Unexpected Gifts

“Habit and self-complacency are almost always a sign of spiritual stagnation.  The complacent no longer feel in themselves any real indigence, any urgent need for God.  Their meditations are comfortable, reassuring and inconclusive.  Their mental prayer quickly degenerates into day dreaming…For this real reason trials and tribulations can prove a real blessing in the life of prayer, simply because they force us to pray.  It is when we begin to find our real need for God that we first learn to make a real meditation.”

— p. 72, Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction

In my mid-thirties, I unknowingly hit a patch of habit and self-complacency.  Married eight years, pregnant with our second child and gaining post-doctoral hours in clinical psychology for licensure, I would’ve said life was good.  I went to church every Sunday.  I believed God existed and knew He cared about me.  I was known by others; friends knew me intimately.  I thought I was living a meaningful life, even one filled with sanctification (God’s characterological growth process to holiness).

Then, June 29, 2006, my son died at 34 weeks in utero.  My world turned upside down and I leaned into God and my community for stability.  I questioned God’s love for me, my family.  I questioned whether I’d done everything I could to keep my baby alive.  I was woken up to my “go with the flow” life and realized my marriage was almost dead, my faith was based in service rather than an active prayer life and I hadn’t experienced joy in a really long time.  I grieved not only my son’s death but also my habit of being distracted by looking ahead, which kept me from thoroughly enjoying the time he lived in my womb.  I hadn’t known that was all the time we had together.

What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that it would take six years before the cloud of grief would lift.  It would take eight years before my marriage would emerge out of being an emotional desert.  The gift of being aware in the present moment has stayed.  It is the surprise that emerged out of this horrific trial.  As well, the habits of my marriage died with my son and from these deaths, a new kind of marriage emerged that required a gestational period much longer than 10 months.

This June we will celebrate 20 years of marriage, the day before my son’s death anniversary of 11 years – only God and His unfathomable ways could create a web of death and life being so closely connected.  I believe if my son wouldn’t have died, my marriage likely would have due to our self-complacency and our lack of awareness of how much we needed one another.

These days, I can’t get around the reality that we all need one another as much as we need God.  I call myself lucky to know what it means to be naked and in need in order that I may be an “other” for those whose life situation stripped them of all their proverbial clothing.

Today, tears can run freely down my cheeks with no need to wipe them off.  Today, I can come to God in protest that a college freshman should be able to break down on the freeway without getting killed by a 24 year old driving too fast as well as a mother of three young children who has lived a life serving Him should be able to find a successful breast cancer treatment without facing the news that the cancer has spread.  I can no longer go back to a life of self-complacency because God showed up in the form of community, both divinely and humanly orchestrated, when I was devastated.  Now, knitted in my bones is the reality that even if I don’t have an urgent need, I’m part of His Kingdom here on Earth, which makes another’s urgent need my own.

So I’d best get praying:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[