The Solution to the Long Loneliness? Love.

Pursued in plain sight

It seems that anyone who has experienced a strong conversion or faith awakening can look back at their old life and see how God had been pursuing them in plain sight all along.

(c) HarperCollins Publishers Inc..

For me, one of those things that planted a seed to draw me nearer to Him was Servant of God Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness.  

I discovered her memoir when I was in graduate school over fifteen years ago.  Absorbed in my own work at the time, consumed with my own reputation as a promising young scholar, and disillusioned that neither my work nor my reputation were bringing me fulfilment, I had no joy. Then I found Dorothy.

Something greater than this

During those years, I was hiding the light from what little faith I had more and more  frequently under a bushel basket. It was certainly not fashionable to call oneself a serious Christian in my academic department.  Many of my peers stood out as incredible witnesses to Christ, but I was weak and cared more about impressing others than pleasing God.  Besides, serious about Christianity I was not. I wore my Catholic-Christian identity like a coat I could slip in an out of; it was not a skin that had been grafted onto and into my own.

Within the pages of her little book, Dorothy Day opened my eyes to something greater than myself and the dull, hollow emptiness I felt. Her response to transcendent beauty in the form of her newborn daughter, and her response of selfless work and charity awakened something within me.  Her beautiful writing style made me fall in love with this book and with her.

Misplaced Solutions to Loneliness

Fifteen years ago, I understood loneliness from the perspective of a whimsical, wandering seeker; one who had never been quite in sync with the people around her.  I longed for deeper, enduring connections than the ones I knew.  I had always felt different and isolated; other people were mysterious and hard to understand. Despite being an extrovert surrounded by family, friends, and a fiancé, I felt lonely most of the time.

In those days, what impressed me most about Dorothy Day was her uncompromising principles that informed and drove her radical work ethic, her steely resolve to being a disciple, all combined with a tender, maternal heart.  And she was serious about community and service and was constantly surrounded by people to take care of.  I wanted to be what I thought was just like her.  I wanted to do something big and important, something that would leave a legacy, something that would consume me and take away my loneliness or at least dampen its sting.  I believed the answer to overcoming the pain of loneliness was to dull it with the busyness of what I considered noble, worthy work.

I didn’t see that this life I imagined still entailed absorption in work and an obsession with my own reputation. I couldn’t see that this was not the solution to my loneliness. I suppose I imagined that the satisfaction I would feel from stoically carrying on in my loneliness would in itself assuage the pain.

But here on the other side of conversion, I now read the memoir with new eyes.  From it I glean new insights on loneliness and life rooted in love.

Learning to love through the loneliness

Christian loneliness is a kind of suffering, and no life is ever immune to suffering.  Women, perhaps due to their maternal nature, are more strongly drawn to others, to community.  Women tend relationships carefully, like prized garden plants.  Relationships are weighty, hard-earned things, so weighty that we can be tempted to cling to them at all costs.

But sometimes choosing God and His ways means choosing against other relationships. It may mean walking away from inappropriate relationships, just as Dorothy Day had to choose between her common law husband and the Church. Discipleship may mean losing the friendship of a person who disapproves of  your insistence on being obedient to the Lord and all that implies.

The duties and circumstances of a life of obedience often pull you out of your social circles.  Every mother of young children has experienced  the isolation that accompanies a life caught up in caring for their little ones.  Every mother of adult children experiences the loneliness of her children leaving home; every widow the loneliness of losing her spouse.

A life spent loving Jesus, striving to trust Him completely and to follow Him wherever that might be, will cross paths with loneliness.  Loneliness is one of the messy by-products of a life of love, life in Christ.  But love — of others and of God — is also the balm which soothes the pain of loneliness.

