What I Prayed was, “Please Lord, I need a Break”
I feel like I’m aboard an extremely filthy bullet train. It’s filthy because it’s littered with dirty diapers and black banana peels. It’s fast – so fast that the dirty diapers and banana peels are always there, no matter how many times I pass through to pick them up.
This week began with a hope – nay, a prayer – that there would be an opportunity to slow down for just a little bit. God answered this little prayer of mine, which seemed so reasonable to me – “Look at all that I have done, Lord, can’t I have a break for a while?” – with a firm “No.”
God Said No; What Now?
On Wednesday morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table bouncing the baby girl on my knee while slugging down my cup of coffee and eating breakfast. In a couple hours, we’d have a visit from my sister and her little girl, my goddaughter.
Before the visit, the boys and I needed to get some chores done. The house was a mess (as usual). The sink could not be found amidst all the dirty dishes. I needed to figure out how to fit school into the day, working around my sister’s visit.
Not Just No, but “Heck No”!
I began to fret, thinking how after the visit I would need to immediately shift gears and prepare for another round of guests a few hours later: on Tuesday night I received word that missionaries from China would be heading into town after a presentation that they were to deliver at a nearby monastery.
Father wanted to know if they could stop by that evening for some beer, and then he suggested that they could return after mass the following morning for breakfast.
How would it all get done? Would it all get done?
God Sends in the Reinforcements
I took the baby from my lap and set her down on the kitchen floor. The three-year-old was prancing around the kitchen, asking me to watch him “dance”. I turned on some music. I thought maybe the three-year-old would entertain the baby with his dancing for a couple minutes, to give me a chance to quickly make a plan.
I just kept breathing. In. Out. Help me out here, Lord. I asked you to give me a chance to catch up this week, and now it looks like it’s going to be a busy as ever.
My mind blanked. I couldn’t even think. I looked into the baby’s eyes, big and blue as the deflector dish of the U.S.S. Enterprise, entranced by the “dancing” of my little boy. She was waving her arms and squealing. I looked across the house to find my ten-year-old in the dining room working on a project at the table; his hips started moving to the rhythm of the music playing on the radio.
Then the seven-year-old strode into the kitchen as though he had just gotten past the bouncer of an urban dance club, and that was it: a stupid silly pop song took hold of all four children, and me.
“This is Where You Belong.”
My heart – always yearning for better, for more, for less, for something else – stopped yearning and admitted to the Lord’s grace. The curtain briefly lifted on my life, giving another tiny glimpse behind what seemed so mundane, with a certain special sight – this is good – filling me with gratitude.
God allowed me to surrender to this grace. I was overtaken. I squinted against the tears. I lowered my head and for a moment, and became utterly lost in Him.
The Holy Spirit delivered a reinforcement of Joy. At being able to give thanks. At being able to see the blessings. At being able to see the problems not as problems at all. At being invited to follow, and having seen enough to know the goodness of such invitations.
Why did God do this for me, today?
Have I mentioned that my wife is a pro-life family physician in our small town? Her job isn’t easy. Because we live in the same small town in which we both grew up, my wife’s patients aren’t just her patients; my wife’s patients are the same people who were our teachers, coaches, community leaders, friends and family growing up.
My wife treats the folks in our town who supported and loved us during our childhood. She isn’t just a concerned doctor, she is a loving friend to her patients. Her list of prayer intentions is looooooong.
My wife came home in the evening. She’d had a difficult day. She was tired. What mattered was that she was upset. Sick patients. Lots of new intentions.
I was a little shaken. God had just showered abundant graces upon me that day, and I was somewhat powerless to help my wife who needed what I had! Since I didn’t think it would help her at that moment to tell her about my experience, I just started to pray for her.
Missionaries still coming? How much time do we have?
They’ll be here around 8:30…
Missionaries from China Arrive
Having done what we could in the midst of mealtime and bedtime for the little ones, our five guests arrived at our door shortly after 8:30.
They came as old friends, embracing us, gracing our home with joy. Among the company were two women who we had never met before – missionaries who were part of the Little Flower Projects in China, an outreach that provides care for orphaned or seriously ill and dying children there.
One of the women told us about her experience of traveling from China to the United States with babies in need of life-saving medical care. We learned about her work with Bl. Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Mercy in India. We also learned about some of the dangerous risks that they both had taken over the years to practice their faith and follow God’s call.
You might expect that missionaries who devote their lives to such work – witnessing the suffering of innocent children who are either seriously ill, injured, disfigured, dying, deaf, blind, or starving – would themselves be sad or despairing. But they were joyful. It was as though one was meeting a true companion of Christ – someone who had experienced situations where all hope seemed lost, and yet, was a witness to something tangible and power-filled, something capable of overcoming any difficulty.
In discussing China’s policies of forced abortion, its efforts to reshape family life through the one-child policy, the effects of eliminating siblings, the consequent lives of future generations in which there are no aunts, uncles and cousins, there was only confidence among our visitors that in time Christ would prevail.
There were invitations: come to China. Come to Guatemala. Visit. And, giving to the graces that God poured out that day, there was openness. Yes, I would like to do that. Yes, I will pray. Yes, I will ask God to show me how I can help.
They departed for the rectory shortly before midnight, and I still had preparations to make for the next morning’s breakfast. My wife and I were still physically tired, and yet overjoyed and uplifted. God was filling us up with abundant blessings, and sleep could wait. Sleep will wait.
Urgency and Willingness to the Mission
As much as we can look to the example of the missionary to China, and begin to shake with fear that God will also turn our lives upside down if we let Him, we do not need think this way. God turns our lives upside down by showing us that we belong to Him! The beauty of God is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. God doesn’t cram us into preset templates and stamp out certain categories of Christians. He wants us to be our true selves!
From this week’s experience, I learned that God wants me here. I am a missionary, because I am on a mission. My mission is not the same as anyone else’s mission. God isn’t asking me to do something else; He’s asking me to do my mission:
My mission is to raise my children. My mission is to bring them up in the faith. My mission is to teach them everything I possibly can. My mission is to feed, clothe and love my children. My mission is to support my wife and help her grow in holiness. My mission is to support my parish as a catechist, lector, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. My mission is to provide hospitality and dispense orthodox Catholic joy. My mission is to blog! My mission is to respond to God’s invitations with trust – to give even when it hurts, to travel even when the destination or objective is uncertain, and to love even when the beloved isn’t worthy, because I too am unworthy. My mission is to totally die to self, because that is what God did for me.
How do we carry out our Mission?
Through His Providence, Jesus shows us the way. First, “I am the way.” We must surrender ourselves to Christ. This requires trust. This requires that we turn off the television and keep our shoes on, so that we make ourselves available to God.
Second, “Follow me.” Again, this is always an invitation. Jesus blesses the free choice that we make to follow Him. He lets us believe that we are free to say no, because we are.
But when we say no, when we say “I’m too tired,” or “That sounds expensive,” or “What will become of me?” we close ourselves to the grace that God offers for the task.
We must say yes! This allows us to follow, to receive the grace, to do the mission!
Walk with Christ in Joy! And may God bless you, abundantly!