So many people are turned off to God and organized, traditional religion because they are angry with God. The excuses for not praying or attending religious services are legion, but this bitterness against the Lord is among the most common. The most pious among us will never allow themselves to complain about God, invoking holy fear. The very impious among us have no qualms about trashing God, prayer, and religious institutions and people at every chance they get. Those of us who are in between remain faithful, but allow ourselves to feel angry or disappointed in God when we feel things are not going right.
I think middle ground is where we need to be. We must never lack reverence for the Lord or be intentionally disrespectful when airing our grievances to Him. But with holy fear, awe and reverence, we can call on His promises to us.
What are the Lord’s promises? They are legion too; however, certain of them come with a quid pro quo. In other words, we need to cooperate with God. Ultimately, God does not promise a trouble-free life to to anyone. He does promise to hear those that call upon Him in faith, and will provide what we need, but not always what we want. Life is a struggle and a race to be won. The Bible is full of stories of faithful people who, like the rest of us, stumble through this life.
The Nativity Was Not Beautiful
At this time of year, I like to meditate on St. Joseph and Our Lady. They did not have a charmed life. It was full of fear, frustration, weariness, hard work, inconvenience, misunderstandings, and yes, even death and despair. If I had been in Mary and Joseph’s place, there would have been a lot of eye rolls and impatient sighs of “REALLY LORD.” To summarize the Holy Family’s plight, let us think about the Nativity in real life, not Hollywood depictions:
• The Blessed Mother is visited by an angel, makes her Fiat, and is almost divorced by Joseph until he is reassured by an angel that the child to be born is the Son of God.
• Then they are required by Roman law to go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, a grueling journey, especially for a pregnant woman.
• The Holy Family arrives in Bethlehem and, of course, they find no rooms for rent, so they wind up in a cave with animals and the baby is born in a smelly stable.
• Herod hears of the birth of the Messiah and wants him dead, so an angel shows up again and tells St. Joseph they must flee into Egypt, another grueling and dangerous journey.
The nativity account is dusty, dirty, dangerous, painful, scary, and the complete opposite of what we think of when we think about the birth of the Lord in modern times. Yet Scripture never recorded one word of complaint from St. Joseph or Our Lady.
Mary and Jesus Understand the “Why?” Feeling
Flash forward twelve years later, when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem after Passover, unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, and they return to the Holy City and find Him in the Temple. When they find Him, His mother complains to Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” They are worried, perhaps annoyed. Their plans were disrupted, they were inconvenienced, and they spent three days in heart-wrenching anxiety. Even the Mother of God didn’t always understand why He did what He did.
How often, when things are not going well, do we say to Jesus, “Lord, why?” Jesus was not immune to this feeling either. On the Cross He cried, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
However, Jesus never complained and He never stopped praying even until his last breath. Jesus advised us to pray without ceasing and to seek God’s will in our lives, and everything we need will be granted to us. Many times, I have no idea what God’s will for my life is, even though I ask. I think God wants us to figure it out for ourselves sometimes.
Ask What, Not Why
Padre Pio had a great solution to the “why Lord” problem. Instead of saying “Why me Lord,” he suggested asking the Lord “what.” What will You have me do with this situation? People are generally too self-absorbed to say what; they can only feel the pain, physical or emotional. When something uncomfortable or even horrendous pops up, we should ask ourselves the “what” question. What can I do in this situation to glorify God and turn whatever is the obstacle into a blessing?
When I was diagnosed with cancer, the treatment was nine weeks of radiation, every day—an hour each way for travel and an hour at the place for a 60-second treatment. I hate being inconvenienced and this was a major inconvenience for me. I asked God what He wanted me to do with this, but received no answer. So I made a couple of decisions.
First, I decided I would enjoy the drive. No matter what, I was going to make sure I noticed every blessing along the way. I gave praise and thanks for the gift of being able to see the most beautiful sunsets and to notice the geese that were always by the side of a river shore or the colorful summer sky.
Next, I decided to be happy and bring that joy to patients and staff. I walked into the radiation treatment center every day with a smile and a joke, offered Rosary beads and crucifixes to patients and staff—both Christian and non-Christian—and spoke about God’s love and mercy to Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims, and we prayed for one another. God gave me the grace to turn what could have been a morbid, depressing nine weeks of treatment into times of joy, praise and thanksgiving. I made many friends and I feel that I witnessed to Jesus’ love in a positive way.
So the next time something doesn’t go your way, feel free to give the Lord an eye roll and a “really Lord!” and then ask Him the “what” question. If you do not get an immediate answer, rephrase it to “what would Jesus do?” and then do it.