If you have never reflected on your life – your WHOLE life – before, I invite you to give it a try.
In our lives, we remember certain key moments and events that are worth remembering. Whether good or bad, there are some parts of our lives that are seared into our memories forever. These are the most vivid of all the memories.
But in terms of looking back on our lives in its entirety, from year to year, season to season, it’s something that we rarely do. This is probably because of a lack of sufficient memory, and more than likely because depending on how old you are, the exercise could take a really, really long time.
I invite you to do it anyway.
Recently I went on retreat with other members of the Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) executive at SFU as well as UBC, along with our respective staff members from both campuses.
The last exercise that we were doing was just that: reflecting on our lives, from one year to the next, while walking the Stations of the Cross.
(If you aren’t familiar with the Stations of the Cross, it’s a devotion that Catholics use to commemorate Jesus’ last day on Earth: from the time that He is arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane to when He is laid in the tomb.)
At the retreat center we were at, there was a short hike along what was called “The Way of the Cross”. Each of the stations were depicted by gorgeous statues that were sitting on the rocks, against the backdrop of nature.
It was, in a word, stunning.
Truthfully, I thought that getting through the task was going to be easy. While my memory, especially for what my life was like before I was 10 years old, was bad, I didn’t think that the exercise would be as emotional as it was.
I started reflecting and called upon the Holy Spirit to fill the gaps in my memory. Throughout my life, there hasn’t been a shortage of blessings, good memories, and happy times. But when I called on the Holy Spirit to guide me, I was led to reflect on the not-so-great parts of my life.
The very first memory I was brought back to was finding out that my grandmother had just passed away in 2004.
I was at a friend’s house for a play date, which in the life of a young child was a pretty big deal. I was having so much fun that I didn’t even notice that my parents were beyond late.
When I got picked up, I remember the vibe being incredibly different, as well as the fact that my dad was there with my mom, which typically never happened. But to hear the crushing words that my grandmother – whom I loved so much – had died when I had just recently talked to her on the phone and rested easy in her arms, it was beyond comprehension.
As I continued my Way of the Cross, I was brought to more dark parts of my life.
Being bullied in school, losing friends, fights with my parents, difficult relationships, an abusive boyfriend, my other grandmother and grandfather passing away, battling anxiety, depression and suicide – all of these sufferings that I couldn’t understand.
I suddenly found myself at the twelfth station: Jesus dies on the cross. And in that moment, I was reminded of all those years going to mass during Holy Week and listening to the accounts of the Passion of Jesus (which, as an aside, recounts the events that are in the Stations of the Cross).
As I stood in front of the cross, I could hear the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
All I could think of in that moment was that my entire life, I had been asking this exact question. It just never occurred to me until now.
You might be wondering how or why someone would choose to continue being Catholic when bad things happen to them.
And to be fair, the suffering that I have undergone is tiny compared to what others have gone through. But you’re right: I marvel at how I stayed, and why I stayed.
Truthfully, it wasn’t an easy task. There was a period in my life where I was showing up to mass physically, but mentally I had checked out from the moment I did the sign of the cross. After years of doing the same thing once a week, it came naturally. I could blend in if I wanted to.
I reflected more on this idea of God forsaking me, only to be reminded of a passage that we reflected on throughout the retreat: “… And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
God has always been there for me. He has never forsaken me. But in my sinfulness, my pride, and my anger, I was too blind to see Him.
But over time, as I was hit with more obstacles in life, I turned from Him and relied on myself. And this is where my struggle began. When I really reflect on where God has been, I can say with absolute confidence now that He has never left my side.
The event of going to Rise Up this past December and experiencing my Conversion is a good example of this. Prior to the event itself, I hd been feeling the lowest that I had felt in years. I really wanted to commit suicide to end all of the suffering that I felt in my heart. But it was ultimately God’s grace that not only stopped me from committing such a serious act, but also explicitly invited me into a relationship with Him.
And not only this, but He had stopped me two other times prior to Rise Up. God has continually come to my aid. I was just too blind to see Him.
I invite you to look within yourself into your heart to see where God is in your life.
If you’ve ever felt like there has been no God to help you, I want you to know that you aren’t alone in that. To this day, I’m still growing and sometimes still doubt.
But this doubt is normal, and God calls on you to surrender yourself to Him. In my next post, I will talk more a little more about my (in)ability to surrender to Him, and how I’m working towards total trust in God.
This is part 1 of a two-part series. Check out Part 2 here!