“I had become a great enigma to myself and asked my soul why it was so sad and why it caused me so much distress. And my soul did not know what to answer. If I said, “Trust in God,” my soul very rightly did not obey me, because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust. Only tears were my consolation, and tears had taken the place of my friend in my heart’s love.” -St. Augustine, The Confessions
This passage has been very useful to me over the years. The sentiment comforts me; there’s something about knowing “a holy dead guy” shares similar feelings to us all that just allows me to breathe easier (thank you, Ellen). I love this passage mostly because its transparency is overwhelming.
“…because the dearest friend whom it had lost was more real and better than the fantastic god in whom it was told to trust”
I may have wept when I first stumbled upon this gem. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. There, someone said it. I could admit it: it’s a very difficult thing to trust God, especially when you’re mad at Him. I too have lost loved ones and had to confront reality straight on. My greatest struggles perhaps all originate with this problem: the complicated relationship between the reality of our material, physical world and an unseen, all powerful God.
I feel like I’m very aware and influenced by sensory things. Smells, sounds, sights, tastes, touches. We all are. The mistake is to believe they’re the only things that are real; a mistake that’s very hard to overcome. It’s a mistake that leads to despair- for when things are lost, it seems eternal. If nothing else but what I can see, feel or touch is real… then surely my sorrow is eternal. Faces lost are lost forever.
That’s where trust comes in. It’s so much easier to trust in sensory things. The safety of a locked door. The satisfaction of a good meal. The comfort of a man’s arms. All good things- and yet, they are still not eternal. It took me a while to figure out I could not trust someone I didn’t know. Thus began both the simplest and most complex journey any person can travel- asking God who He is. Asking Him who I am; why I should bother caring what He thinks; and what the heck I’m supposed to be doing on this earth. And like any loving parent, He lets me ask the same questions over and over; even days when He knows I’m not listening to the answers.
Lately, the bitter cold has been flooding my sensory universe. Seasonal depression is real, folks. Stock up on hot cocoa and blankets. Pictures of the beach all over your room may or may not be helpful. Maryland is my home, but most know I’m a Florida girl at heart. My emotions being tied so closely with my senses has proved for a tough first winter back at home.
My blood has thinned. I ache for the sun; my bones cry out for the warm gentle breezes. I miss how the moonlight falls on palm trees. I miss the sand in my toes and seeing endless green. I miss the comfort of being swallowed up whole in the gigantic ocean. Here, the trees are bare and cold. The duck pond across the street is lovely, but a bit small. I’m trying to be calm and react like a rational human being, but I’m not doing the best job.
The other night, as I left my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it had snowed. It was freezing cold with biting wind. I screamed and complained as I scraped the half inch of ice off my car. I cursed the wind and ice; shouting profanities about how I didn’t belong in cold weather, about how much I hate dealing with it at all. It was a scene of shameless brattiness. It was a dusting; I am better than that.
As I drove home and my fingers re-gained feeling, defrost warming my car, my mind slipped away from itself and back to the cold. But this time, I thought of all the homeless people who must be outside freezing. The children whose coats are too thin; the little fingers that have no gloves, when I have many to choose from at home. I was suddenly ashamed of myself.
“Do they trust God?” I asked myself. I have everything, and still I doubt Him. My sensory world lacks nothing: warm car, good music, pleasant scenery. At home I’ll be greeted with a home cooked meal, comfy bed, a closet full of clothes. My parents will hug and kiss me, they’ll love me. My regular Monday night is more privileged than some other human being’s whole lives. Still, I have the audacity to complain and lack satisfaction.
Sadly, my reaction to the cold is so often similar to my response to God. I don’t like dealing with it at all. I don’t like being powerless. I don’t like being out of my comfort zone. All these things can be said about our sensory climate and our relationships with the big guy.
The solution to both problems is simple. So simple it seems impossible and funny at the same time. It’s always to let go. Put on some gloves, stop screaming about how cold you are, reconcile with the fact you’re not literally going to freeze- and be a grown up who’s capable of scraping the ice off her windshield. When I stop fighting the cold- I realize how much I can take it.
When I stop fighting God, I’m humbled by how much He gives me. I hold onto things so tightly- always having a backup plan in case He doesn’t come through- and only when I let go can He actually get things done. Luckily, as Catholics, our sacramental faith gives us plenty of sensory truths.
In a way that fills all my senses God is real. I see His love and mercy in others. I hear His power when the wind blows, when the waves crash, when my loved ones speak. I smell His gifts in every cup of coffee, every stroll around the lake. I taste Him in bread and wine. I feel Him with every breath, each moment I’m alive.
To trust Him is to believe in something bigger than ourselves, than our senses. He’s so generous to come to us even there, in our humanity which He created and shared.