Lent arrived early this year.
For reasons that shall, for now, remain known only to me I’ve not found the strength nor the desire to write anything this week. I have been in the midst of a storm that has caused the loss of sleep, the straining of a relationship that I hold very dear, and also a lot of prayer. Indeed, I took Monday off from work in order to spend a day in solitude and reflection before spending a few hours on my knees in a convent chapel. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed there for adoration, and a nun in a pink habit borne out of obedience to her vows is always present. I alternately sat, knelt, and paced while after a time another nun would come to relieve her and begin a vigil of her own.
The worst feeling I’ve known as a father is to be unable to help one of my children. As an American male we are immersed in a culture that tells us we can fix anything and fix it rightnow. When this doesn’t work we become stubborn and prideful in our attempts to slam our square peg of an obvious solution into the round hole of a problem. We stiffen our necks. We succumb to our pride. We further damage the very ones we are trying to help. And when nothing works we fall into despair and feel the sting of being a failure as a father. This of course, is a lie.
Satan has been attacking the family since the Dawn of Time. Specifically he loves attacking the concept of fatherhood. Take a look around our culture today. I’d say he’s been pretty successful. On Monday during the first hour of silently sobbing and spilling many tears over the pages of the book from which I was trying to read I had convinced myself after weeks of not being able to “fix” this issue that I was indeed a massive failure as a dad. I had failed my son. He deserved better.
You could almost see the sneering lips curl into a smile from the demon on my shoulder.
During his time in the desert Scripture records that Christ was tempted three times by the devil, who used as a weapon the scriptures themselves, though out of context. Typical, really. And if you take a look around you (I’m thinking specifically of certain politicians here) you will see this tactic is still being deployed today. But if we are to learn a lesson from this story it is that the way to counter those lies is with Scripture. This is exactly what Jesus did three times. And on the third time he was left alone to be tended by angels.
Here I began to write a little meditation on this passage from the 4th chapter of St. Matthew, but decided against it. What I will instead write is that I took this lesson to heart and for the first time in a long time really leaned on Scripture for support. Yes, I know the Bible. Yes, I read and study the Bible. But too many times I have not really searched through it for answers to life’s problems or even for comfort. I would engage my head but not my heart. But before I left that pew and that chapel I recalled something written by St. Anthony of Padua: “Earthly riches are like the reed. Its roots are sunk in the swamp, and its exterior is fair to behold; but inside it is hollow. If a man leans on such a reed, it will snap off and pierce his soul.”
I’ve leaned on enough reeds in my life to see the wisdom and truth in this. I bear the scars of being pierced many times as they’ve snapped.
It was late in the afternoon when I drove home thinking about this line and what it might mean. Shortly after my arrival I received my first answer. On my bedroom pillow my wife had left me a handwritten note that simply said:
Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
Below that she had written:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1: 5-8)
Because I’m a stubborn thick-headed son-of-a-bitch, I received the final mallet blow upside my skull that night before bed when I read the following in an Ignatian Prayer book I had picked up from my bookshelf:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord… (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Ok God. I got it. It’s time to stop leaning on the reeds of my own understanding and find something stronger.
I did. Angels have come. And so far that has made all the difference.
(To be continued…)