turmoil, rawness and numbness, I had wanted someone to tell me what to do and that I was going to be okay. It was somehow easier to turn outward to find that solace and direction, not inward where God resides. The idea of turning my soul back towards him then, meant a willful surrender of the screen in my hand, replacing it with that Bible sitting closed on my shelf. For I know that I know that I know the only place to find true solace is in the Word. It is there that I find true rest. And comfort. And a clear call to action. And practical next steps. It is here that I am reminded that I am His beloved.
It was somehow easier to turn outward to find solace and direction, not inward where God resides.
Inspired to read the rest of Psalm 116, I realized the psalmist wrote it as a prayer of thanksgiving for being spared from death. That is what I had been feeling then – a kind of death. The world will do that to you; God does not.
Turning back, seeing God’s arms stretched out for me, time and time again is proof of that. I realized today that I am truly a prodigal daughter, longing to return my soul to Him to rest.
About the Author
Laura K. Roland is a cradle Catholic. She and her husband of 31+ years have 3 children and have recently added a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law to their ever-growing family. A former Catholic educator, she co-founded the women’s ministry Encounter Grace in 2018 and is a speaker, writer, mentor, and host of the new podcast, Short Story Longer.