Dorothy explains her choice of title thus:

Tamar [her only child] is partly responsible for the title of this book in that when I was beginning it she was writing me about how alone a mother of young children always is.  I had also just heard from an elderly woman who had lived a long and full life, and she too spoke of her loneliness. I thought again, “The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community.  The living together, working together, sharing together, loving God and loving our brother, and living close to him in community so we can show our love for Him.” (The Long Loneliness,  p.243; HarperCollins; 1997 reprint)

In the postscript, where Dorothy reflects back on the serendipitous twists and turns of her remarkable life she reflects:

[T]he final word is love.  At times is has been, in the words of Father Zossima, a harsh and dreadful thing, and our very faith in love has been tried through fire.

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more.  Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. (The Long Loneliness, p. 285-6; HarperCollins; 1997 reprint)

Dorothy Day spoke of a different kind of loneliness than the one I had described all those years ago.  Hers was not the empty loneliness of the prodigal son still lost, but the resolved loneliness that one comes to accept in this unharmonious, imperfect world. It is the loneliness of longing for the love that is God, the loneliness that follows saying ‘no’ to the easy path so you can say ‘yes’ to the good one. It is the loneliness of homesick exiles, the loneliness of immortal souls sojourning in a mortal world.  It is a loneliness that draws love out of yourself and into the other; a loneliness that bridges humanity.

It is a loneliness I can live with because it is not an end in itself; it is merely a reminder of our true, great end: life eternal in Him, in Whom we will never want for love, in Whom we will never be alone.

 

Saying “I love you”

Featured Sunday, November 12, 2017 at Aleteia.org

We love because He first loved us. – 1 John 4:19

My then 4-year-old came stumbling into my room that morning as I was swinging my legs over the edge of my bed, raising myself to a seated position. My husband and I both said hello to him but this still-groggy boy couldn’t say a word. He came right over to me, planted his head on my lap and wrapped his arms around my legs and hugged them fiercely.“Thanks for that hug!” I tell my boy.

Now wide awake he looked up at me with the widest smile and announced warmly: “I love you, too!”

He’d often… (Continue reading here)

Duty is gift

This post originally appeared at Aleteia.org on October 8, 2017

For a long time after reverting to Catholicism I would trip up over the idea of “duty”. Over and over again I’d read about discerning the will of God, and I’d consider that whatever God’s will for one’s life, it always included a sense of vocational duty.

But I had a stubborn resistance to being told what to do. In my mind I associated duty with oppression, or at least with unfortunate, toilsome obligation. Wasn’t this what the Protestants were always charging Catholics with: thinking we had to work for our salvation?

I came to realize that I had been thinking of my duty – within my vocation as a mother, for instance — as what I begrudgingly needed do in order to repay God for all His providential goodness, or to improve my chances of meriting a future reward. And I didn’t like a lot of the things I was supposed to do.

And then in a moment in which thoughts tumbled together and a clear picture emerged — something that I can only explain as grace — I realized I had been totally wrong…

Continue reading here:

Working out my salvation one gloppy mess at a time

Finding life by the riverside.

No one warned me that getting a puppy and starting homeschooling in the same month would quite possibly be the death of me.

We are all exhausted from this little fellow who wakes up in the middle of the night and takes forever to do his business outside but does it only too quickly on the kitchen floor.  The kids are adjusting to homeschooling as am I. Spending so much time with each other has its ups and downs.  On days like this, my frazzled nerves have gotten the better of me and I wonder if I’m going to make it through the day, let alone the year. And so we walk.

We make the trek to our favourite spot on the river, walking past older cottage-like homes on sleepy tree-lined streets.  I always feel like I’ve stepped back in time when I walk through this neighbourhood. It’s wonderful.   As we walk, we recite the geography songs and Scripture verses we are trying to memorize and we grumble through the Rosary. Lord, forgive us!

Our pilgrimage ends daily at the old boat launch.  The puppy sniffs about in the tall, reedy grasses and the kids climb along the rocks that act as a breaker along the shore. They scour the pebbly beach for good skipping stones and set to work on their water-skimming skills.

This morning as I stood at the water’s edge, little waves lapping up gently at my feet, I took in the scene: four kids filled with the simple joy that only comes with forgetting yourself in nature, and a curious little puppy discovering a strange new world and my heart surged with love and hope for them and my mind turned to prayer.

