An old married couple is driving along one day and they stop at a red light.
In the car next to them, a pair of young lovers is carrying on, holding hands, kissing, and hugging, and sitting close together on the driver's side of the bench seat.
The old woman looks at her husband and smiles a little bit.
“Remember when we used to drive around town like that? Why don't we do that any more?”, she asks.
The old man looks back at her, glances down at the space between them on their bench seat and replies, “I didn't move.”
I haven't written in a few weeks. It's been difficult to find the time lately as I am trying to re-acquaint myself with the concept of sleep. But when I last wrote, it was about St. Peter being called out onto the water by Jesus. Taking his eyes off of Christ and focusing on his fear of the storm around him, Peter started sinking. I was feeling, at that time, much like St. Peter, as if I was sinking. For Peter, this was remedied as Jesus reached out and pulled him from the waves. I was wondering, at the time, if I'd ever even left the boat. Looking back, I think this question was a bit of a deflection, because I knew that I was drowning and not just waving. To think I hadn't left the boat was easy and got me off the hook in trying to figure out what steps I needed to take to return my focus onto God.
I would love to say that in the time since I wrote that, I've figured some things out, grabbed His hand and pulled myself from the waves. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I have progressed from being St. Peter losing faith in the sea, to being the lost sheep, not able to recognize my shepherd's voice.
I know the storms that are hitting my family right now are not as bad as hardships that many others are facing. Most importantly, thank God, everyone is healthy. I am, however, filled with fear about where I am leading my family. Which leads me to doubt that I am equipped to lead us out of our current situation. And with that, comes a host of regret and self-loathing for the time I wasted when I could have been preparing myself for the vocation of being a husband and a father. In the midst of all this noise that I am hurling at myself, I started to lose God.
A few weeks ago, that felt just like walking on the sea with wind whipping all around and Jesus' voice fading in and out, beckoning me to come to Him. However, as I obsessed over 'what I can I do's', 'what I can't do's', 'what I didn't do's' and 'why didn't I's', His voice just kind of ended up fading away.
I didn't actually realize it until a very inconvenient moment when my wife and I were discussing our situation and what our next steps will be. That is when I realized that I have no clue what to do to move our family forward right now. The job that I am lucky to have, regardless of my hatred for it, pays well for what it is, but doesn't pay enough. I'm barely sleeping, short-tempered, disengaged... in short, I am miserable.
Someone I talked to a couple of weeks ago asked me where I see God in my life right now. I thought for a moment, and said, “I don't know. I don't think I can see Him right now.”
We were silent for a moment, as those words hung in the air like a cartoon bubble, with both of us just looking up at them. And it really hit me that my faith is really being shaken. Oh boy, yet another thing to obsess over, wondering what I can do.....
Well, thank God (and I mean that literally), I am blessed to have a 13 month old daughter. (I also have a 39 month old daughter, a 437 month old wife and I myself, am 472 months old, but that's another whole story). My 13 month old likes to play this incredibly riveting game that I call the 'Dada-Yes' game. It's beautiful in its simplicity in that she says, “Dada”, and I reply, “Yes.” She likes to play this game often, and can go for about 20 minutes or so at a stretch. She especially likes to play when I am driving. It dawned on me in the middle of everything else one day, that the game is about her calling my name, and me responding. On one hand, obviously, it teaches her my name, but it also teaches her that I'm always there, waiting for her to call me.
This led me to think of the story that I used to start this piece. Our previous Pastor, who has recently moved on to another assignment, used this story one day to illustrate our relationship with God. In case you need it pointed out, God is the old man. And when we look around and wonder what happened to our relationship with Him, we need to remember, He didn't move.
I had this image in my mind one day of God seeing me fumbling like a blind man trying to find a key in the dirt, and getting frustrated as he tries to tell me that I only need to knock on the door for it to open.
But then I realized, it's even better than that. I started to think of Jesus telling us that he is the good shepherd. And I remembered a painting I saw where he is reaching out over the edge of a cliff to save the lost member of his flock. So not only will the Father respond if I call on Him, but He is reaching out to pull me from the brink.
In a class I was teaching recently, we read about how several shepherds will pen their sheep together for the night and then retrieve only their own sheep every morning. The writer wondered what kind of chaos must ensue when this happens, so he made a point of being there the next morning when they arrived. What he found was that when they opened the gates to the pen, each shepherd went off in a different direction whistling a different tune, and their sheep would follow them. When he asked how the sheep knew which shepherd to follow, a local told him that all day when they were grazing in the fields, the shepherds would walk among the sheep and whistle so that they learned to recognize the tune. The tune that the sheep recognize is the one they would follow in the morning.
This was all very good news...
First, and most importantly, God didn't move!
Second, He is anxiously waiting to play the 'Dada-Yes' game with us!
Third, He is aching for us to stop looking for that stupid key and just knock on the door!
And for those of us who are truly lost, He is reaching out from the cliffs to pull us from the brink!
But at the end of the day, we have to remember, if we don't learn His tune, and keep ourselves acquainted with it, then we are only going to get lost again.
So what am I doing to re-familiarize myself with the voice of my shepherd? First, I am continuing to go to mass. Our parish is blessed that even though we lost a pastor who was a brilliant homilist and teacher, we have received a new pastor with those same gifts. Second, since I am a night owl, I am returning to reviewing the daily readings before I go to bed, which, since it is always after midnight, is usually one of the first things I do on any given day. Third, I will be making more frequent trips to reconciliation. We are all, at some point, the lost sheep, about to fall into a ravine, and reconciliation is Jesus' way of finding us and reaching out with His mercy to pull us from the brink.
I admit these changes aren't producing their fruits overnight and I am still struggling with all this, so I could use some prayers. But I am encouraged for the first time in a while because I have not completely lost sight of my shepherd, and I still have faith that He will come to find me. Now I just have to do my part, and keep walking towards Him instead of just staying in the holding pen.