This year I’ll turn 45. Closing in on 50, with soon-to-be adult children, has prompted me to look back and take stock of my spiritual journey. One relationship in particular that has become increasingly important to me is that with my guardian angel.
Most people, including most Catholics, give little thought to these incredible beings, but they are worth contemplating. The Church has always taught as a matter of faith that angels exist and that we all have a unique one assigned to us (CCC, 328). These purely spiritual creatures are highly intelligent, powerful, and have submitted their wills entirely to God, all of which makes them unparalleled companions for our journey toward heaven.
I was once driving along, thinking about my own angel, when I realized he has been with me from conception. For the moment I began to exist, I had a loving soldier attached to me, helping me through life. And assuming I make it to heaven, I will always have this most intimate companion with me.
You know how sometimes you know something factually but you don’t exactly know what it means? A child, for instance, may see a beautiful butterfly and marvel at it, appreciating its beauty, but not fully grasp that its existence declares a Creator beyond imagination. It was like that with my angel in that moment. As a Catholic, I had always known I had a guardian angel. What I didn’t perceive is what that meant: that even when I have pushed God away through sin, I have never been truly alone. My angel has accompanied me through every second of existence, through every experience of joy, confusion, fear, and suffering.
This was consoling, but then I wondered how this could be true when I have experienced times of great loneliness. Loneliness means “to be sad because one is without friends or company.” This can only mean one thing–my feelings were deceptive.
This ought to give us pause. Today, feelings are too often viewed as your truest guide in life: “Follow your heart,” we’re told. “Do what feels right.” But something may feel true but not be true. I can feel rejected, but have misinterpreted someone’s intentions. I can feel scared but be safe. Our feelings, or “passions,” as the Catechism calls them, are only truly good and reliable when we subject them to the gift of reason, which always starts with one fundamental question:
“Is it true?”
Never is this more important than when dealing with the spiritual pain of loneliness. The truth is, I am never actually alone because I am always with my Angel. Loneliness is a cognitive error.
Perhaps God allows those feelings because they can serve as a reminder we have neglected our connections to the spiritual world. Because when I immerse myself in God, pray to my Angel, and lean into the Blessed Mother and saints, there is no loneliness. My soul knows I am surrounded by people who love me. And I can dismiss that cognitive error and rest instead in what is true:
I have never been alone.
I am not alone.
I will never be alone.
Faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Never is that more true than with our holy Angels. May God make us all ever more aware of the gift of these blessed friends!
“The scariest part about it is when we are alone.”
A paramedic told me exactly this last December when I experienced my worst anxiety attack. These words made an imprint on me. My head seems to say one thing, but my heart screams another. I know I shouldn’t be alone. I know it’s healthy to reach out to someone to talk to. But, stubborn as I am, I want to learn how to be strong alone. This was my mindset.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the kind of woman I want to be, and I fear that I am slowly becoming one that is closed, controlling, and cynical towards the world. When I am alone is when I feel most vulnerable. As an eldest daughter with a single mom, I’ve invested years into killing my desire for love and validation. I’ve guarded my heart with the same barricades that my mother used for herself, so that vulnerability would not be an option for me. My anxiety stems from a need for control. A need to control my studies, my career, my family and other people’s perception of who I am. Most of all, a need to control my emotions.
I never fully understood why my foolproof method to controlling my life and suffocating my heart wasn’t working until I recently dove into Captivatingby John and Stasi Eldredge. As women today we are always pressured to “keep it together”. I had always perceived danger or chaos if I let go and let my guard down. We don’t like to turn to our neighbors for help, because who wants to burden someone else with heartache? Surely not me! I needed to start at the beginning. First by opening up my heart to He who created this heart in me. Instead of hiding and negotiating what my worth is with God, I needed to embrace His validation. I needed to allow myself to receive His love, which is something many women, Christian or not, struggle with today.
