The process of letting go and letting God work in the lives of our children is an ever-present challenge. Recently, over the Christmas break, I was asked to explain to my son why I was Christian. I take my time to ponder and pray before such deep questions, especially when I know the sincerity behind the question.
You get a glance into my heart here as my Christian journey and the belief that upholds it is rooted in the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Growing up in a home that wasn’t so safe, I was always searching for the beautiful. My definition of beauty has evolved over time from beauty being somewhere safe and quiet, to beauty having a larger meaning. Beauty is all around us, but I have noticed that true beauty is found in depth. Like a painting that has many layers, and its full beauty is scene when you step back where the layers are put all together and you marvel at this gift, so too does faith have the same effect when I see it in the world. How do we “see” faith? I have always been a relational person, so it makes sense to me that how I see faith is through others. As a child I would see peers, adults, and families who appeared happy, almost joyful. Curious I watched them over time. Their joy was attractive and appealing. Lacking an example of joy, I followed theirs. I took out my bible. I read stories where I encountered a man who spoke peace to my heart. His words told me that the life I was living, at 8, 15, 21, and 47, though full of suffering had purpose. Through parables and his interactions with his disciples and friends, he challenged me to live less for myself and my wants and more for others. He told me that I was a gift and had a gift, multiple gifts, and my purpose here on Earth was to use them to the best of my ability and in doing so I would be made more into the person I was created to be! Writing this and reflecting, this relationship I nurtured with Jesus might seem magical, but there was and is no magic. If only it were that easy and yet, like that painting mentioned before, the layers of myself, formed over time, were not without great suffering, time and time again. But in turning to this relationship, I learned to trust. I think faith is akin to trust. Putting my trust in the relationship Jesus Christ freely offers me, has found me joyful in the most challenging circumstances because I know I am not alone.
I see the next layer being painted and in time, I will step back and see the beauty. When I view each challenge I face this way, I place my trust in Jesus Christ. Every once in a while I look in the mirror, I lean in and see the lines, the wrinkles, the tired circles around my eyes… each one telling a story within my life. I then step back farther from the mirror and put my chin up. I look straight at that woman in the mirror, into her eyes and ask her if she is better than she was because of this faith she has. (Even when keeping the faith strong was gut wrenchingly hard..) and I smile….because those closer layers have painted an intricately layered novel of a beautiful soul striving to become more so.. not for herself .. but to become worthy of the gift Jesus gave me through His cross and resurrection.
When we are lost, as I was and sometimes still become, anxiety, doubt, fear, and loneliness creep in. They can steal joy quickly, like a vacuum that sucks all the air from the room, and I am left doubled over, gasping for help. Hope has become my anchor. Like a golden chord tethered to the gates of Heaven, hope keeps me constant in these situations. Hope and faith are knit closely together but where faith often keeps me grounded in the present, hope lifts my eyes to the next moment. Hope is the trust that each moment given has a purpose and is forming me more into who I was created to be. Hope says, I know you feel these anxious thoughts or this lack of trust as you face a crossroads or as strife knocks again on the front door again, but you are not alone anymore. You have someone walking with you, guiding you and you are safe. Breathe. Take courage for I am with you, and I have conquered the world. (John 16:33)
This relationship I have embraced with Jesus Christ gives me not only the certainty that I am not alone but the realization that millions before and millions now are fighting for me. That is what church means to me; a community of believers striving for holiness, praying for each other to be the best version of each other so that one day we will live united in love in Heaven. I find such hope in each day knowing I am being prayed for and such joy in doing the same for others.
Why bother? Where is your certainty? How do you know this is all real and you won’t just wake up one day and find it was just a bunch of snake oil? The answer to that comes to me often when I look at a family picture, we had taken years ago. It is hung in a well-travelled place in our home, and I smile each time I walk past as each of my eight children’s personalities are reflected in it so well. A picture is a two dimensional still life glimpse of what life was like in that moment. For me I pause and think about where each person was in that “picture perfect” moment and I see how God has been working in their lives. I see His presence in mine. It was not without great strife, and my heart has been broken, mended, shattered, patched up and made stronger through it all and yet I knew then and know now that more is to come. We are not finished being formed. I am being formed. This family is being formed and the love that we have for one another in integral to that formation. God continues to work for our good.
Going back to that first encounter with Jesus where He offered me peace and joy amid the craziness of this life, I learned what love truly is from Him. True love requires desiring the good of the other more than for myself. This revelation from St. Thomas Aquinas has been integral in helping me form who I am as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. It has also helped me form the ties that bind this family together. As I have grown my relationship with Jesus, He has taught me the meaning of mercy. Love is mercy. We recognize each other’s failings and with deep (sometimes aching) charity we forgive and begin again. My life without His mercy and the mercy of my spouse and children would be as if a can of black paint had been poured over the canvas of my life, blocking my ability to see how Jesus has been ever constant and steadfast, fighting for me, calling me to him, pursuing me always.
There is reason to faith. Philosophers have written at great lengths showing the relationship between faith and reason and for many that offers another source of comfort and assurance. For me, my Catholic Christian identity is rooted in faith, hope and love. Faith that I was created for a purpose, that my life has meaning, that using each gift given to me to better the lives of others gives meaning to this life and unites me to the cross of Jesus Christ. I have hope in a place greater than this world, a place where peace and charity fill days with joy-filled praise and thanksgiving. And I have love, the greatest of all these things. I have love as an indwelling where the Holy Spirit flows from deep within me, allowing me to live each day in gratitude, striving to be a light in this darkness and trusting with all humility in the mercy of Jesus to fill my well when I run dry.
But now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.Fist Corinthians 13:13
As hard as it is to watch our children wrestle with their faith identity and forge their own relationship with The Lord, it is worth it. I have found strength and peace in staying constant in my own identity as a catholic Christian. My journey continues to be filled with grace as I reflect on the how and why of my faith journey. Though a slow process, this bears such good fruit. And so I ask you, my friends in faith, brothers and sisters who journey alongside me, Why are you Christian? Take the time. Your roots will strengthen, your heart will grow, and your gaze will lift as you dig deep to answer this question. Peace and grace to you as you do.