Trials in life can be exhausting…but life offers us signs to help us fight and survive
Over the years in spiritual direction, as I have listened to people share their struggles, one thing often repeated is the sense that God has abandoned them or is distant and aloof when they are going through trials. “What am I doing wrong? Why has God put me through this? Where is He in all of this?” Often people think that once they have had a serious conversion and get close to Jesus, their life is going to be problem-free. But the Lord never promised that. In fact, God’s Word is clear on this.
In Sirach 2:1, it says, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials” (that whole chapter is a great one to read, by the way). The apostles also tried to prepare new Christians for this truth as they spread the Gospel. We read in Acts 14:22, “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many trials to enter the Kingdom of God.’”
As we grow in our relationship with God and get more serious about obeying His Word, we are going to be faced with some serious challenges and hardships. We are going to have to make decisions and take stands that make us unpopular. People are going to misunderstand us. Not everyone is going to like us.
If you want everyone to like you, forget trying to follow Jesus. Why? Because to live the Gospel life as Jesus preached it to us is to go against our culture. Jesus Himself warns us of this “If the world hates you, realize that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
So yes, we must pass through many trials and hardships in this life. But as I remind people in spiritual direction, God never leaves us on our own in those difficult times. He wants to give us encouragement and help along the way so that we persevere and come through the storms of life stronger and more convinced of His deep and abiding love for us. God is trustworthy!
Think about the example of the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He went against the crowd and took a strong stand against idolatry when he confronted the false prophets of Baal. After the dramatic and wildly successful confrontation, Queen Jezebel was furious and determined to kill Elijah. Fearing for his life, Elijah fled in haste to the desert. He collapsed under a broom tree, exhausted, depressed, and wanting to die. That’s when God sent an angel to bring him food and water. The angel said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings, 18 and 19).
God knows exactly what we need. He knew that Elijah needed to sleep, eat, and recover after a stressful event. The Lord knows what you need. God wants to meet our needs and encourage us. However, we have to be attentive to how He might be doing that. Many times I think we miss His attempts to communicate with us. The Lord did not speak to Elijah in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. But in the “sound of sheer silence,” is when Elijah encountered God.
Some years ago, I was going through a time of difficult trials and desolation. Life felt very heavy and burdensome. One Saturday, a young friend of mine went out horseback riding and found a white lily-like flower in the desert and brought it back and gave it to me. The next day, I was walking down the street in El Paso and saw an artificial white lily lying on the ground. I picked it up and took it home with me.
The following day I came across another white lily-type flower growing near a sidewalk. Three white lilies in three days. I knew there was a message in this from the Lord, but I did not know exactly what He was trying to say.
As I reflected on it, a memory suddenly came back to me. Many years ago, when I was a new missionary in our community, we were having Mass at our Youth Center. After Communion, I was praying with my eyes closed. Someone tapped me on my shoulder. Startled out of my prayer, I looked up and saw the priest standing there. He said to me, “The Lord wants you to know that you are a lily in His eyes.” And then, the priest went back to the altar and sat back down. I did not really know that priest yet, and he never shared any other message like that with me again. But I stored it in my heart as a special word from the Lord to encourage me.
Now, all these years later, that memory came back to me, and now I understood the lilies. The Lord wanted to encourage me during the tough time I was going through. He was reminding me that I am His lily and that He loves me very much. It filled my heart with some much-needed peace and reassurance that I was not going through the storms alone. God was faithfully going to see me through them.
God knows you by name. You are His beloved child. He sees you and knows all that you are going through. He wants to communicate His love to you, but usually, the signs come softly and gently. We can miss them if we are not paying attention.
I could have missed that message of love with the lilies. I could have thought they were just a coincidence. But I knew it was more than a coincidence, and I wanted to know the message. God revealed it to me as I pondered in my heart what the meaning might be. And when I understood it, it gave me consolation and strength to endure.
So I encourage you—persevere through the trials. Don’t quit! And look for those little signs of God’s love and encouragement along the way. I guarantee you they are there. We just need to open our eyes and ears and pay attention.
Ellen Hogarty is a spiritual director, writer and full-time missionary with the Lord’s Ranch Community in New Mexico. She blogs at cacklescorner.com.
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
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