What that book showed me was something even more valuable than what my desires were–it was that I am not alone in this. That I don’t need to fear loneliness with the millions of women, and most especially, the Lord on my side.
Since then, I’ve found that loneliness has now become solace. Regular prayer, reflection, and breathing help me cope with stress and anxiety, as well as mend my heart a little at a time. Although the doubts, worries, and insecurities still attack, I know there is a refuge in a place where I can be still and free from distractions. Free from feeling like there is something I have to do. I experience the most peaceful loneliness and unity the moment my knees meet the floor in adoration. There is no greater serenity than to be able to come before the Lord and give him my plans, fears, and worries.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“The lukewarm do not embrace the cross, they merely drag it along.” St. Teresa of Avila
Eight years ago, my family left Greeley, Colorado. It was an exciting time, something my husband and I had planned since we first met. We were on our way to my husband’s home town, to become part of his family farm. After ten years in Greeley, we found ourselves surrounded by people we loved, and the kind of Catholic community that didn’t exist in our new place. We had waited so long for the dream of “getting home” to materialize, but we hadn’t prepared for the difficulty of letting go.
We spent the first five years of our married life in Denver. My husband traveled a lot, and I was a young wife with two small children, paranoid about city life and suspicious of strangers. My fears kept me from reaching out to others and developing friendships; I was much alone and often depressed. Pope John Paul II wowed Denver during World Youth Day in August 1993, but I had only been Catholic for five months and was sadly unaware of this man or his message to “Be not afraid!”
In 1995, we trekked an hour north to Greeley. Within a few weeks, while walking my oldest son to kindergarten, I met the first friend of my adult life. When she learned I was Catholic, she invited me to adult formation classes at our church. I was a former Baptist, still unconvinced of Catholic doctrine. Here I found a lay teacher with answers to all my difficult questions, who helped me discover a profound love for the truth and beauty of my Catholic faith.
My new friend also introduced me to the mother’s group at our church. I met wonderful Christian women who challenged and supported one another as Catholics and as moms. We gathered for playtimes, picnics, and Bible study. We brought meals to one another as new babies were born. When I came to Mass, I was welcomed by the friendly faces of women who knew and cared about me.
Other friends inspired us to tackle homeschooling. I found myself surrounded by like-minded Catholic families, attending daily Mass together, encouraging each other and sharing wisdom. Our children played together and we joked about “arranged marriages” between them. We had potluck gatherings and prayed rosaries. We shared a common love for our faith that bound us tightly. Saying good-bye to Greeley meant walking away from all these things that I held dear.
That same year, a close friend also planned a move. Her family announced that they were “giving up Greeley” for Lent. I thought it was a cute line, but nothing more. It wasn’t until this year—nearly a decade later—that I realized I should have taken their idea more seriously. They gave up Greeley and moved on. I never did.
For the last eight years, I’ve pouted. I’ve sulked and complained. I’ve whined. It’s not that I haven’t met people or done things. I have. But I haven’t made friends or given of myself. I haven’t reached out, I haven’t reciprocated. I haven’t tried.
It’s true that I needed a legitimate period of mourning. I worked on detachment and tried to develop a reliance on God alone. But I lost my way and failed to see that my sadness and “detachment” had become wallowing and aloofness.
Then I picked up the book Boundaries, by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. As I read, I stumbled upon something that startled me. It said,
“…we have…problems because we lack initiative—the God-given ability to propel ourselves into life.”
This pierced me. I was struck by the plain fact that this was me. The book went on to review the old parable of the talents, in which the master left each of three servants with a sum of money to care for. The authors point out,
“The ones who succeeded were active and assertive. They initiated and pushed. The one who lost out was passive and inactive.”
