Dear Pope Francis,
I’m always intrigued when people tell me that life with Christ is easier than life without Christ. In fact, I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and it really started to irritate me. I don’t want to compare which one is easier or harder, because I think that it’s like comparing apples and oranges, each have their highs and their lows. I do think it’s a mistake to say that a Christian life is flat out easier.
Believe it or not, there was a period of about two years during my BA when I more or less fell away from the Church. The fact that I didn’t turn into a wild party girl during that time probably had a lot more to do with my personality rather than the unconscious presence of Catholic guilt. By pop culture standards, I was still pretty tame, but I was decidedly not practicing my faith. I wasn’t going to Mass at all, and not really praying. I wouldn’t say that I felt lost or unsure about what I was doing with my life. Sure, I was a little self-conscious and unsure of myself, but who isn’t at twenty-years-old. I worried about boys, how I looked and my plans for the upcoming weekend. For the most part, I thought I knew exactly who I was and where I was going with my life, and things were good. Based on the conversations I’ve had with other people around the same age, I was pretty normal. Then, the summer between my second and third year of my BA, I had a bumpy patch in my life. I realized that the things that I thought were making me happy, weren’t actually helpful, and I needed to fix it. It was at this point that I realized that I needed my faith in God.
Fast-forward four years, as I finish up the second year of my M.Div. I am practicing my faith more regularly than I ever have in my life. I go to Mass at least once a week, and usually twice per week. I pray almost daily, and get spiritual direction monthly. For the most part, I still enjoy the same genres of movies, books, jokes and music that I did four years ago. I still worry about mostly the same things: boys, how I look and what my plans are for the weekend. I have more confidence in myself. While that confidence could arguably come from an increase in maturity, there are still many days when I am self-conscious. And despite actively practicing my faith, the last few months have been very rocky, comparable to the summer between my second and third year of my BA. I am realizing that there are things in my life that simply aren’t life-giving anymore, and they need to be pruned, either cut back or dropped entirely, in order to make space for new things in my life.
I still struggle with very much the same problems now that I am practicing my faith again as I did when I wasn’t really practicing. The key difference is how I talk about and handle the problems. Four years ago, I didn’t have a faith language that let me really get at the heart of what was going on in my life, that God was pruning the things that were no longer giving me life. I also didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it either. As a result of my faith, I am using that language to describe the events of the last two months, and I have several trusted people who I talk to about it regularly. But being able to name what’s happening doesn’t make the process any easier! It still hurts (a lot!) and there are many days when I’m anxious and worried because I don’t know what’s coming next. The emotional highs and lows are comparable. Surprisingly, how I deal with them is about the same as well: I dig deep inside myself to find inner strength, while simultaneously reaching out for support. Now that support comes from prayer and spiritual conversations with friends and my spiritual director. Before, it came from venting and camaraderie with my friends.
So, my problems aren’t necessarily any easier, and how I cope isn’t much different, which begs the question: what does faith have to do with any of this? Aside from the fact that it gives me a way to make sense of and talk about my struggles, the most important thing my faith gives me is hope. I cling to hope for dear life sometimes, as it sputters and flickers and slips through my fingers. Sometimes, I can’t explain how I manage to hang on, except that it is pure grace. It never fixes the problems or any easier to bear, but it helps me make sense of them.
Hanging on to hope,