By Karen Hadden
It was Christmas Eve when my father was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. During the next several months, I faced a variety of challenges with my father and mother. By May, both my parents were in two different hospitals within days of each other. My father had severe complications from Chemo. At the same time, my mother had pneumonia. She was recovering from her illness when her pneumonia returned with a vengeance. I had prepared for her to come live with me, only to turn around within a week to prepare for her funeral. At the same time, I prepared for my father to come home for end of life care. My grief for my mother’s loss was put on hold. On a daily, sometimes hourly schedule, all I could think of was doubt, regrets and hopelessness of the past and current situations.
I’m not sure at what point I stopped praying.
I just know that months later, I tried and when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had even tried to say a prayer. It seemed fake or phony. I kept thinking I had no idea what I should even pray for and even then, would it really matter?
In today’s Gospel, The Lord says to the Pharisees “Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” Jesus is making the point that I can be sincere in my habits, but have I failed to be sincere in my heart? He goes on to advise them to be sincere - to desire a holy life and not just merely focus on the trivialities of daily rituals.
Which leads me to think, am I just as bad as the Pharisees? From the outside, my cup is clean in appearance. I am doing my obligations and focusing on my daily “rituals;" while inside, I continue to struggle with many things, including my faith. Like the Pharisees, am I being a hypocrite? I don’t mean in the sense that I’m full of plunder and evil. But in the overall sense that inside my heart feels empty. Insincere.
Like I’ve lost my faith.
But I’ve been thinking –what if I tried to focus on the positive? Instead of seeing this as a concern that my faith is insincere or that I am losing hope and panicked that I can’t pray, maybe it’s actually the opposite. It’s a lesson for me to learn that my faith is stronger than ever.
For example, I realized that despite my anger and feelings of hopelessness and doubt, I am praying. I may not pray in the “traditional” sense right now, but isn’t being angry and telling God a form of prayer as well? Praying is just speaking one on one to God? When I am angry, which seems all the time lately, I tell God, in a matter of fact way. God knows I love him, but I feel duped.
I am mad, and right now, it’s the only way I know to talk to God.
So taking that into consideration, if I didn’t have faith, how would I know to consider the possibility of talking to God?
In my personal journey, I try to remind myself to embrace change. With each situation I encounter, it allows me to see a different perspective. If I were to face only good situations, how would that make me grow? Yes, I would not experience heartache, but I also wouldn’t experience these moments that help me to lean on God and challenge my faith. These are the moments – every experience, good or bad – that leads me to a better version of myself. At the end of the day, I know this is changing my perspective. It won’t be because my insides were wrong or didn’t match my outsides. It will be because in order to grow, I have to recognize the positive, embrace it, and push through so that my faith can be stronger and my heart more sincere. God’s not concerned about my daily acts or rituals, but more importantly, that I even care. Let’s face it, I know God sees what’s inside of me. So even if I think my “cup is empty”, God sees that it’s not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen enjoys gardening, golfing and traveling with her husband, George. She became Catholic three years ago and joined her parish's RCIA program and serves as a Lector. Currently, Karen spends most of her time committed to her father's comfort and end of life care, and tries to remind herself to be grateful for the small victories and blessings in her life.