“Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness.” (Luke 12:35)
Our lives in Christ are filled up with experiences of love, glory, and beauty, but they are often equally filled with suffering. It is one of the great gifts of Christianity that peace is possible in times of trial for those who trust in God’s faithful love. It makes sense that, since the Lord of the Universe deigned to lower himself to suffer in order to save us, redeeming both our souls and suffering itself in one great sacrifice, that we would share in that beautiful, holy, and redemptive suffering, too.
A valuable spiritual practice for growing in joy is to begin each day by praising God. It sounds simple–and it is. But as uncomplicated a habit as morning praise can be, it sometimes feels like peddling up a steep mountain–especially when sadness hits. Our own relationships, health, and financial situations can be extremely trying, and with so much tragedy and conflict in the news every day, morning awakenings can be somber affairs.
Further complicating our feelings of joy and praise are troubling thoughts of the apparent inequity of God’s love. Many of us live an advantaged existence while Christians and other unfortunates in the third world are slaughtered, sold, or driven into exile–with helpless infants and children in their arms. Surely they are calling out to God in the depths of their misery. Where are the signs of his favor to these deserving martyrs for the Faith?
God calls us to a joyful life filled with trust in his mercy. But we are witnesses to horrifying, tragic images that seep out through the internet, while most of the mainstream media turns a blind eye. They are only Christians, after all, the media seems to say with their silence. They don’t fit the prevailing American political agenda, which marginalizes religion and religious people. In the face of the progressive antagonism of our government toward Christians, our own feelings of helplessness are certainly understandable. Never in the history of this nation has the hostility toward Christianity been so pronounced and increasingly enshrined in public policy.
However, it’s important to remember that we are not meant to slog through our days despondent over the darkness that has truly been a constant companion throughout human history. This is nothing new. Yet, we are certainly not meant to ignore it, either. We pray for those who are suffering, we do what we can to raise awareness, we contribute financially to those who risk their lives to try to satisfy the needs of victims. But still, when it comes to singing God’s praises, the sorrow can be overwhelming.
Here’s what helps me. I do what I can, after prayerfully evaluating what I have already done. If God is asking for more, I endeavor to do what I think is being asked. Each infinitesimally small gift, offered in love, is capable of bearing fruit that may be invisible to us, now. But God is faithful and will honor even the smallest of efforts to show compassion to our brothers and sisters in crisis.
Beyond that, I attend to the work that is put before me in as loving a way as possible: the needs of my family, my home, my work. Every tiny, unseen act of virtue, I firmly believe, sends out ripples of grace into the world. Just as our sins wound humanity and offend God, our broken efforts to love are greatly blessed and magnified by the generosity of an infinitely merciful Father. Miracles of love are possible when we are mindful of those who suffer, carrying them in our hearts with the expectation of God’s help.
We should also be assured that, even though the terrors are real and ongoing–many are dying, some are sold into slavery, the survivors are homeless and frightened for the future of their children–that their own prayers are ascending powerfully to heaven, as well. The glorious martyrs of the past are surely with them in an intimate and powerful way. Perhaps they can sense this. And surely God himself most tenderly hears each cry of the heart and is present to them in countless grace-filled and even miraculous ways.
From this terrifying situation, we may never be privileged to hear the stories of God’s abundant, redeeming grace in action. It would be wonderful if we did. I hope that the stories will emerge in the years to come. I wonder: What gentle martyr has, by example, moved the hardened heart of a soldier of ISIS a step closer to repentance? What silently suffering mother or father has offered their grief and fear to God for the sake of the enemy, whose unflinching hatred has robbed them of every earthly hope? How many who have died for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ are helping to save OUR souls, who live in such comfort and security, but who perhaps fail to speak up about our faith because it is socially embarrassing to do so? We can only wonder and live expectantly, knowing that God is present in every moment where evil seems to triumph, trumping hate with love. The battle is always and everywhere the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
So what does that mean for us? Can we, with confidence, awaken each day to praise our loving God, even when all seems lost? I’m paraphrasing, but Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.” (Luke 12:48) We aren’t meant to hide our light under a bushel basket (Luke 11:33). We are asked to set the light that originates in God on a lamp stand, to shine with the virtues of the spiritual life: faith, hope, and love.
Starting the morning expressing our love and appreciation for God brings an abundance of graces to our days. Praise awakens our souls to beauty and helps us to see with the eyes of faith throughout the day, intensifying our awareness and appreciation for the tender conversation that God initiates within our hearts.
There is no set way to praise God. Whatever inspires you and helps you lift your heart in confidence is best. Perhaps you might sing a liturgical antiphon (“Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise!”) or pray your own spontaneous words (“Good morning, Lord! Thank you for this beautiful day that reminds me of your glory…”); it’s truly the thought that counts.
I don’t know what your circumstances are, but I wake up every day in my sweet little house, light streaming through the skylight and windows, my tiny dog asleep on a comfortable bed just his size–while many children of God are homeless and without beds. My family is certainly not what the world would call rich, but we know we are privileged people. Even with all the troubles we face in a country beset by anti-religious sentiment and an uglifying disregard for virtue, we wake up every day safe and well-fed, sure of God’s love.
In times of trouble it is critical that we share experiences of God’s bounty and beauty. Sharing our stories is part of witnessing to hope. My family and I recently returned from a week’s blissful vacationing in the country, and I’ll be blogging about some of those experiences in the days to come. It had been years since we last managed time away, and so we reveled in the newness of it all as we kayaked on a glassy lake, swam, hiked, roasted marshmallows, and took our sweet time relaxing together.
Since I am writing a book about spiritual beauty, my senses are especially attuned to the ways God reveals himself in nature, and the last several days were a banquet of contemplation and deep experiences of God’s presence: with the ever-present awareness of tragedy in the world; with both beauty and sorrow in my heart. Praising God came easy.
Even if we have to praise him through our tears, we are called to a faith so certain that it is suffused with joy as well as sorrow, beauty and suffering inextricably woven together.