During my desert experience, I repeatedly cried out to God that I didn’t want my suffering to go to waste. I knew that my husband and children would be the most positively impacted by my healing journey since it was for them that I even went on the Grief to Grace retreat in the first place. But I told God that I wanted to help others, too, once I was healed of my heart wounds. And so, dear reader, this testimony is my first attempt to make good on what I offered to God many times over the past three years.
I started off this testimony in Part 1 with a quotation from Evagrius Ponticus that I think is simply beautiful:
“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
I only recently found this gem of a quote, but I can testify to the truth of what he wrote. It took ten years for my prayer to be answered, but the manner in which God answered my prayer was beyond all my wildest expectations.
To lay the groundwork for the seed of my prayer that I offered up to God ten years ago, I will give you a picture of where I was at spiritually. I had just recently come back to my Catholic faith after the birth of my second son. My husband and I had lost a child to miscarriage the previous year, and the grief of that rocked my world and sent me searching for answers. I had been living the New Age worldview for five years, but none of the meditation tools or teachings on chakras and energy work were helping my grief. That Scripture in Jeremiah is true: “When you seek me you shall find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) I was desperately seeking truth and help for my grief, and about two weeks after I came back into communion with God through the sacraments of my Catholic faith, I noticed that the grief at the loss of my baby wasn’t overwhelming anymore. I was at peace with the loss. Jesus had healed that heart wound.
So it was in that backdrop of being a new revert to the Catholic faith that I was reading in Galatians about the fruits of the Spirit. “Whereas the spirit yields a harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, purity. No law can touch lives such as these; those who belong to Christ have crucified nature, with all its passions, all its impulses. Since we live by the Spirit, let the Spirit be our rule of life…” (Galatians 5:22-26)
After reading that Scripture passage, I said, “Lord, I see that you’ve given us these fruits, but I don’t have them. I do not have joy and I do not have peace, but I really want them.” When I say I didn’t have peace and joy, I was referring not to the grief of my miscarriage, but rather to a pervasive anxiety, fear, and unhappiness that overwhelmed me on a regular basis.
Sitting at this vantage point looking back, you know, the 20/20 vision is obviously better than when I was in the thick of it. But I can see now that over this past decade that was where my prayer started, and I can see that He has led me one step at a time as if I were following a trail of breadcrumbs to the point where I am today.
Last year I learned that when we ask God for peace, He will often give us the tools to access His peace. That’s how it happened for me. When I offered up my prayer for His peace and joy a decade ago, I was so disconnected from the trauma I had endured as a kid that I didn’t realize I had barricaded my heart like a fortress. God is so gentle and kind. He very delicately and repeatedly showed me the obstacles I had placed to receiving His grace. Obstacles like unforgiveness, clinging tight to “victimhood,” perfectionism, and rebellion against authority. It was a slow, winding journey with many setbacks and detours, but God didn’t give up on me. And every time I reached out with a prayer and attempt at faith, He responded. He ALWAYS answered my prayers. Sometimes I had to wait years, but God is faithful. He ALWAYS showed up. God is so good! I just am so in love with Him and so grateful to Him!
So I remember not too long after praying for the fruits of the Spirit when another prayer sparked in my heart. I was reading in God’s Word how He loves everybody. I said, “Lord, I know it must be true because it’s in Your word. I can totally believe it for everyone else that you love them, but I cannot believe You love me. I don’t feel it, and I don’t even see how it’s possible, but I want to.” And I started praying to know in my heart that Jesus loves me.
I now see that this prayer to know God loved me was itself an act of grace—to even see that I needed to know that truth and then to pray for it. If God had answered my prayer for peace and joy in an immediate and miraculous way like I wanted, I’m not sure I could’ve handled it. Because at that point that I lifted up my prayer to Him, I didn’t even believe I was lovable. I thought I was worthless. I had suffered my whole life with immense shame and guilt. Those were huge planks of wood over my heart that needed to come down. I love looking back on this and seeing how the Holy Spirit was with me the whole time, leading me step by step on the path to the heart of the Father, even if I couldn’t see that at the time I was going through it.
So it was probably about one or two years later that God answered my prayer to know He loves me. I was at a healing service where they were praying for people, and I had a profound encounter. I just knew. It was no longer a question. I knew, YES, Jesus loves me! That was so exciting! And I thought that all my problems would be over, that I would finally have all that peace and joy that for so long I had been praying for.
But, no, I didn’t yet have His peace and His joy. One plank of wood had been dismantled from the barricade over my heart, but many more still needed to come down. I just didn’t know it. And so I continued to struggle with a lot of inner pain. I was angry, but I didn’t know why. I had never heard about triggers and Complex PTSD, which would end up explaining why I was so angry. I was also incredibly lonely even though I am married to a wonderful husband and have kids I love and am so grateful for. I couldn’t understand why I had this ache in my heart.
I now know that we all have an ache, a neediness in the deepest part of our hearts, because God created us to need Him, and He is the only one who can fill it. But I didn’t know that at that point, and so I kept searching. Through this whole thing, I have felt like a dog with a bone, like I’m not going to let it go. And even though there were so many question marks and detours over this past decade, I just kept thinking I am going to return again and again until we get this figured out, God!
Time marched on. In 2016 I had two young kids and another one on the way. I was in a lot of pain as I attempted to do the work of parenting while managing my chronic illnesses; most days I was just struggling to survive both the physical and emotional pain. Also throughout this time, I had been doing my best to read God’s Word, live a sacramental life, and to grow in my faith. But life felt so heavy, so dark internally. Most days felt like an upward climb. It was not joy and peace. And that was the constant prayer of my heart: “Lord, I want your joy; I want your peace!”
In the next article I will share how God finally answered my prayer for peace.