Passive—that summed me up quite neatly. In Greeley, my friends had drawn me into an active life and kept me accountable. Here, I had languished. Then I read:
“People who are passive are not inherently evil….But evil is an active force, and passivity can become an ally of evil by not pushing against it….God will match our effort, but he will never do our work for us…. He wants us to be assertive and active, seeking and knocking on the door of life….The sin God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try.”*
For so long my thoughts had been centered on everything I had lost and the shortcomings of our new church community, yet I hadn’t worked to make anything different. In Greeley, my friends likened me to a little bird leaving its nurturing nest, going into the world to “spread the gospel”, carrying a flaming torch into a place that needed life and light. I had high hopes, and felt myself a heroic missionary of sorts, off to be a foot-soldier of the “new evangelization”. But none of that had materialized. Rather than investing my talents for the Master, I had buried them deeply. My “torch” had been little more than a flickering candle which quickly burned low without my friends to fan the flame. After eight years, I had little to show the Master who had entrusted me with much. I had made small effort on his behalf, or my own.
About this time, I ran into a woman I knew. We had talked a few times in the past, but no more. I suggested that we get together, and the next week found myself in her kitchen, comparing stories of our strangely parallel lives. I went away thinking I had finally found a friend–only to learn that she and her family would soon be moving to Arizona. I smiled at the irony and at the same time prayed, “Who, Lord? Who can be a friend for me?”
A woman’s face immediately came to mind. She was someone in my family that I knew only little and cared for even less. I had prayed for her routinely, because she had no faith and seemed deeply wounded. Lately I had been convicted to change my prayers for her to prayers for myself: “Lord, help me to love her. Help me to see her with your eyes.” It occurred to me that I had wronged her in many ways and had been less than loving. Now, God presented her to me as a candidate for friendship.
I resisted, of course. But later that day I was running an errand and found myself driving past her house. After desperate consultation with the Holy Spirit, I pulled in. Ringing the doorbell was difficult, but she welcomed me in and listened patiently as I apologized for the hurtful things I had done. I proposed a new friendship, and asked if she would be willing to meet on a regular basis to get to know one another. To my surprise and relief, she graciously accepted. Even more surprising, I’m looking forward to my time with her.
Soon after, I was invited to join a ladies Bible study in a local protestant church. I was tempted pass, but instead steeled myself and plunged in. I found a warm group of women searching God’s word together. Their fellowship was so sweet, and something I had dearly missed. I can’t wait to return to them next month.
When I finally put forth a small effort, God met me halfway. There is still much for me to work toward, particularly within my parish home. But now, at long last, I think I’m letting go of the past and moving forward. Greeley was a tinderbox, where so many flames were kindled. It’s time for me to stir the embers of the torch I was given and use it to set the world afire. My old friends and our times together are irreplaceable, but this Lent, I’m glad to be giving up Greeley.
Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Boundaries. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. 99. Print.
I went to a funeral a few weeks ago. A close friend of mine from high school and college lost her father after a sudden stroke. My mom and I drove together and visited with several of my school friends and their mothers, catching up and consoling each other for our friends’ loss.
The funeral itself was very touching, but what stood out to me the most was how poignantly lonely the previous generation seemed.
I saw a newly-widowed woman, with her only-child-daughter (my friend, who is married with two children) living over 1,500 miles away.
I saw another widow – who’s only-child-daughter (another friend, engaged to be married) lives over 800 miles away.
I saw an aging couple, who’s only-child-daughter (my single friend) lives over 400 miles away.
I saw another couple, who’s two daughters (both married with one child each) live hundreds of miles away.
Sure, they get together for holidays and a few special events, but beyond that they seemed to be strangers.
I slowly started to realize that I was clearly the outcast in the group, married with four children and living within three miles of both my parents and my in-laws. Two of my three siblings also live within the same town.
I quickly was overwhelmed by feelings of my own family’s drama. You know, the classics: strong personalities vs weak ones, short-tempered fathers, opinionated mothers, and babble-on-forever mother-in-laws, trying to figure how to squeeze in your sister’s baby shower between your 2nd-grader’s First Communion and the school charity dance, and oh yeah – gotta make sure someone can babysit! WHEW! Yes, I have to admit – my crazy life often makes my head spin!
