What a Lent we’ve had, eh!? Who actually feels like we’re the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years!? I sure do. It’s been a true Lent of stripping away the gods and idols that we’ve subtly (intentionally and unintentionally) held up before Jesus — the gods of athletics, academics, entertainment, which slowly invaded and seeped into our souls, were taken away instantly with the development of this worldwide pandemic. The suddenness can feel like a shifting of the ground beneath our feet, filled with uncertainty, unknowns and anxieties.
I can’t think that this was a coincidence or a mistake to happen now. I don’t think God caused this virus to happen, but I do believe he can make his glory known through this. As in the story of raising Lazarus from the dead, “this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). Now is the time that the world is looking at Christians, people of faith, to see how to respond in a time of such suffering and trials. Do we respond in fear and anger? Or do we respond with hope and trust?
I’m not saying that everything is sunshine and rainbows. It feels as if we’ve been living in an extended Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Where is the hope? Where is the Resurrection? Where is the joy? Is it silly to be joyful and positive right now? Are we even allowed to “be happy” during this time?
Yes! Of course we can be joyful and hopeful, because those feelings are deeper than just surface emotions or reactions to what’s going on around us. In my lived experience, my joy isn’t just an emotion that comes and goes when I feel it. It’s deeper than that. It’s rooted in my known belief that I am absolutely loved, absolutely wanted, and God the Father calls me his child, his daughter. My joy and deep-rooted hope is anchored in the fact that I truly believe the Bible passage, “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
I am absolutely convinced that the reason why I was created is to be in a relationship with my Creator — not just on Sundays for a one-hour lip service to him, but in every moment of every day, to live in his acknowledged presence. From this relationship springs all the fruits of the Holy Spirit that are given to us freely — fruits such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
There’s a line from Steffany Gretzinger’s song, “No One Ever Cared for Me like Jesus,” that I’m holding onto this season where she sings: “No one ever cared for me like Jesus / His faithful hand has held me all this way / And when I’m old and gray and all my days / Are numbered on the Earth / Let it be known, in You alone / My joy was found / I found my joy.”
My joy isn’t found on my Instagram feed, my Facebook profile, my shopping, my sports, my entertainment. Those things aren’t bad at all, but I’m truly finding that Jesus is the only one who can give me this satisfying, deep-rooted joy that I so desperately search for.
So how do you cultivate this relationship? I have a simple response: prayer. Prayer is simply conversation with God. He is so good because he won’t force us into a relationship with him — that would make us slaves. He calls us his children, and he gently calls and invites us to draw near to him knowing that is why we were created.
One of the most beautiful things of the Catholic Church is how many ways there are to pray and how many different devotions there are. For me, I start every morning with intentional quiet time, without screens or Instagram or Facebook or my emails, as I seek Jesus. Some days, I journal my thoughts, my prayers, my needs and what I believe Jesus is speaking to my own heart. I try to read some part of God’s Word every day to fill my mind with his thoughts, to learn how Jesus acted when he walked this earth, and to learn to trust his promises that are written on page after page in the Bible.
Friends, my prayer for you during this difficult time is that you come to believe that you are so loved, necessary, wanted and known by the Creator of the universe. I pray that you realize that your life matters, that there is a reason why you’re living now in 2020, and not 150 years ago, 1,000 years ago or even 2,000 years ago. God decided, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, on purpose, to create you for such a time as this. The world needs you now. But more than what God is going to do through your gifts and talents, God just wants your heart. He just desires a lived relationship with you. It’s why you were created.
Know that I’m praying for you and journeying with you in this season, especially as we enter into the holiest week of our faith, knowing that at the end of every Good Friday, there is a Resurrection Sunday.
Ali Hoffman is the youth director at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Carrollton, Texas.