I want to tell you about an experience I had with loneliness today.
My husband, Dave, has never really enjoyed attending Mass with the whole family – he says it is too hard to concentrate with all the children there, so we usually go to different Masses on Sunday. I would prefer that we all went together, but that’s the way it is for now. He was planning some chores and couldn’t watch the little ones for me, so I would be taking eight children, plus my married daughter and the new baby.
Well, you can imagine what preparing for Mass looks like at my home – and I don’t mean prayers and fasting! Some days we manage quite well, but today was not one of those days. Lost shoes, mismatching clothes, unwashed faces, funky socks-we had it all. I know the Lord doesn’t mind what we wear, or how we look, but I’ve always tried to make sure that my family doesn’t reinforce the negative stereotypes that people often have about large families, such as grinding poverty, poor hygiene, and a frazzled mother. (I certainly promoted that last one this morning…) And I felt quite abandoned by my spouse, although the task of preparing the children definitely falls within my job description!
So, we made it to Mass, ON TIME, somehow, settled ourselves with our prayers, and then….my two-year-old began to play up. Squirming, climbing, wriggling and ‘no-no-ing’, all the usual antics and more. We lasted until the first few lines of the homily, then I knew I had to beat it. The priest’s opening words had been about how the faithful always find God in the wilderness, so I took that with me to ponder outside the church, in the garden, that retreat of so many parents.
By this time, I was feeling even lonelier than ever – I was OUTSIDE that wonderful event that was taking place INSIDE the church. It’s not as though this has never happened to me in my long career as a mother, but I felt the isolation keenly this time. And it’s not as though the Trinity is trapped inside any human building, or that the graces of the Mass would fail to apply to me, but there was little consolation in these thoughts.
I sat and watched my toddler run and climb as she desperately tried to get my attention, when I began to realise what was happening to me. You might be a bit smarter than I am, and have worked it out already: of course, I was not alone. None of us are. Even if we are far from the Lord due to our sinfulness, He is not far from us, because He loves us. He simply wants us to need Him more than anything else.
And I realised why we have to experience the wilderness if we want to experience the Lord: It’s because we have to first know loneliness before God can assure us that we are not alone, or maybe we wouldn’t appreciate it, just as we had to feel the weight of our sins before we began to seek the Lord and beg Him to redeem us.