Monday, January 27, 2014

Pain and Darkness

For the first time since her mother died, my wife is spending time alone. And with the alone time comes the sadness. I have no experience with the death of someone close, but I have experienced the pain of loss. A few times my strange ways have lost me friends (thank God, I sometimes got them back). My situation was very different, and not something most people would even recognize as comparable, but I think perhaps the pain, the feeling of loss, was the same.

Think of what it is to lose even a little thing, like in the example our Lord gave about the woman with ten coins who lost one. When we lose something it becomes the most important thing in the world to us. Perhaps this lasts for just a moment when it's something small, but it can last for weeks or years if it is a family member or a friend.

The sadness of a lost loved one is a terribly lonely thing. Other people can help ease the pain, but each person who is important to us fills a unique role, holds a unique place in our heart, and nobody else can fill it entirely. So the pain of waiting for our loved one to come back to us, or waiting until we join them in Heaven, is ultimately between us, God, and the one we lost.

In this lonely time a shadow descends upon our lives. The emotional pain becomes tangible, like a stabbing in the heart. And while we may have prayed all along, now we call out desperately, knowing only God can comfort us. But where is he?

We need to see him. We need to hear him. But when does Jesus come down, and give us a hug? When does he speak up to us, and tell us our loved one is fine? When does he show us we will not be alone, and the hole will be filled?

The miracles of God are so hard to see. How can we find any peace in this life? Where is the joy we are promised? Is there a joy even in our sorrow? Can we find in our sadness the seeds of true love? The loved one we lost reminds us how precious our loved ones are... but can't God show us this truth a different way?

I do not begin to understand God's plan for suffering. I keep hope that he will one day answer me more clearly, and show me a love and a light that is more tangible than the pain and the darkness.

For now, in the shadow of death, I can only cry out in prayer:

Oh Lord, shine your light into this darkness. We know you are there, but we feel so alone. Help us find peace in our sadness. Help us to hear your voice. Help us to feel your invisible arms. Lord, comfort your broken children, and help us to comfort one another.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hidden Bodies

My wife, Stephanie, is currently dealing with the death of her mother, and the subsequent plans of her family to scatter her ashes from a pier. This brings into focus the difference between Catholic and non-Catholic views of the body, and the resultant burial rituals. Following from this Stephanie had some insights on the value people place on a body's appearance.

When a dead body is whole, we treat it with a certain respect. We wouldn't just dump it off a pier or cut it in half to bury in two separate places (unless we were in the Mafia). But a cremated body no longer looks like a body, so we do all kinds of odd things with it.

Likewise, the Eucharist does not have the appearance of a body, which is part of why it is so easily disrespected, mistreated or forgotten. The Eucharist is not something I begin to understand, but it is a wonderful invisible gift.

But I suppose even potentially viewable living bodies are forgotten if they are hard enough to see. People hidden by distance or within the womb are not given the same value as those easier for us to see. Which makes me wonder if I am worth less to people, being so skinny you can't see me when I turn sideways?

I don't know... nor do I know how to rely less on what I see myself, and how to care more for what is invisible.

Let's pray that God might help us to treat lives and the bodies of all people with respect, especially the holy body of our Lord. And that we might focus less on the visible to better see the invisible things we do easily forget.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hearing Voices

Every week I heard Stephanie's phone ring once or twice. It was Stephanie's mother, almost without fail. She has some friends that text top keep in touch, but the one person who called on the phone to hear her voice, the voice God gave us to share with our loved ones, was her mother. Now I hear Stephanie's ringtone, and my first thought is still that Sandy is on the phone. But it will never be her again, and that is sad and strange.

Now, I love my text messages, and I'm not going to stop using them (much to my friends' chagrin), but I wonder if I'm turning to them too quickly. I wonder if I should rediscover the telephone. And when I can manage it, even if I don't have much time to spare, I should go a little out of my way to quickly (or not so quickly) stop by and see my friends and family at work or at home.

I have friends living just a mile or two away that I email or text, but hardly see in person. What great difference might it make if I just stopped by for five minutes here or there? I might find myself at least a little closer to the dream my wife and I have of living in a close-knit Catholic community (something I'll have to go into more later).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just Shy

"Hello, my name is Nathan, and I'm shy," I mumble at the support group. Except I don't go to a support group, because we shy people prefer to stay inside.

When I have close friends, sure, I'll go out with them pretty easily, but alone, or with most people, even most of my friends, it's more comfortable to just not put too much effort into being out in the world.

