In the beginning days of Advent, it did not look like a promising Christmas. My numerous e-mails to my co-workers to cover my Christmas Day shift (or even 4 hours of it!) were unnoticed. Work was insanely busy, and the likelihood of being let off early on Christmas Day looked slim. Pockets of unfilled shifts were open on the calendar. The lovely white snow that covered Milwaukee had melted. It was looking like it was going to be a miserable Christmas at work.
I’ve had miserable Christmases before, like the first one I had ever worked (and on night shift, no less!). Christmas is not always a joyous affair, especially if we’re mourning the loss of a loved one, working, separated physically, emotionally, or spiritually from our loved ones, etc. It’s fine to have a miserable Christmas. I was just especially in need of a joyous one.
2017 has been a tumultuous year. I started of the year quite blue, crying almost every day the first half of January. My latest crush had ended up crushing me, which is never a great boost for one’s ego. I even broke down at my friend Cece’s bachelorette party. Not a proud moment there, but she was so sweet!
As the year continued, I experienced a new level of anxiety and perfectionism I had never felt before. I was anxious turning in anything for my graduate school program. I supposed it was well-founded because I ended up failing the first paper I turned in, the 3rd F of my entire life. It all turned out OK at the end of the semester, but that was not a great ego boost either.
While school was taking up so much of my life, I started to be a subpar friend with little time for anyone or anything else. Some long-term friendships fell apart over the year. Miraculously, some have recovered, but others have not, and I don’t know how to pick up the pieces. For better or for worse, I’ve learned a lot about friendship.
Yet the most upsetting thing amid all of this was I could not shake the feeling that God had forgotten me. I knew I needed a Savior and earnestly asked for His help. But, it never felt like help was coming.
Thing was, I was not allowing for God’s help. Instead of trusting in His providence, I had calculated out everything, down to a plan in case God did not come through. I was not allowing God to work because I was not opening my heart up to the possibility of Him working.
Fr. Jacques Phillipe in his book Searching for and Maintaining Peace explains it well:
“One must first jump and it is only later that one feels carried. And so it is in spiritual life: “God gives in the measure that we expect of Him,” says Saint John of the Cross. And Saint Francis de Sales says: “The measure of Divine Providence acting on us is the degree of confidence that we have in it.” This is where the problem lies. Many do not believe in Providence because they’ve never experienced it, but they’ve never experienced it because they’ve never jumped into the void and taken the leap of faith. They never give it the possibility to intervene. They calculate everything, anticipate everything, they seek to resolve everything by counting on themselves, instead of counting on God…
Let us be very clear. Obviously we do not want to say that it is a bad thing to be able to anticipate things, to develop a budget or prepare one’s homilies. Our natural abilities are also instruments in the hands of Providence! But everything depends on the spirit in which we do things. We must clearly understand that there is an enormous difference in attitude of heart between one, who in fear of finding himself wanting because he does not believe in the intervention of God on behalf of those who lean on Him, programs everything in advance to the smallest detail and does not undertake anything except in the exact measure of its actual possibilities, and one who certainly undertakes legitimate things, but who abandons himself with confidence in God to provide all that is asked of him and who thus surpasses his own possibilities. And that which God demands of us always goes beyond our natural human possibilities!”
– Fr. Jacques Phillipe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace
I had taken my prudence to an unhealthy extreme, calculating out the tiniest details and not allowing Divine Providence to work. It’s horribly sad and ironic that I had come so far in my spiritual life that I stopped doubting God loved me but continued to doubt that He would provide for me.
So, God called out my horrific error in thinking. In adoration on a winter retreat, I felt the peace of God overwhelm me. He spoke, saying, “My daughter, did you ever doubt your earthly father would take care of you? Yes, you doubted his love, but never his providence. You laugh, but you took his providence for granted, and I want you to trust my providence more. I love you more infinitely than your good earthly parents. Surely, dearheart, I will provide for you more infinitely too. Trust in me.”
