Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My friend Donna and I were on a crowded train coming back from a meeting in Manhattan, the kind of meeting where your head starts to spin because there’s so much talking and so little gets done.

Donna sat next to the window and watched the suburban landscape rush past. It had been a grueling morning and she was frayed from the experience, which only exacerbated her long list of personal problems – a relentless succession of crises that kept her on the cell phone during the day and lying awake at night.

Her father had died, her mother had to move to an assisted living facility, her husband left her and the divorce was getting nastier by the day.

The average person could have easily come to the troubling conclusion that "God’s picking on me."

I’ve felt that way many times, and had to pull myself out of the funk by prayer and positive thinking because even though I know in my heart that God doesn’t pick on people, the dimensions of suffering somehow always seem to suggest that God has to have a role in it somehow or other, which means to say, if he isn’t picking on me, he sure as heck doesn’t seem to be doing anything to lessen the pain.

But Donna didn’t think God was picking on her because, she confessed, she doesn’t believe in God.

She told me the accumulation of crises was the result of "physics." I suppressed a smile. What, I wondered, did that mean? Was the Heisenberg uncertainty principle at play in her personal life?

On the other hand, I didn’t have an answer as to why one person had to shoulder so much suffering. Couldn’t God spread the supply around a little?

"Sometimes I wish I were a religious person," she sighed. And with that admission, I saw the door open a crack for a little bit of light to shine into the darkness – and it was a darkness that had been a lifetime in the making.

Even though her father had been a champion of social justice and good deeds, he didn’t believe in God or life after death. For him, when you closed your eyes that last time, you were closing your eyes for good.

While I wasn’t about to say I thought her father, who had many more academic degrees than I do, didn’t know what he was talking about, I couldn’t resist the urge to tell her politely that he was wrong.

"There’s a God. There’s an afterlife," I said unequivocally. "There’s a reason for everything that happens in life even though we often can’t decipher those reasons. And ultimately, everything works out for the good."

I sounded glib, but the crazy thing was that she was listening. In fact, she wanted to hear more. I suspect God had put her at a point in her life where she was receptive to a different side of the story.

"Donna," I said. "God is real, and he cares about you and knows what you’re going through and wants to help you. All you have to do is ask."

So many times, I’ve seen nonbelievers reach out into the unknown for God and ask for help, and the help is almost immediate because he’s eager to reveal himself to people who doubt him, particularly to people who desperately need him. The problem is that so many nonbelievers can’t ask for help because of uncertainty, or worse, pride.

But that simple act of asking is also an act of humility, and there’s nothing more that God loves than a humble and needy soul approaching him.

After a few minutes of silence, Donna slipped back into her old pattern of behavior and asked me for proof and what I based my belief on. I resisted responding, however, because I knew the cosmological arguments and the ontological arguments and all those philosophical roads to God weren’t going to work with her. Metaphysics is an awfully sterile path to God for someone who is suffering.

I finally said, "Every night, when you put your head on the pillow and are lying in the silence of your room, just say, ‘Help me, please.’ And you’ll get the help you need."

"But what about – "

"That’s all you need to know," I assured her. "It will work."

I didn’t want to pester her in the weeks that followed and I avoided asking whether she took my advice. I just prayed for her and asked the Holy Spirit to guide her in this spiritual quest, and hoped I’d be there if she wanted to talk. God would do the rest.

 

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.