I went to a different parish than usual this weekend. The priest’s homily focused on the question “Is God Here?” The priest acknowledged that it was a strange question to be asking in a church setting. (I would add: especially in a Catholic church, where Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity). But he pointed out that even people who attend church ask this question at various times in their lives. For my part, I have never doubted God’s existence, but I’ve doubted his personal love for me. I know God is out there, but is God here? I don’t doubt that He abides in the Tabernacle, but does He abide with me? Does He want to be near me, or does he look upon me from a distance, scowling at my many flaws and sins?
The priest went on to say that atheists start with the thesis that God is not here, and then demand proof that He is. However, they don’t see the proof that is right in front of them. The heavens declare the glory of God, and even the stones cry out. But someone who does not have eyes to see will be blind to anything but that which supports their preconceived ideas. It’s often the same way with me and my version of the question of God’s presence. If my starting point is that God is displeased with me in all my imperfection, and is therefore not really near to me, then I won’t have eyes to see when he reveals himself to me. If I assume that I am not lovable, then I won’t notice when the God of the universe is pursuing me.
The priest reminded us that that’s what Christmas is about – God pursuing us. Love Himself came down from Heaven for each of us, individually and personally.
When I’ve asked God why I don’t feel His love for me, He’s answered me pretty clearly. He’s told me that I don’t pray enough (I neglect especially the “listening” part of prayer). He’s called, and He’s shouted (as one of my favorite Matt Maher songs goes), and I’m deaf to it, because I am not taking the time to listen. I’m so busy thinking about how much I suck at life (pardon the expression), that I’m not even giving Him a chance to tell me otherwise. What kind of relationship can I expect to have with God when I’m constantly looking in a proverbial mirror at myself instead of gazing at Him?
And when I’m feeling badly about what I see in that mirror, I look outside, to other people and things, to make me feel better, to fill the void in my heart. I turn away from God— the only One who can satisfy the deepest longings of my heart—in the hopes that someone else will make me feel loved. I think of how unworthy I am of God’s love, so I hide from Him. And then, I become dissatisfied and angry with others (particularly my husband and my children) because they can’t fill up my emptiness.
Meanwhile, God waits for me patiently. He waits for me to realize that my heart will be restless until it rests in Him. He waits for me to understand that even though I am not perfect, and I can’t love him perfectly, He wants whatever pathetic offering I can muster. He waits for me to see that I will never stop feeling like a failure until I look to Him to see my worth. Because the way to heal guilt, low self-esteem, and self-doubt is not to look inward or outward, but upward.
I can only accomplish all this through a better prayer life. As we begin a new Church year, I am at this very moment resolving to start working on this now. If your prayer life has been stagnant and your belief in God’s love for you has been waning, please join me in this resolution.