Like most people, I prefer to live a steady, calm course. And I often used to pray for happiness, good health, safe travels, financial security, etc., until I was challenged to pray the most frightening thing: Pray to be closer to God (that's not the scary part!), by asking Him for the strength and courage to embrace complete trust in His plan to bring you closer to Him.
Ok. So maybe you aren't shaking in your shoes. Yet.
Then came the examples. What if it takes a car accident for you to grow closer to God? What if it's cancer? What if it's through the loss of a loved one? Eeek.
That's when I decided I didn't particularly like this priest's message.
Then I started pondering...
We climb to the top of mountains to feel closer to God. We ask God for favors and wait for miracles. We listen to beautiful music and contemplate God's presence in our life. And certainly nothing's wrong with that, but that's only half of it. The easy half.
Reading Immaculee Ilibagiza's book Left to Tell, helped me realize how God also calls us to grow closer to him during times of tragedy and sorrow. Left to Tell is a horrific story about the Rwanda Genocide. Yes, it will make you cry. However, it also shows the beautiful growth in the relationship between follower and Leader.
After losing everything dear to her, including her parents and brothers, and surviving only by hiding with seven other Tutsi women for three months in a small bathroom while diminishing to nearly half her body weight, Immaculee still reflects on the genocide in the following spirit:
"During my waking hours I was in constant communication with God, praying and meditating for 15-20 hours every day...In the midst of the genocide, I'd found my salvation. I knew that my bond with God would transcend the bathroom, the war, and the holocaust...it was a bond I now knew would transcend life itself" (107).
"Believe it or not, I actually longed for the days in the...bathroom, when I could talk to God for hours without interruption. I remembered the joy and peace He filled my heart with during those long stretches of silent prayer..." (184-185).
I had a rare and wonderful opportunity to meet Immaculee during one of her retreats. I was reminded that no one makes it to heaven without suffering. We must accept that. And if we do, and allow those moments to transform our relationship with our heavenly Father, then we will have suffered well.