My faith and personal life has been extremely difficult in the last few months. There’s a not polite or delicate way to phrase it. It seems like no matter where I go, I meet the cross.
When many people first follow Jesus, myself included, there is the natural thought that because we know Love Incarnate, immediate and emotional happiness will be our constant companion. And indeed on some days, it is! How can my heart not smile upon holding a newborn baby, watching a beautiful sunset or praying with someone who has just met Jesus?
However, there are days where sorrow seems to track me down. It almost seems that suffering has been more present in my life as I have gotten deeper into my faith. And so I pray for the Lord to lead me out of this suffering. I beg the Holy Spirit to dispel the darkness. And yet frequently my doubts and sufferings continue. It can feel like God is mute, uncaring or indifferent.
It is in these times where I am so grateful that the Lord has given the Emmanuel Community the gift of praise. I can truly say that next to the Eucharist, praising the Lord in the darkest moments has been one of the greatest weapons against evil.
Recently after Household, I was sharing with my Emmanuel brother about one of my trials. I asked him, “Jerry, what if I get the news that I am dreading?” His immediate response, “I want you to say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ if it doesn’t go well for you.” And a week after that, I got some terrible news; I was devastated, hurt and in total shock. And yet God gave me the grace to immediately proclaim, “PRAISE THE LORD.” I made an active decision in that moment to give praise to God. I didn’t feel at all like praising God for his goodness. I felt the total opposite. I wanted to yell, scream and cry. (You can tell I’m clearly American and not French.) I wanted to blame God, run away and forget the Lord since it appeared He had forgotten me. Yet that was my emotion speaking. What was the true reality before me? That Jesus was as close as He has ever been and ever will be. And that is worthy of all the praise my heart and soul can give.
Jerry’s response reminded me of one of the deepest lessons I had ever learned from my time in the Emmanuel School of Mission in 2009. One of our missionary brothers, Clement Giraud, died tragically and very unexpectedly in the middle of our missionary year. As we received news from the directors of the school that Clement had “gone home to the Father” we remained in total shock. Chaos overtook us for a couple of hours. After we had all come to our senses and reality started to set in, our director Damien looked at us and said, “Okay, now gather up your songbooks and we will go upstairs to the chapel and praise the Lord.”
Every ounce of my heart screamed, “NO. NO WAY. There is not one part of me at all that wants to praise. There is NOTHING GOOD in my life right now.” But as we blurted out the first few lines of the song, “Come let us look toward our God, come rejoice in his light. Turn to the Lord, give praise to his name. He is the Lord of all, He is the Lord of all.” And in that moment I found my freedom even as I was bearing my heavy cross.
We don’t praise God because it feels good. We don’t praise out of some kind of empty obligation. We don’t use it as a method to thank him for material blessings. We don’t even praise as a way to avoid our suffering. We praise God because in that prayer, we find who we are and who God is. When we sing His praise in the moments of sadness, we teach our hearts that God will take care of us despite every temptation to believe otherwise. As we turn to praise, our soul finds comfort that God will never leave us, His love is stronger than any suffering and one day, all will be well. It is in praise that we find the reality of GOD once again. We are beloved creatures, designed to give our Creator praise at all times because He is worthy of all our praise.
PRAISE YOU JESUS FOR IT ALL!