As we begin a New Year, we take time to reflect on the past, and hope for the future, and still we ponder the wonderful presence of Christ in our lives. This presence brought about by the Incarnation – The Word that was before all time, is with us today, and will be forever present, made flesh in the Person of Jesus. Our task today is to praise him for all the good he has done in our past, to praise him expectantly, with the knowledge that he, who loves us, will continue to bring good out of each moment. But most of all, we praise him in sweet adoration for his presence in our present. This is the true gift of Christmas.
The Rope – A personal story.
I am sharing this only in confidence that it will be used for God’s glory, to help someone understand how important it is to praise him.
I used to see the world in brilliant colors: The way a branch swayed in the wind making the bright sky show through the leaves; the way the water glistens when tiny waves catch the light of the sun. The sparkling snow, although difficult to shovel, always brought me to a land called Wonderful. I felt God in the winds of fall and in the summer breeze. Then came the spring, when all the flowers burst open to meet the sun in beautiful arrangements of color and shape. Most of my life, I saw people that way too. It always amazed me how God gave us each a different face, a different fingerprint, a different personality. How many combinations of ears noses and eyes can you really get? Only God knows, and he has never needed to duplicate.
One fall and winter came, when my world, although picture perfect to most, became grey. This was a very odd experience for me, since as I said, I had always seen the world in glorious hues and my tendency was to be joyful, not gloomy and grey. Yet, this fall and winter, I stared out our picture window hoping to find a sign. I had seen God in everything before, now though I searched in the sky, in the trees, in the song of birds, and the faces of my parents, my God could not be found. The last part scared me the most. I had always seen God in everyone, and now, I couldn’t see him in my own parents who were some of the most loving and beautiful people on earth! How could that be?
I began to think that something was seriously wrong with me. Then I began having panic attacks. If anyone has ever had one of these, you know that you literally feel as though you are dying from a heart attack, a brain aneurism, or some other traumatic problem. A few times, I honestly thought I was about to suffer internal combustion. At that point I knew something was wrong with me, and I remember telling my parents to call the lunatic police. Seriously. Then, I had awful temptations, things I would never, ever do or even think about, and I realized that this was a spiritual attack. So I asked for prayer every night from my parents before heading to bed. In bed came the worst of it, I couldn’t sleep until the sun was just about to peak above the horizon.
Life was a struggle for me then, in my second year of college, working part time and then full time. My father had just been diagnosed with cancer; my friends couldn’t understand what I was going through, and all I wanted to do was be a typical twenty year old, whatever that was. Despite all this, I continued to pray and pray and pray, but no answer came. It seemed as if God abandoned me.
I felt alone, sinking in darkness, with no air and no way to get out. So, my prayer had become, God I love you, and I am trying to believe you still love me, please show me the way out. Hand me a rope. I need a rope to climb out of this hole I’m in. I wouldn’t just ask God either, I would ask people I respected, and I would read the scriptures and other books for answers. I just wanted to feel like me again, joyfully living in the presence of God. Instead I had become numb.
Finally, in late spring of my third year in college, my Dad asked me to go to a Catholic Charismatic Conference in his place. He couldn’t go because his cancer fight was in full swing with doctors appointments and chemo. I said yes because I thought maybe I would find an answer there. Somehow I had managed to remain hopeful even through the intense struggle, and that’s how I came to know my dependence on God and His grace. Yet, little did I know that hope would lead me to hop on a bus with my mother and a bunch of other crazy-for-God charismatic people to New Jersey.
At the conference, I made myself lift my hands in praise when I really wanted to stand in a corner. I had grown up in a charismatic household, and went through a Life in the Spirit Seminar, but I did not feel like praising God anymore. I knew He deserved it though, and so I did, out of obligation and the hope that if I praised Him, maybe He’d finally throw me that rope.
And he did.
The act of praise helped me to recognize God’s presence in my life again. It wasn’t all at once, but little by little, my sacrifice of praise opened my eyes to his light and love. Again I was able to see the beauty in the world and in people, especially my family. There are times I still struggle to see God’s countenance, but I know where my rope is now. The rope is praise.
Psalm 98 says:
O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.2The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. 4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
We have much to be grateful for, and no amount of words can satisfy our Praises to Him! In fact we need the Holy Spirit to give us new words, new songs, and new ways to praise Him. I read in Word Among Us, a Catholic publication of liturgical readings and meditations, today about all the ways to praise God:
“Sing aloud, yes, but don’t limit yourself to what your voice can do. Sing with your pen. Write down what you want to praise the Lord for. Jot down your hopes, dreams, desires for this year. Sing with your paint brush—paint your praise, joy, and thanksgiving. Sing with your musical instrument or your feet. Dance, as David did before the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:5,16). We are wonderfully made, so we can praise the Lord in song or with any of the other talents he has given us.” (WAU – http://wau.org/meditations/current/)
This year I will make myself a gift of praise before the Lord. I hope to praise Him with all I do and all I am. I hope you will join me and we can be a bunch of dancing fools before the throne of God! And we will laugh, and be joyful, and see His glory in all things! Praise the Lord!