I live in the American South, am originally from the Midwest, and am almost-but-not-quite-yet a lawyer. My passions in life, apart from spending time with my wonderful fiancée, are reading, writing, and research; my academic background is in history, politics, and the law. Really, I’m pretty much a quiet, boring nerd. I was born and raised Catholic, and came back to the Catholic Church after a long, unchurched hiatus during my adolescence. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Lately in my life, the days have seemingly revolved completely around illness and stress from work. The past three weeks or so have consisted of long, hard days, nights with little sleep, and attempting (vainly, as it turned out) to stave off another round of acute sickness. This past Friday, I was beginning to get ill. I went to a walk-in clinic that afternoon, was given some medications, and went home to start preparing for the long and stressful week to come.
I work in the legal field, and we had a hearing coming up. I had been tasked with a long, tedious, but ultimately rewarding task to assist in preparation for the hearing, which I had finished on Thursday. Friday, I began to prepare to assist at the hearing itself, and Monday was supposed to be completely taken up with these preparations. Tuesday, the hearing was scheduled to last all day.
By Saturday night, however, it was obvious that I was not getting any better, and indeed, my acute illness was continuing to worsen. By Sunday, I was in terrible shape. I should have gone to an urgent care clinic then, but there are none here that are open on Sundays. At the moment, I can’t afford a visit to the emergency room. So, I waited, and continued to fade.
On Monday I staggered into work exhausted, my lungs in rebellion, knowing that if I didn’t go back to see a doctor I would potentially end up in the hospital soon (I know the processes of my conditions, and I know that sign quite well). But, I had no choice. Preparations had to be made. The hearing had to go on. There was no one who could do my job for me. I was not a happy camper, but camp I would. And then, one of my coworkers came up to me and said “did you hear? The hearing’s been cancelled, with no reschedule.” Immediately I felt a wave of relief wash over me. That meant no preparations today, no hearing all day tomorrow. That meant I could go home, and go to the doctor. And I did just that, before things got too bad to handle outside a hospital. It is now Tuesday as I write this, and I’m not sitting in a courtroom coughing, wheezing, barely able to breathe; I’m at my desk, quietly resting, recovering. Darkness cleared, and there was light.
This is merely the latest in a pattern that’s been going on throughout my adult life. Shadows fall, and darkness comes. Sometimes, that darkness is merely an annoyance, a shadow seen in peripheral vision that distracts from the goodness in life, whispers that remind me of the fear and grief of my worst years, but little more. At other times, the darkness is overwhelming, all-consuming, taking over my life almost completely, to the point where I can barely, if at all, see that there is any light remaining, let alone feel its warmth upon me. But always, always, at the end, in the depths of the abyss, when life seems the darkest and all lights have seemingly gone out, something breaks through, something brings me back from the edge.
Last year, after being laid off and on unemployment for several months, I was on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness. Then, I got this job, after what seemed like an endless year of fruitless interviews and hundreds of applications. So, I keep going. Several years ago, I was so chronically ill that I could not hold down a full-time job, and the part-time gig I had wasn’t paying enough to cover my bills. This was during the worst period in my life. My mother and grandmother had died. I’d flunked out of college. I’d been unemployed for more than a year, and then had gotten that job. I was, there too, on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness. Then, after a long and hard fight, I got back into college, and things settled down. I was able to keep going.
And so on, and so forth; the pattern repeats. The individual repetitions are sometimes longer or shorter, sometimes weaker or stronger, but the pattern is the same: darkness falls, but there is light. The light is always there, waiting. Hope and healing are always there. Sometimes, it seems, we have to reach out of our darkness to find them; sometimes we can’t even do that, and they have to reach inward to find us.
And that’s what I try to keep reminding myself about God; He is always there, even in our darkest hour, even when we can’t feel Him, even when it feels like He has abandoned us. Illness, stress, conflict, emergencies of all sorts…these things can tax our bodies, minds, and spirits. Shadows fall, and darkness comes, but there is always light. This is why we persevere, in the face of everything that life and the universe can throw at us. And there’s no doubt, there will be things that get thrown at us, time and again. Life was not meant to be completely smooth or easy.
There is a passage from Ecclesiastes that has always struck me, when I reflect on these patterns in my life:
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
We don’t know what will happen to us in this life. Dark times will befall all of us. A lot of the time, none of it is of our doing; we can be wealthy, learned, and wise, and still fall into darkness. But however dark it may get, the light of God is still there. Indeed, I think that without these struggles, without these shadows, we wouldn’t truly know the goodness of God, or realize how great indeed is the promise of eternal life.
St. Paul wrote, in his Letter to the Romans,
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Now, the “present sufferings” Paul was speaking of weren’t acute respiratory illnesses, which is what gave me the subject for my writing today; he was referring to actual, physical persecution of early Christians by the intolerant civil and religious authorities of the time. However, I think his words can be applied the same to all suffering that we go through in life: pain, grief, loss, illness, despair, fear. All of it darkness and shadow, to varying degrees and in a wide variety of forms. All of it clouds our vision, frustrates our purpose, and serves to keep us from realizing that ultimate redemption. Paul continues,
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And that is the crux of this whole line of thinking: God is always in control. God is always there. The goodness of God is always at our side, even when we’re so benighted by shadows that we can’t sense it.