I am a woman under siege. Lately, for reasons not entirely known to me, I’ve constantly fallen into despair about my worth, my talents, and my virtues. Several times a week I inexplicably find myself in tears, hopelessly unable to believe that I’m beautiful and dignified simply because I am made in His image, that I’m not too lazy at home and at my job, and most significantly, that I’m worthy of my husband’s love and forgiveness.
Is it that these spiritual onslaughts are because of my loving marriage? Is it my efforts working with the youth of my parish? Is it that my husband and I are on the cusp of major changes, involving more school, moving, and starting a family soon?
This is not to say that I think I’m completely awesome when I’m not feeling burdened this way, bursting with talent and perfect in virtue; far from it, in fact. What I’ve become so aware of in recent years, though, is that anytime you’re doing God’s will, in discernment and in action, the evil one will pursue you in any way he can. I felt it during the year I spent as a pro-life and chastity speaker, during my engagement as I tried, and often failed, to be pure of heart, and during a period of unemployment.
Have you felt this way, too? Have you felt the same sorts of spiritual attacks as you feel like the least valuable, least perfect among your friends and family, asking the Lord again and again to show you your worth? It’s that constant question of “What do I possibly have to offer the people in my life, when they all seem so much better than me?”
As young adults, we’re faced with so many unknowns and can easily have the sense that our lives haven’t really “started” yet: there are questions of what will unfold when school is over, where we’ll live and work, what our vocation is, and ultimately, how to be holy. Sometimes, in seeking these answers, the pursuit of holiness can feel like nothing less than a battle. That’s because it is. Spiritual warfare is real.
I’m not revealing my struggles out of martyrdom, not to garner praise or invite pity, though I’d certainly welcome prayers. I share them so I can share something else with you, too: hope.
A few months ago, on Halloween night, I attended a talk on this exact subject, spiritual warfare. There was talk of temptation, talk of clinging to Our Lady, and talk of the incredibly real existence of evil. What I absorbed surprised me.
St. John of the Cross, explained the monk who spoke, wrote about periods of spiritual dryness so intense that it feels impossible to believe God is present. Though this notion is discussed in St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul, it’s ultimately all about the light. When you feel like the Lord is so absent, said the monk, He is actually more present than ever. Think, he said, of when you’re looking into the sun. Its light is shining so intensely that you can’t even sense it; all you are is blind.
It’s brought me such consolation and fortitude to meditate on the fact that the Lord loves in this way; He is always present, and most present, when we can’t even sense Him. We’re conformed to Christ through our baptism, so doesn’t it make sense that we experience, to an extent, everything He did, for good or for bad? This includes His temptations in the desert–temptations to weakness, temptations to self-doubt.
Even as weak as I’ve felt lately, and among my frequent awareness of spiritual attack, this season of Advent has me looking at things through a lens of anticipation and waiting in hope. Jesus’ birth restores our hope, and here in these last days of Advent, we’re out in the desert in a different way. We’re crying out; preparing the way.
My husband is such a living sanctuary of the Father’s love as I struggle. He reminds me, as we heard in the talk, that planting myself firmly between the pillars of the Eucharist and Our Lady is spiritual armor and a wellspring of hope. Constantly, he implores me to be gentle with myself, and as hard as it often is, I know that doing so is one of the greatest ways of rejecting evil.
We need to give ourselves permission, I think, to feel the aches of purification and to be vulnerable. It’s okay, and it’s redeemed by the one who comes to us as a baby, ever so humbly.