“Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.” CCC 2737
Three years ago I completed my Grief to Grace retreat. I chuckle a bit when I remember thinking everything would be healed in that one week. And that was my prayer…
Three weeks before the retreat started I told God I was willing to go on the retreat, but I asked Him to please bring all the emotional pain up to the surface so that it could all be healed by the end of the week. I can remember the month leading up to retreat… so many memories that I hadn’t thought about in decades were surfacing. I wasn’t sleeping well, was grinding my teeth at night, and I was crying a lot.
So when I came home from retreat and things got VERY HARD about ten days later, I became discouraged and confused. I felt like my prayer wasn’t answered, like I had done something wrong. Fifty new memories surfaced after retreat for me to process and grieve. I obviously hadn’t realized the depth of my pain, the depth of what was buried in my heart.
Psalm 51 was my heart song during that time. The Lord led me again and again to that prose by King David. “God, create a clean heart in me, put into me a new and constant spirit…Be my savior again, renew my joy, keep my spirit steady and willing…” I would meditate on the Lord creating a clean heart in me and imagine Him, the Divine Physician, pulling out all the “yuck” that had been buried so deep in there that it was infected and festering.
It was a S.L.O.W. process, agonizingly so at times. I didn’t understand why my pain couldn’t just be “poofed” away. I had prayed repeatedly for the Lord to heal me of all the emotional and psychological pain, expecting instant results; after all, I had heard stories of some who did receive instantaneous healings. I now understand that while the Lord certainly can heal people’s heart wounds immediately and sometimes does, more often He heals slowly. As Sonja Corbitt, the Catholic Evangelista, said in her podcast series “Cherished,” “God is not transactional. He wants a relationship with us.” He wants us to know Him, and relationships take time to build.
This journey was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and there were times during the past three years that I felt like the sorrow would crush me. And, yet, this is one of the paradoxes of the spiritual life I suppose because it was in this dark time that I felt closest to my Heavenly Father.
I think it would be accurate to say that through this desert time I was reconciled with my Heavenly Father. Before this experience, I was scared of God the Father. I pictured Him as a mean judge waiting to crack the whip on me. I thought I had to be perfect to earn His love. I didn’t know I already had His love simply because He created me and I was His.
“Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence determining that we should become his adopted sons through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1: 4-5)
I cried when I read this verse two years ago while doing a Bible study on Ephesians. It felt so good to know that I was wanted and not rejected. I learned what it feels like to be loved in a way that I had always yearned for. I learned what it meant to be accepted exactly as I am. I learned what it feels like to be delighted in and cherished. And those lessons took T.I.M.E. They couldn’t be rushed, as much as I impatiently wanted them to be rushed. I remember repeatedly running to the Father with my little and big concerns, and He lovingly helped me each and every time. Since my relationship with my earthly father was a block to my relationship with God the Father, I can see now why God took His time with me. I had a lot of mistrust and fear that I would be abandoned if I was too needy or not perfect.
One of the hardest parts through this journey was grieving while living life at the same time. As one friend put it, it’s a bit like dismantling your car engine to fix what is going wrong, but every day you have to put it back together enough to still drive.
I have four autoimmune disorders, one of which is very painful and debilitating. In the midst of caring for my children and our home while suffering so much physically, I was doing the necessary “heart work” of looking at things from my past. I had to say “no” to things I wanted to say “yes” to so that I would have the margin in my life to do this necessary inner work. The timing was inconvenient, but I think we all come to a point of reckoning in our lives, and at age 40 I had reached mine.
I had finally had enough of the fear, anxiety, depression, and triggers. By the way, I didn’t even know what triggers were because I had never heard of Complex PTSD before. Diane Langberg’s On The Threshold of Hope gave me words to what kept happening- my anger was “spilling out sideways,” and I said enough. I had gone to weekly confession, read self-help books, read Catholic books on the subject, and still I struggled to make any traction. I felt stuck. I gave up.
I was finally willing to raise my white flag, to surrender, and to just be extremely vulnerable and real with the Lord and let Him do the necessary work in me that I so desperately needed. So I share all this to give you a picture of a fellow warrior in the trenches. It was hard, dry, desolate, and dark, and what I didn’t know then, but do now, is that in the valley is where God often does an amazing work in us. This is where He made me NEW… in the desert time of my life.