Lord, make my kids resilient. Give me the grace to be resilient myself; to preserve in bringing up and shaping these children whom You’ve entrusted to me the way You desire.  Don’t let them be crippled by a fear of failure like I’ve always been.  Give them the grace to be courageous, to fearlessly follow You wherever You lead them, to place all their trust in Your goodness.

Lord, let them feel cherished. Let their father and I fill them with the experiential knowledge of how precious they are in Your sight — as they are in ours.  Let them be quick to forget our failings and let them be slow to forget our love for them.  Let them build their identities on the rock which is Your steadfast love. Therein lies the secret to resilience, perseverance, hope. Let this perfect love from You brim up in them and overflow into the lives of their siblings.

Lord, make their hearts’ greatest desire be to become saints. Let them know there is no greater joy than to know You and love You and abide with You forever.

Lord, cover the gaps in what I can give them, perfect my broken offering born of weakness. Thank you for the grace of being their mother, their guardian, Your vicar here on earth.  Thank you, Lord, for the precious gift of faith that You have bestowed on us,    for eyes to see that Your hand is upon us and that You are always near us in our messy, imperfect lives.

I lead the troops back home with a wet puppy, relaxed shoulders, and the resolve to keep on with our day.  Nothing materially had changed and yet we are renewed by this immersion in His creation and this time in prayer.   I return to my day, grateful to my heavenly Father for this infusion of life into this day, for this little glimpse of how God truly does make all things work together for the good of those who love Him, and confident in the hope that is life in Him.

A man went down.

Here is my latest post at Aleteia.org

“A man went down into Jericho,” begins Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan.

You probably know the rest. This man was beaten up by bandits and left for dead. Two upstanding members of the man’s community — a priest and an expert in the law — saw him, but both made excuses and left him dying in the ditch. It was a Samaritan — a sworn enemy of the victim’s people — who stopped, scooped up the man, cared for him, took him to safety and provided financially for his convalescence. Jesus, then asks the audience which passerby was the true neighbor, then instructed His scandalized listeners to go and do likewise.

We celebrate this story and rightly exhort one another to be courageous. Even in a post-Christian culture that has rejected so much, we still splash the title “good Samaritan” across the front of the newspaper to praise an unlikely hero who stepped into a dangerous situation to rescue a stranger. Rightly so.

But one thing I have heard about that man going down into Jericho has stayed with me…

Continue reading here:

The day I realized I am not the good Samaritan, after all

 

 

 

Welcome, friend!

Welcome! Come in, rest a while!  Thank-you for visiting.

I’m Jennifer and God loves me.

This is the truth that drops me to my knees in overwhelming awe and thanksgiving; that weaves together the stories of my life. It is the truth that guides me and gives me purpose; it’s the truth that makes me smile and sing with joy and the same truth that nurtures every effort and drags me out of the mud when I get stuck. It is the truth that assures me that all my prayers and works, joys and sufferings can be — are being — transformed into something beautiful that can be used for good, so that others can know He loves them too.

This truth is the cloth on which the tapestry of my life — in His — is being woven. This blog is where I share glimpses of His beautiful workmanship.  My prayer is that in reading my simple letters from the mud you will affirm that this is your truth too.

All of the other details of who I am — that I’m married, that I have four kids, that I quite possibly live in the best little corner of paradise in the world and how we ended up there — all come out in my letters, too.

I will be sending out one new letter every week, usually on a Friday evening. I do send these out by email. If you’d like to receive them, I encourage you to sign up for me email list. I promise I will never send you spam or share your email with anyone else. Yuck!

So. I already know God loves you. What else would you like share with me? I’d be so grateful if you left a comment below or sent me a message.  I promise to reply to each one.  If you’d rather just read and stay quiet, that’s fine too, please know that I am so glad you’ve stopped in.

Peace and joy, beloved one!

Jennifer