Life is not always easy. It seems to have its own ways to drag us down and make us lose hope. There are too many things that agitate our hearts, make us question God‘s goodness and loving presence, and turn us against one another. So many people around us are not happy with their lives, so worried about not getting things done, and constantly tired of trying to survive and catching up. It seems like life is just a series of many events, one thing after another, that makes us stressful, bitter, resentful, and down beaten. What can we do in response to these wordly, lifeless, and redundant things? It might not be easy at times, but we can do what the Church teaches us at each Mass to lift up our heart to the Lord.
The act of lifting up our heart to God is an act of humility, dependency, trust, and docility. To lift up our heart is to be vulnerable, transparent, and childlike as we pray and to put our trust in God! When we choose to unite ourselves to the Almighty, we put our dependency on Him and His goodness, like a child putting his or her trust in the One who cares for him or her. When we pray, our heart is opened and united with God, hence become grounded in His faithful love to us. Even though we might not know or have control over what is going on, we trust that God has our best interest and eternal good in mind. When we pray, we personalize the faith we have in Him instead of treating it as a set of doctrines, giving lip service, or allowing the things of this world to dictate us. It takes a lot of vulnerability to truly learn to pray, listen, and speak from the heart to God instead of just coming to Him asking for something.
To trust in God requires a childlike faith that is grounded in trust instead of a childish one that demands and expects things to be our way! I have seen educated and successful people who have childlike faith and simplicity, and they are able to find peace and simple joy in the Lord, while I have also seen people who constantly complain and are dissatisfied about anything and everything. I have seen people who are able to be generous and bless others with the gifts that God has for them without asking for anything in return and people who are not happy, think that they got cheated in life, filled with pities and resentments because they do not get everything they wanted or hoped for. I have seen people who are so grateful for everything they have and put their trust in the God because they know Him deep within their hearts and people who doubt or blame Him because they distrust or do not believe, especially when things do not go according to their expectations. Of course, we cannot go to life without trials or doubts, but it is important for us to understand, embrace, and unite our hearts to God and His love for us. The disposition of our hearts and our willingness to love and trust Him dictates our attitude to give ourselves totally and completely to the Lord without having to expect to have our ways back in return!
When I was preparing for this reflection, there was a big hail storm at the parish where I was assigned at the time. The rectory was located near a lower part of the main parking lot, so whenever it rains, water tends to rise close to the foundation of the house. Since the master bedroom was situated in a converted garage, it was scary at times to see the water got close to where I placed the bed. Therefore, after fixing other places that needed attention first, I did make plan to fix this last problematic area, too. When I negotiated with a local contractor who specialized in concrete works, it was supposed to be prepped on Friday evening and planned for the main work to be done on Saturday morning. However, through God‘s providence, we were able to finish everything that Friday.
Just a few hours after they finished the project, there was a big thunderstorm that unloaded a lot of water and baseball size hails. As I sat inside the rectory, I prayed fervently that God will keep the three parishes’ buildings safe. While I saw big hailstones all around the yard and church grounds, there was never any apparent damages to our buildings. I had one of our parishioners who own a roofing and construction company checked on our buildings and he did not find any damages either. For me, all of that was miraculous!
You see? God did not take away the storm. Nevertheless, in His providence, He made our drainage ditch project worked and got it finished before the storm, hence kept us safe. In life, too, the Almighty often permits storms to happen as natural parts of life but He gives us enough strength and endurance to endure them! The storm was scary and evoked a lot of prayers, but there was peace in the storm because I knew that it will not last forever. It was intimidating and hard to bear at times, especially with the worries that I cannot control because of the storm, but I knew that God will see us through it.
I share this story with you because I think it is important for us to remember that, even though we expect that life is supposed to be smooth, perfect, and rosy at all times, it serves us well to remember that God will grant us enough grace and strength to endure whatever comes our way, even when they are hard to bear at times. His loving grace is always enough and His providence will give us what we need to endure the ups and downs of life! Therefore, the journey is worthwhile because the blessings and challenges, sunny days and stormy weathers, both show us that life is organic and natural with changing matters so it is important for us to remember to not lose hope or be locked in despair when trying times come around.
The day after the storm, I began my day with my usual routine of driving to the three parishes to check on the buildings. Amazingly, the damages were minimal (and fixable) in comparison to what others experienced around the region! As I was fixing my lunch after the trip, the phone rang. I usually do not pick up the phone on Saturday because of the high number of spam calls. However, I heard a gentle voice that told me, “Pick up the phone!” I picked it up when it was at its fourth ring.
On the other line was a couple who was traveling from the north to Louisiana to visit their dying mother. Due to some unforeseen and unfortunate events, they ran out of gas and did not have anything to eat in a while. They did not ask for money, just whether if I can help fill up their vehicle and with a little bite to eat. They sounded genuine so I met with them at a local gas station to fill up their gas tank and gave them a gift card to a local Subway restaurant to get themselves lunch.
To be honest, I was tired and did not want to pick up the phone, but at God‘s insistence, I was brought to a couple who needed my help and they were brought in my life to teach me a valuable lesson. In our journey of faith, let us remember to always “pick up the phone” when God is calling us. We can never let our communication with God go by the wayside just because we are busy, occupied, or worried about things. We cannot just come to Him when we need something; this communication has to be our first and foremost priority in life. One of my spiritual directors, a priest I truly admired and respected, once told me before my ordination: “Khoi, keep your prayers and your prayers will keep you!” Indeed, we can never give up on our prayers. Even if we do not feel like it, come to Him and pour our hearts out to Him. To truly love requires discipline, perseverance, persistence, and commitment, even when we do not like or feel like doing it.
We can only share life-giving love to others when we receive it from the Lord. We can only lift other people up from the redundancies and negativities of this world when we lift our hearts up to God in prayers. We can only give what is true and real to those who are around us when we know what it takes to really and truly love someone in the midst of all ups and downs of life! By lifting up our hearts to God in prayer and worship, we are able to uplift those who are around us in their times of need by standing behind them spiritually and point them to the One who is always with us. It is hard at times, but this is who we are and what we are called to be so that our focus is on the things that are eternal and in God alone.