My qualifying exams are in December and I have been slacking off on my prayer life, my blog, and pretty much all-that-is-good-and-Catholic. I’ve still been praying the rosary most days and sending up a few prayers when I don’t pray the rosary. However, it appears as though I’ve asked the driver of my car (God) to take the backseat. Unfortunately for me, I am a mediocre driver with no ability whatsoever to successfully parallel park a car. These past few weeks have been full of detours, flat tires, and many instances of me just driving off course and then wondering why I didn’t reach my destination. Considering the devastation I’ve seen first-hand and heard about from friends and family following Hurricane Sandy…I have no right to complain.
Even so, I could not help but feel miserable when my phone was lost, when massive hurricane-related NJ transit issues doubled my commute (I’m averaging 5-6 hours right now per day), my favorite monastery was closed off by fallen trees, when my computer broke down, and when I lost my wallet. In the middle of all of this madness I was able to finish the first draft of my second qualifying exam proposal…but I dragged myself through it. I was tired. I was cranky….and I simply did not WANT to do anything school-related anymore. To top it all off…he-who-must-not-be-named won the election and all of a sudden, I am considered a homophobic, misogynist, racist who isn’t intelligent enough to vote the guy that popular culture tells me to vote for. Yep. I was done. I was about to throw in the towel and hop on a plane to Bordeaux to realize my macaron-making dreams in a quaint French vineyard. Then I realized that I am a broke student with no funds to start up a winemaking dream in a rustic French village. I also realized that I had a duty to finish the semester that I had already been paid to finish (darn you twice-a-year paycheck scheme).
One day last week, I had a bit of a first-world-problems version of a dark night of the soul. I have no right to complain considering how many people lost everything following Sandy, but I hit a breaking point on Wednesday. My computer had broken down the night before, my new commuting schedule was awful, and I had not met my deadline (I had wanted to finish the proposal the week before). After going over how much it would cost to MAYBE fix my computer, I found myself driving around aimlessly…worrying about money, my broken computer, qualifying exams, my lost phone, the oncoming Nor’Easter, and everything else you can imagine (my worries usually grow exponentially once they get started). A little voice told me stop by and see a padre even though I didn’t have a parking permit for that area (and a ticket was the last thing I wanted) and I was convinced that I was crazy for even stopping by unannounced.
Fortunately for me, the padre was in and willing to spare a moment for a half-crazed PhD student to vent. Fortunately for me, another wonderful individual was there and willing to talk. I got everything I needed to get off my chest and I got some good advice in return. Basically, a lot of what I got out of both conversations was that I needed to trust God. I needed to do more for God. I needed to let God get back in the driver seat. I needed to stop trying to be a driver…and I needed to stop being a back seat driver too. I can’t tell God what to do and how to do it. I simply have to trust in Him without question and without fear.
I also got some advice on spiritual warfare…as it is quickly (whether I like it or not) becoming a fixture in my life. As a result of putting school before all, I had (slowly but surely) started to suffer physically and mentally due to the stress. Now I was beginning to suffer spiritually as well. I was too miserable to have time for hope. I was too stressed to have time for faith. I was too occupied to have time for love.
I may have been praying, but I had slacked off on the sacrament of reconciliation. I had slacked off on my blog because I was too busy poring over papers and obsessing over my qualifying exam proposal. I had slacked off on the new evangelization because I was too busy to do anything but school-related things. I had slacked off on my prolife mission because I grew too tired to even try informing others. Slowly, but surely, I became too busy to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I became too busy for God…and, as a result, I became too busy for grace. We need God’s grace to flourish. We need God’s grace to truly LIVE. Without it, we merely EXIST. I don’t know about you, but I cannot survive on mere existence.
I was fired up after meeting with everyone that Wednesday and I came back with new prayers and an urge to pray. I prayed and did fantastic for a few days…but then I let life get in the way. God was still driving me, but I had started to morph into a backseat driver (often the first step to taking control of the wheel). I started letting other things take a central role in my life. I started feeling sorry for myself. I started getting upset about how things were turning out. I started despairing about my future and the future of the country (I don’t know about you guys…my oncoming persecution senses are tingling).
Monday morning, I tried taking the bus to Newark to get a train to New York. The first bus I took would only get me to Broad St. Station and I wanted to get to Penn Station.
To make a long story short, that little voice from a few days before suggested that I should get off and switch at one of the bus stops before Broad St. I listened to this feeling and got off. The bus stop was right across from a church building that advertised Divine Mercy worship every Friday. Right in front of the church was a white stone statue of Christ, with two beams radiating from his heart. I’m pretty sure this was a wake-up call, reminding me about my backseat driver tendencies…and my need to simply TRUST. I had prayed the rosary that morning on the bus and felt that it had been sufficient. However, after seeing this reminder, I pulled out the rosary again and prayed the chaplet as well. After I was finished catching up on a few other forgotten prayers, I hopped onto another bus and started the next leg of my commute. The next two days (once Broad St. station started back up again and allowed me to simply ride the first bus all the way to Newark), I randomly looked out the window just in time to see Christ's Divine Mercy statue (having forgotten where it was exactly) and the next day I randomly woke up to see the statue again. I think these may have been mini-miracles...small reminders for the lesson in trust that I was still learning.
I think this experience is God’s way of telling me to trust in Him as a driver. Things will get busy in the future, they always will…but this should never be an excuse to remove God from the center of my life. Things will always get stressful and even seem hopeless at times, but we should continue to trust in God regardless of how dark the road ahead may be. I think that our society tends to ignore God when it comes to making decisions or running things. There are days when I want to quit everything and do what I WANT to do as opposed to what I should do. However, I owe it to God to continue fighting the good fight…even if that fight requires me to be uncomfortable, bored, angry, tired, etc. He does not want me to move to France when the country goes to shambles because I have to play a part in fixing it. He wants me to TRUST in Him and to TRUST in his plans for me…regardless of how tough things get.