Monday, October 10, 2016

Why Is God Punishing Me?

I've been out of college for nearly a year. I graduated early with a degree in English Journalism and found a high-power, high-paying office job through some connections of a mutual friend. It was a scary and exciting time for a 21-year-old with hardly any job experience. I had never worked in a professional office setting before and the thought of wearing a blazer and skirt to work every morning terrified me beyond comparison. I was a tomboy who wore pants to every event I could get away with, and the last pair of heels I owned had fallen apart after I'd worn them in the rain to junior prom.

Through inquiring at the local Catholic churches (there are six of them in this town) I found a Catholic community of women who all shared a house together. There were four women and they were looking for a fifth roommate. I joined them and became the youngest member. At first, things went well. We prayed together, went out to Mexican restaurants, and had bonfires with wine and s'mores in our spacious backyard. The rent was amazingly cheap when split among 5 people, and I was making so much money at my job that I didn't know what to do with it all. 

I can't say I was really happy in the Catholic house. Looking back on it now, it really was a blessing that, after the ladies discovered that I had a concealed carry permit as well as a loaded pistol in my room, they forced me to leave with no notice whatsoever. This was barely a week after I had confessed struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors to one of the girls, who promptly told it to everyone else in the house, including the landlord. Convinced that I was a suicidal, perverted nutcase, they cornered me after noon Mass one day and told me that they "didn't feel safe" with me in the house. I would have to leave, and now. I had been there only three months to the day.

Two weeks after that and three days after my 22nd birthday, I received a note on my desk at work to come to a meeting at 4:30pm that day. Two of my female co-workers sat me down, gave me a cardboard box, and said I had to be out of the place for good by 5pm. No explanation was given, and they refused to give me any references. I drove to church in a daze and sat trembling in front of the tabernacle. I didn't cry until I found the courage to tell my parents about it 4 days later.

In two weeks, I had gone from being a successful career-woman with a pretty home and a fat bank account to an unemployed, tearful wreck. All I needed were some sores on my body and I would have been just like Job.

As I write this, I still have a lot of anger, unrest, and unease in my heart. I trusted those Catholic women and they betrayed me. I thought I had gained my coworkers' respect, but I was treated like a disobedient child and kicked out with no notice whatsoever. And don't even get me started on how confused I was about why God was treating me like this. As an introvert and a scrupulous one at that, I became increasingly paranoid and wondered if God was punishing me for my sexual sins.

I find it sad how Americans (and perhaps people in general) place such high importance on our jobs and how they define us. Often, we introduce ourselves to new people by saying "I'm Susie. I'm a doctor." "I'm Steve. I'm a brain surgeon and an astronaut on the weekends." We place so much value on what we DO and not what we ARE. 

If we don't work in a so-called highly respected field, we try to hide the shameful fact. "So, where do you work?" "Oh, uh, I'm the manager of a restaurant." "Oh really, which one?" "Um, I'm not sure if you've ever heard of it...Mac's." "Hmm...I haven't...sounds kind of like McDonalds! Hahaha!" Cue awkward hemming and hawing from you. And you're not actually the manager, just a cashier.

But let's face it; a job is a job. It doesn't and shouldn't define you. A job is merely a means for making money to pay your bills and take fun vacations and put aside for your kids' college fund. Unless you're self-employed or the tip-top CEO of your company, you probably really hate your job. In fact, I know very few people who relish getting up and going in to the office every day (unless they're past retirement and have nothing better to do anyway). 

I suppose I could say that this whole past year was "wasted." But it really wasn't. I may not have made a successful career for myself by the world's standards, but I did learn what I DON'T want to do for the rest of my life. And believe it or not, some people never figure that out. They spend their whole lives in a miserable occupation to bring home a paycheck so they can do the things they really want to do but never seem to have the time to actually do because they're always at work. 

I could look at this period of unemployment as a curse or an opportunity. The truth is, things are what they are, but it's how we look at them and think about them that determines whether they are good or bad. Not to sound cheesy, but it's all what you make of it. Yes, bad things happen, but exactly HOW bad they are can be determined by YOU and your attitude. 

It's easy to look at other people's lives when bad things happen to them and reassure them by saying "God has a plan for you." But it's so very difficult to convince ourselves of that when we're the ones with no paycheck, a mountain of debt, an ended relationship, or a foreclosed home. Take it from me, a first-class pessimist: choosing to be happy and peaceful in all circumstances, both good and bad and very ugly, is not easy. We'd prefer to wallow in our misery, retreat into our little safe spaces, and whine to anyone who will listen about how much we are suffering. 

Unfortunately for us, since our first parents (don't you hate them sometimes?!) ate the Klondike bar, life likes to beat us in the head whenever it gets an opportunity. Sometimes we manage to stay on our feet and throw a few punches back, but other times we just get knocked cold. And when that happens and we're lying with our face on the mat, we have two options: stay down and whimper, or get up again. 

But why get up again, you ask, if we're just going to inevitably get pummeled flat sooner or later? What's the point? At least if we're down we don't get hit anymore. This calls to mind a scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke, where Luke (played by the studmuffin Paul Newman, whom you probably know from his famous line of salad dressings) first gets into prison and is trying to make the other inmates respect him. He challenges another much larger and stronger man to a fight, and of course, the larger man knocks Luke to the floor in one smack. Luke gets up. The big dude whacks him down again. Luke gets up again. WHAM, he's down. But he gets up a fourth time. And a fifth. And a sixth. Soon, Luke is so bloody and disfigured that some of the hardened criminals can't even stand to watch, so they begin to leave one by one. Eventually, even Luke's opponent can't bring himself to hit Luke one more time, so he walks away and leaves Luke bloody, almost dead, but a winner.  

The lesson is, ladies and gentlemen, that no enemy can defeat you if you keep getting back up. Not even Satan. Not even fate. Not even life. Yes, we can get tired and disfigured and bloody. Yes, we can wonder why we even bother getting back up if it means we'll just get smacked in the head again. But we have a Savior who fell three times on the way to His death. In fact, He probably fell more than three times. I'm sure His disciples and perhaps even His Mother were thinking "Just stay down. Why bother to get up? You're only going to your death." But Jesus kept going, even though it was only going to get worse once He got to the top of that hill. He did this as an example for us. When the world tells us "Stay down, retreat, give up," Jesus urges us: "Take My yoke upon yourself and learn from Me." His yoke is the Cross, and we all have one. But Jesus carried His cross alone so He could help us carry ours. Our crosses may be lighter or heavier depending on where we are in our lives. Some crosses we outgrow or conquer, others are with us to the grave. But we never have to carry them alone. 

I find great comfort in praying the Stations of the Cross, realizing that God Himself fell on the road to Calvary so I would never be alone when I fall. Everything that happens to us in life has already happened to Jesus. "If the world hates you, know that it hated Me first." "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage: I have conquered the world." "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." 

Falls in life are never easy, nor is having a positive attitude. The key here is trust, trust that the God who so splendidly clothes the perishable grass of the fields and feeds the little sparrows will provide for us in so much more abundance. We are not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. God knows we need these things, and we will not be lacking if we but trust Him. If we don't trust Him, all we have to ask Him to HELP us trust Him. Wanting to trust is the same as trusting. Give Jesus our weakness and our unbelief and leave the rest to Him. 

How beautiful it is when we can say, sincerely, even if tearfully, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" in all circumstances. 


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