When the body is in pain, our immune system naturally tries to eject and defend itself from harmful viral or bacterial invasion. When we are psychologically or emotionally hurting, we naturally try to get away from the potentially toxic source. These are our natural reactions to pains and sufferings, to which Christian spirituality often identifies as the cross. No one wants to bear the cross! No one in their right mind would seek to suffer or be in pain. Yet, as we know life to be as it is, many things tend to happen to bring us unforeseen, inconvenient, or painful experiences. How can we, then, continue to seek peace, be in peace, and be peacefully grounded in prayer through them all?
There are things in my own life and my priestly ministry that brings me a lot of sorrow. There are things that I cannot even tell my loved ones because they would not understand. There are things that I have to keep close to my heart because they would worry the people around me or cause their faith to waver. Sometimes I am so tempted to walk away or to give up in the midst of those trials, too. As a human being, it is easier to let go in order to stop the hurtful or inconvenient reality. It seemed natural to lose hope and do what would be most beneficial for me in those moments. I had my doubts. I questioned God‘s timing and goodness at times. Other times, I asked him to save me and those who are dear to me from trials.
Nonetheless, at those times, I never seemed to receive the answer that I was hoping or expecting for. God often left me in the storm, kicking and screaming, questioning many things with unexpressible doubts, “Why?!?” Many of those experiences were painful. There were times that I asked Him, “Where are you? Why are you allowing this to happen?” Oftentimes, I was met with silence. A few times, I was given an answer that I did not like to hear, “I love you, Khoi. Is that not enough?” At times like those, when it hurts too much, I did not want to hear what needed to be heard. When I am actually in conversation with God, trying to listen and spend time with Him, He always affirmed and told me that He is with me. Even though I wanted him to take the pains and sufferings away or to make the situations better, He always seemed to tell me that He will never abandon me in the storms.
It is so weird, is it? God never seemed, especially in our trials, to give us what we want! In times of want or need, He never acted like a genie who would grant wishes or a smiling, happy Buddha that gives us good luck if we rub his belly. The Almighty always seemed to abandon us and leave us in the trials to bear the darkness and rough terrains. When we questioned where is He, the answer He gave often dissatisfied us, yet at the same time invited us for greater love! How can that happen? Why should that happen? Perhaps, in my feeble understanding, the Lord loves us and cares about our relationship with Him.
We often see that our special, cherished, and important relationships mature and deepen through trials. If I might dare to say that it is the same with our relationship with Him! Even though His love is constant and everlasting, our love for Him often becomes stagnant or depreciative by time, with what is going on in our lives, and by the things of this world. Therefore, the trials and challenges provide opportunities for us to focus on the qualitative perspective of this foundational relationship that defines us for who we are instead of what could be given or done quantitatively for the sake of convenience.
A good while back when I was in Rome after a personal pilgrimage to Lourdes, I stopped by Saint Peter’s Basilica to pray and offer many things that were important to my heart at the moment. I asked God for an affirmation or a sign that He heard my prayers. I was expecting something heart-warming or spiritually amazing. I waited and waited. Just before I was about to leave, after a long period of prayer, I saw a pair of doves (not seagulls, since they are all over Rome) flying toward me from the Apostolic Apartment building. That was not the answer or sign I was looking for, but it was an important sign that I needed to understand at the moment.
I knew at that moment that God listened to my prayer and He asked me to be at peace. My heart needed it. At that moment, I heard and understood — deep within my heart — that “everything will be alright in His time, according to His will, for He is with me.” This was what I needed: a deep sense of peace from the Lord. This peace was not just a sentimental or emotional sign, it was not the assurance that I was going to get what I asked for, but it was the sure sign that God is with me and He will not abandon me.
There are people who hear what God has to say clearly and He tells them what they asked for in prayers. The Almighty does not afford me that gift! He never gave me the answer that I wanted, but in His own unique and creative ways, always give me what I needed. I never got clear answers to my previous questions, only the unquestionable affirmation of His presence and faithfulness. I know that I would like (for things to be) but He always knows what my soul really needs! The graces that have been given through prayers always give me peace. Up to today, I could never fully explain how I really feel about His loving and peaceful presence. This has always been something beyond my own ability to describe in words, yet my soul always knows it when it is given and received. Perhaps this is something very intimate and sacred that cannot be put into words, but my heart of heart understands and knows it to be the most intimate and reserved part that is meant to be filled by the Creator alone.
I have no real solution for you. All I can ever do is invite you to seek and live in the peace that is given to you in prayer. This is not an answer. It is an affirmation! It is not a solution. It is love! Therefore, do not put too much demand and expectation on God to provide an answer to a problem or a solution to our crosses. I would like to simply invite you to dare to ask Him to let you know that He is with you and to be able to feel His presence in your heart of heart. My heart moves every time I get to say this prayer at Mass, especially to look at my parishioners and the people who are attending as a priest: “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” This is the peace that He wants to give us, the peace that unites our hearts to His love so we can bear whatever is going on for the sake of our maturation in this life-giving relationship. This is what I want to share with you. May you find that resting peace of the Lord in your prayer.
“[May] The peace of the Lord be with you always.”