The more I think about this funeral experience, though, the more I realize how BLESSED we really are. It was a really good opportunity for both my mom and I to see what the alternatives are like. While life can certainly feel a bit overwhelming at times it is hardly boring or lonely. It was a much-needed dose of perspective to see how petty our little family “issues” can be. It’s important to count our blessings and be thankful for the fullness of life all around us! I am thankful for my family: I have two sisters who I can text and call at any moment to share a funny story or to make plans for lunch. I have parents who I call every morning, just to say hi and ask how their day is. We go to their house almost every week for dinner, and they get the chance to see the grand kids. I have a mother-in-law who also eats a meal with us every week. She is always willing to watch the kids so my husband and I can get out on a date night – every single week! I have a husband who makes me cry with laughter, and children who are filled with with nonstop chatter but are dripping with joy and LIFE! Yes, there are personalities that can certainly drive me up the wall once in a while, but when I stop and look at the big picture I see such enormous love bursting at the seams!
During Lent it’s important to really evaluate where we are in life: Where are the *little* things getting in the way of your family relationships? In what ways can we all give and take in order to bring a little more love into our lives? This is not to suggest that there aren’t very valid reasons for cutting off extremely toxic relationships, but these should be evaluated on a regular basis and examined to find opportunities for forgiveness and growth. Examine, re-evaluate the situation, and make an annual review of the situation. Allow for others to change and grow as Christ is merciful with our own shortcomings.
As difficult as many personalities can certainly be, loneliness seems worse.
We live in a world of busyness, a bustling world filled with constant music and TVs and talking and noise, a world where we can communicate instantly via cellphone or the internet. We can play a game with a stranger in China, or video chat with a relative in Germany. We can seek friendships with those who live across two oceans. And yet, despite the billions of other people in this world, hundreds of coworkers and fellow parishioners and neighbors, dozens of friends and family members… sometimes we just feel lonely.
We may have a disagreement with our spouse which leaves us frustrated and annoyed. We get into a discussion with coworkers that leaves us feeling persecuted for our religious beliefs. A series of misfortunes leave us feeling beaten down and financially strapped. And we feel so alone. We have no one to sympathize with us, or at least, no one who can quite understand the depth of our struggles. We cry out to God, beseeching him to fix our problems, to make us happy again. Does He not want us to be happy? Why do the hurts of this world pierce our soul so deeply? And why does God allow us to feel lonely?
As humans, we are made to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him in the next. God allows us to be lonely because He desires that we seek Him. If we could float through life completely fulfilled by the things of this world, then what need would we have of God? As St. Gerard Majella said, “Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?” Loneliness is not a punishment, but rather, a manifestation of the soul’s desire to be in union with God. He wants us to seek Him in our struggles, give Him our whole hearts, to rely on Him and to trust in His goodness alone.
It is the nature of the human soul to seek companionship. As C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” We find other souls who understand us, who share similar values, with the same sense of humor or the same love of coffee or of 19th century British literature, and we bond. We spend countless hours discussing, laughing, sharing. The same illustrious author said, ““Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”
But even with our good, godly friendships, sometimes a sense of loneliness pervades our soul. We can never find true peace and fulfillment in the things or the people of this world, no matter how beautiful or wonderful they may be. Any consolation we receive from a friend, any love they show us comes from God through them, for “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17)
A true friend consoling us in a time of need is a balm for a weary soul. If we are surrounded by faithful companions in a time of struggle, we are truly blessed. What a grace we have been given to help us through our difficulty! But if we are struggling and feeling the sting of loneliness, it is God’s gentle way of encouraging us to seek Him. He can heal the deep wounds of our soul, and He alone fulfills our inner longings. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him, says St. Augustine. Seek Christ. Visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament, receive Him in Holy Communion, seek His forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. He heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). Allow Him to fill your emptiness. Do not despair, for “He who has God finds he lacks nothing – God alone suffices.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
“I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” – J.R.R. Tolkien