Faith · Family

Man Plans, God Winks

Then they sat with him . . .and no one said a work for his suffering was too great.

Dear Anne,

You know I believe in God winks, not coincidences, right? Well, this weekend He gave me a wink that even my jet-lagged self couldn’t miss.

Because my body was still on Spanish time (we landed Saturday afternoon), I was up much earlier than usual Sunday morning. Because hubby picked up a stomach bug on the last days of our trip and wasn’t getting out of bed, I figured I’d head out to the early Mass then hit the grocery store. That’s how I found myself at the 7:30 am Mass for the first time ever. (And probably the last. God made the 11am Mass for a reason, and sleep is that reason.)

Before Mass, Sister Christine read the announcements, including some quiet prayer opportunities, and she repeated something I’ve heard her say over the years. To have a fulfilling prayer life, she said, don’t just ask God for what you need, but spend time in silence, and listen to what He is trying to tell you. In those few minutes of quiet before Mass, I really wanted to ask God why He got me up this early, to be honest.

As the last notes of the opening hymn were fading out, I noticed a man walking up the side aisle and take a seat in the pew a few rows ahead of me. I was surprised to see my friend Jim, who doesn’t belong to my parish and whom I hadn’t seen for a while. As I looked at his slumped shoulders, it began to dawn on me why I might be at this early Mass.

I used to see Jim and his wife all the time when our boys were in school and sports together, and they have always been some of my favorite people, but in the way life gets away from us, I hadn’t seen them in at least a year or so. I began to feel a little guilty about that, but seeing him in church touched my heart. You see, six years ago, Jim’s oldest son committed suicide.

Like I said, I began to feel guilty for not making more of an effort to connect with them recently. Many of us were heartbroken over the tragic suicide of Catholic writer Leticia Adams’ son in March and the brave way she shared her pain. At the time, I was struck by the parallels—Leticia’s son was the same age as Jim’s, the circumstances were heartbreakingly similar—and I thought of my friends. “We should get together,” I thought, then promptly let something much less important take up residence in my brain. So I felt thankful to have this maybe-serendipitous opportunity to give him a hug and catch up.

As I stood there talking with Jim after Mass, asking after the kids, I noticed a tear run down his face. Despite the Irish twinkle in his eye and his ready smile, the pain—and worse, the guilt—that Jim carries is palpable. His shoulders literally sag under the invisible weight of “what if’s”. Jim did everything he could to support David, and I think he’s accepted that intellectually, but his broken heart doesn’t quite believe him. As we talked, Jim looked me in the eye, more tears now. “Today is David’s birthday”, he said quietly.

Well played, God.

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.                    Job 2:13

As I drove away, I tried to quiet my mind (and my tears) to hear what God was trying to tell me. Reach out to Jim more often, obviously, but maybe it was more than that. Maybe, like Job’s friends, my purpose was just to literally be in that place, to hug Jim and sit with him in his grief. Or maybe Jim was there to give me a message. I’ve been stressed and sad about a frustratingly unfair, but ultimately unimportant, problem in my life. Seeing Jim still burdened by grief made me realize that not only is my problem tiny, but that I’m not here to obsess over things, or myself, but to ease the burdens of others. And that lesson was worth getting up early for.



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