Shy people are difficult. I'm difficult. I have a hard time starting conversations. I have a hard time finding points of common interest. I have a hard time even responding in the optimal manner to simple questions like, "How are you doing?"

Of course I'm not just shy, I'm also a bit of an oddball. When I come out of my shell a little I'm full of silliness, odd expressions, exaggerations, and other nonsense. I don't like the normal way the world works. I make my own rules sometimes, so long as they are in keeping with morality. Very rarely I've "adopted" my very best friends as extra siblings, which I take pretty seriously, but I don't think even these great friends understand. I guess it would help if they were coming from the same place (but my home planet exploded, so...), oh well.

But it's not just me. Most shy people are kind of difficult. We're hard to get to talk, we don't reveal things about ourselves easily. Even having the experience of being shy myself I often can't figure out other shy people, or get much out of them.

There are surely many reasons for people to be shy. In any particular person some or all of these may be major factors: A simple introverted personality (focusing more in the mind than out on the world), a fear of rejection, caring too much what others think, a perfectionism that wants each word to be understood exactly as intended, a social awkwardness that tends to cause difficulties in communication, etc. I've got at least some amount of all these myself.

In the worst case it could be an actual dislike or disregard for other people and a complete inability to relate to them. That's why we hear, "Look out, it's always the quiet ones." But it's usually nothing so terrible, and we self-conscious shy people hardly need people suggesting that we're all serial killers. Thanks a lot (you're going on the list).

What can be done then? Well, Christ didn't just call us to love the easy people, so let's put in some effort to reach shy people.

First, try to make time for them one-on-one or when they are with someone else they are already comfortable with.

Ask questions, but be careful about putting them on the spot, especially if you're in a group.

Conversely, try not to let them feel left out of the group entirely. It's easy for that to happen. I usually avoid groups for that reason.

When you find a common interest, remember it, and use it to build common ground. Or even if they bring up an interest that could prove to be interesting with a further look, consider exploring it with them. But don't necessarily limit yourself to that one topic, especially if they are opening up.

Take a little care. Shy people often worry too much about what other people think, so they can be a little sensitive, even if they don't show it.

But if you do get a shy person to open up, and you become good friends, they could be very loving and loyal. They usually don't make friends so easily, so they care a lot about the few they have, and they can be a great gift from God.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Best in People

While it does go against my belief that the joy of complaining is why God lets us suffer in life, I've been engaged in an interesting thought experiment.

What if we could look at our family and friends, and only see the good memories, and let go of all the bad?

I pick good family and close friends, so it's not like there's anything huge ruining our relationships, but it seems most every relationship has little annoyances or dark spots.

Yeah, I said I pick good family. "That makes no sense," you say? Well you're just saying that because you picked such a lame family.

Anyway, to clarify this idea about forgetting the problems, I'm not saying that if your lunatic brother threatens to kill you the next time he sees you, you should forget it, and invite yourself over for tea. I'm talking a bit more about issues that are clearly in the past or more minor issues in the present, like if someone forgot your birthday, they complain about your cooking (can you blame them?), they don't answer your emails, they don't show interest in some of your favorite things, or things like that.

If something is solidly in the past it could be a big issue, and you can still forget it, like the time your brother lit your hamster on fire (how could he do that?!?). Let it go. Also you can forget things on your own side. Forget the worries about being misunderstood, forget the embarrassing moments of the past, and don't worry about how much they like you.

Doing this, focusing on the kindness, the fun, the beauty of the person and your relationship with them, and removing the dark spots from the picture, I think you can find a greater happiness in your relationships, and love your friends and family more fully.

I even wonder if we might discover some hidden treasures this way. Maybe we'll see the people who might not have been the easiest or most exciting friends, and realize how much love they showed us while we weren't paying attention.

As for my actual experience, so far my results are mixed. I kind of do this by default with my wife. Next, I find it easier with my family and close friends, where there are lots of good memories and displays of love to draw upon. I've had moments of realization that friends were not just good friends, but great and wonderful friends. Other friends and acquaintances I'm finding that the kindness-to-difficulty ratio is still a more major factor.

But even if we still have difficulty loving, it doesn't hurt to prayerfully work with God to look at people with greater love. Remember, just as our love for God helps us love people, our love for people also helps us to love God.

This is part of why most of us are not called to be hermits. Most of us are supposed to be spending time enjoying the company of our family and friends, as well as touching the lives of others beyond our circle.

And if we are doing this with greater focus on what is right with the person, perhaps we'll love them a bit more, and we will all grow a little closer to God just being near each other.