As much as I still dislike the large piece of humble pie God is right, He was so right it was laughable. I did doubt my dear father loved me, especially as a stubborn teenager. The majority of our conversations I can remember at that age were disagreements. I had inherited his wit, and we were verbally spar back and worth, fighting tooth and nail that either one of us was right. I knew my father tolerated me because he would take care of me by feeding me, clothing me, paying my car insurance, etc. I knew he loved me in that he took care of me. I knew he would take care of me, no matter how much he was frustrated with me. But for years, I was not confident that he liked me. (Now I do. Hi, Dad!)
The reverse was true of God. I knew He loved me, but I was not sure if He would take care of me. But as Jacques Phillipe and God Himself pointed out, I was not giving God the space to provide.
Throughout the year, my theme was “Peace in His Providence,” based on the theme of Fr. Walter Ciszek’s wonderful book He Leadth Me. Fr. Ciszek was arrested in the Soviet Union, spending years in solitary confinement and work camps. Yet, looking back on his life, Fr. Ciszek could see how God was working in Him. Throughout the uncertainty, he had profound peace in God’s providence. I wanted to have the same confidence and peace.I wanted to trust and calmly believe I would be taken care of.
But I had to leap in order to be carried.
Slowly, I gave God the space to work, in small and big ways. I ordered non-refundable plane tickets to Europe (for under $650!), not sure I would get the time off. But I did. I confessed I could not handle my life. But I found strength and stamina I didn’t know I had. Too, I trained a lovely new hire at work this fall who was self-sufficient enough that I could do school work at work and found a new friend. I was not sure I could find a project for school, but two projects fell into my lap.
God was providing! Just like He promised!
So, this Advent, with a warm winter, no snow on the ground, no one picking up my shift, and the prospect of being the only cousin who could not come to my extended family Christmas, I decided to rely on Providence.
It felt like a silly prayer, asking to go home early on Christmas Day. But I had tried everything, and I deeply desired to see my extended family. My dear co-worker and friend was worried I was setting myself up for failure.
Slowly, the chips started to fall in the right places. The temperature dropped, and Milwaukee got snow. I had unexpectedly finished up everything I needed to do in town and was able to drop into my sister’s Christmas with her boys. I was getting excited that going home early on Christmas Day just might happen but at the same time was very much at peace if it would not.
Christmas Eve was horribly busy at work. The snow had come at just the right time where people were traveling and getting into many a car accident. I ran around so much at work that I was exhausted. I almost fell asleep getting home.
I reconciled with myself that I might be alone all Christmas as I settled into a seat at a local church I rarely go to for an early 9pm midnight Christmas Mass. It acutely hurt to see families there, but I decided to trust in Providence and enjoy the choir warming up.
My friend came into Mass minutes later. I was shocked to see her there! It was one the other side of town from her, but she had gotten off work early and knew a family who was singing. I was not alone on Christmas as I had come to peace with.
Christmas at work, I was at peace knowing I might not go home early. I still very much desired to go home early, however, and even had a Christmas exchange gift ready in my car. For a few hours, it it did not look promising. The waiting room was filling up, and even the cold temperatures and the holiday were not keeping people away.
Less people came in. The ambulance pages were few and far between. Beds started opening up. Two of my co-workers switched with me so I was in the perfect and unnecessary spot to go home early. At 4:50pm, the news came. I was free to leave early.
I ran down to the locker room, changed in a hurry, and left soon after with jubilant texts to anyone who had texted me earlier that day. It was more than seeing my extended family. It was more than leaving work early. It was more than having a silly prayer answered. It was a miracle.
We often think of miracles as Jesus healing the sick or raising the dead. But miracles – especially physical miracles – are meant to lead us to Jesus. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “[Jesus’s] healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1505). Miracles, then, are “the signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him…[they are meant] to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and causes all forms of human bondage” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 548-549).
To me, this all was a miracle. God had answered my prayer in a very tangible way, but eve more, He had shown me He provides. Going home early from work on Christmas Day was like the cherry on top of the ice cream cone of grace I had received throughout the year. I am so glad I emptied my hands of the little treats I was desperately holding onto to receive what God wanted to give me.
Hope you had a very Merry Christmas!