Dear Donagh, .... I'm writing to you in desperation because I don't know where to turn.... [Everything] seems to be going against me.... I always prayed and got great comfort from it, but now I don't get anything out of it any more. I feel so alone. You would think that God would help me now in my time of need. Sometimes I think he doesn't exist at all. God loves me, my sister said, but what kind of love lets friends down? Please tell me something to give me hope. Marie
Dear Marie, thank you for your long message, and I hope you don't mind that I reproduce only a small part of it. I picked out the part at the end and I'll try to respond to it here. The particular problems, as you know, I've been discussing with you in private emails.
No, I don't think everything is going against you. You are going against everything. I'm sure you have often been advised to take it easy, not to push against everything and everyone. It was good advice. There are all sorts of things that we can't get by our own efforts, no matter how strenuous; they are given to us, and we have to learn to wait till they are given. “If you but knew the gift of God!” Jesus said to the woman at the well. If we earn something it is not a gift; and it is not a gift if we demand it, or try to force it from the grip of the person about to give it. We just have to wait – and that takes a measure of humility.
Yes, prayer can be a great comfort. But I know that sometimes it is ‘comfort’ in the literal sense of the word, which is ‘strengthening’ (from the Latin ‘fortis’: strong). I remember a scene in the Bayeux tapestry that showed William the Conqueror “comforting his soldiers,” as the caption had it. What he was actually doing was prodding them from behind with his spear, to drive them into battle! God’s ‘comfort’ is often like that. Think of all the things we would have run away from had we been given a choice! We are often dragged kicking and screaming into the best things in our life. I'm told I put up quite a fight the first time I was brought to church! Many people, looking back on their lives, give God thanks that their own will was not done. We pray, “thy will be done on earth....” God’s will, that is. But the moment it begins to diverge from our own will, we are up in arms. When Jesus was in agony before his death he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.” This became the headline for all Christian prayer – in fact for all Christian life. The three who were with him on the mountain of transfiguration – Peter, James and John – were also with him in Gethsemane. Peter had suggested they take up permanent residence on the mountain, but Jesus began immediately to speak about the suffering that was to come. Every disciple can expect to experience both Mount Tabor and Gethsemane.
We believe that God wills the very best for us. “All God's commandments come from love and from the goodness of His nature, for if they did not come from love they would not be God's commandments,” said Meister Eckhart. Even when we cannot understand it our suffering has meaning: it is soul-making, it is purification. It is not bad luck, and it is not that God has forgotten about us. The world, for Christians, is not just a place to get the most out of; it is a place of soul-making. “When he has tried me I shall come forth like gold” (Job 23:10). This is the only thing that can give us hope. Everything else is only a palliative.
God hasn't forgotten about you, Marie, nor let you down, nor stopped loving you – nor ceased to exist. The same Meister Eckhart said, “What is God's love? His nature and His being: that is His love. If God were deprived of loving us, that would deprive Him of His being and His Godhead, for His being depends on His loving me.”
Hold onto hope, Marie.