Thursday, December 11, 2014

Desert Places

[Parts of this post were inspired by the blog "The Catholic Young Woman."]

Snow falling and night falling, fast, O fast….”

It’s the Advent season. Everything is merry and bright. But perhaps you are not.

Maybe it’s the end of the semester and you’re grades aren’t as good as you hoped. Maybe you’ve just endured a difficult breakup. Maybe you’ve been combating feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear. Whatever it is, you don’t feel the Christmas cheer. You need to get away from the smiling faces, the Christmas carols, the family and friends who are so full of joy that you just can’t find.

You feel ashamed and guilty for not being happy. It feels ugly, heavy, embarrassing. We are consumed with the urgent need to hide it, to camouflage it, to paste on a smile and carry on like we always have. But this pain slowly settles into our chest like a numbing drug, gripping our hearts, making us feel cold and empty and more alone than ever. The worst part is that you aren’t supposed to feel this way during the holidays. You’re around family and friends. You’re supposed to be surrounded by love, warmth, encouragement. But sometimes we feel the most alone when we’re in the middle of a crowd. 

“I am too absent-spirited to count….the loneliness includes me unawares…”

You also don’t want to be that person who brings everybody down, the Grumpy Cat who is miserable and makes everyone else miserable too. You don’t want people to feel guilty because you are sad. But how else can you show people you’re hurting? It’s such a battle to keep your cool, to smile bravely, to hold back tears. It hurts like hell. We want to be strong and resilient, but we sure ain’t. One little thing can start the landslide of despair, the deluge of tears, the drowning in self-pity. Someone you know walks by and doesn’t acknowledge you. The special someone you love gives you nothing but discouragement and rejection. You step on the scale and realize that you’re heavier than you’ve ever been.

Then the little voices creep in, whispering, chanting, whining until a cacophony of hell reverberates in your head and heart. You’re not good enough…they never loved you and they never will…you’ll never be admired or pursued…why do you even bother to dress nicely and wear makeup; no one looks at you anyway….you keep failing…you’re not good enough…you’re not good enough…YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

And because we want to prove ourselves right, we believe it. We let it pour down over us like acid rain, slowly but surely corroding our hearts, our bodies, our hope. Why bother? we say. Nothing I do matters anyway.

“I am too absent-spirited to count….the loneliness includes me unawares…”

Sometimes I feel as though life is a poem. A tragic poem. A poem with heart-wrenching stanzas that we utter under our breath while shuffling unseen through a crowd, while walking back to our homes and looking at the cold black sky, while sitting up in our beds at night, alone, unable to rest. Life seems a lyric of tragedy with no handsome prince to save us, no fairy godmother to create a spell. 

When we’re this hurt, we automatically retreat into ourselves. We hide from the merry faces of our friends because we believe they are laughing at us, not with us. We avoid social situations and group activities because we feel as though no one will notice if we’re there or not. We take refuge in a fantasy world where no one can hurt or reject us…a safe place, either in the recesses of our imagination or in the world of some book, movie, or video game. We create characters that accept us and love us. We dream, fantasize, cry, do everything we can to avoid the painful reality.

Despite all the problems it creates, living in a fantasy world is better than nothing.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed of these feelings of desolation and loneliness. In fact, we can do something totally radical; rather than dwelling on them and mulling over them until they destroy us, we can consider them a gift from God and use them to grow closer to Him.

This is actually simpler than it sounds. Once we realize that nothing happens to us that is not for our good, our problems can be seen in a whole new light. God has given us this cross for a reason. He has a larger plan in mind for us than we could ever comprehend.

Being stuck is an illusion. No matter where we are, something is just beginning, something is already halfway done, and something is ending. We are constantly moving. Being stuck is an illusion.

This is why we have Advent. It is a time of moving towards the light, of lighting a candle in the blackness, of searching for that tiny flicker of hope amidst all the darkness. If you are still alive, you still have this little spark of hope within you. It has already grown stronger as you read this page. It will continue to grow stronger. 

Use your loneliness in a constructive way. Create art. Write. Spend more time in prayer. Whatever you do, be grateful (and yes, you can even be a bit smug) that God has found you strong enough to test you in this way. Many people can endure physical pain, illness, and poverty. Very few can endure emotional isolation. Look at all the suicides, the drug addictions and abuse, the hundreds of depression medications administered to the masses and you’ll see what I mean.

Whatever you do, remember that you are not stuck. You are not trapped. This, too, shall pass. In the meantime, enjoy the journey.


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