I’m writing this reflection from a lobby somewhere in Puerto Rico, where the fresh air flows freely through massive glass windows and club music blares from the speakers. It’s very different from the place I left, New Haven, which despite a few days of sunlight has largely been rainy and frigid over the past few months.
It’s an odd experience to be so far removed from Connecticut, though it is oddly freeing as well. The past few months have been, to put it simply, difficult. Family drama, the breaking of personal relationships, and stress about my future after graduation have all been gasoline poured on the fire of a previously unacknowledged anxiety disorder, and recently, relaxation has been a rare luxury. The past few months have also been marked by an unexpected hole, something I’ve always managed to skirt when times became trying — until now.
You see, God feels distant now.
I don’t think I’ve left Him completely. I can see Him in certain turns of the trees and certain breaths of the breeze, but it feels now that I see Him through a veil, one that waves and obscures Him even as I try to reach out to Him. I’ve had good moments and bad moments — from being moved by the Gospel to asking the empty air above me why I’ve been feeling such anxiety — but in general, I feel as though I’ve turned my back on God. Maybe not completely, but enough such that His sunlight no longer warms my neck.
When I realized this, I felt a cosmic shock. I have always been able to imagine God behind me, His hand on my shoulder. When I realized I felt an absence instead, another layer of panic, deeper and stronger than ever before, added itself to my existing anxieties.
I felt paralyzed. However, I knew I couldn’t just sit in my apartment in shock, so I reached out to friends, to family, to my chaplain. They talked with me, prayed with me, went on nature hikes with me, cooked with me. When they weren’t actively working to bring me back to my faith, I took action, even though I sometimes gave into the urge to wallow. I stopped at churches at random times of day to remember God and look him in the eye, and I began to journal, first about my anxieties but later about my gratitudes.
Gradually, I began to notice, much more than I had before, the small things: how much I really loved my friends, how good the Honey Citrus Mint Tea at Starbucks tasted, and how happy I was about spring. And, though it was painful to reorient my thoughts in such a way, I noticed how much I stood to gain from what I’d previously only construed as loss.
This wasn’t easy, and when I sit down in church I still find it difficult to pray and sing with the intention I once had. Many times in my Connecticut apartment, the angry, testing thoughts returned: Why are you letting this happen to me, God? Why are you letting me suffer to this extent? I think I’ve learned my lesson! The fact that it’s now Lent has intensified my focus on these questions because God, and my distance from Him, is constantly on my mind.
Yet Lent is a curious season because it’s one that, at least in my experience, can feel as much like a period of healing as it can suffering.
That isn’t to say that it’s been easy. Sometimes it is too hard to run, so I walk. Sometimes it is too hard to walk, so I limp. But even when it’s too hard to limp — when my own mind assails me with my failures, when the future seems menacing, instead of exciting — I can still crawl. And I’ll keep crawling until I can stand again in His presence.
Valerie Pavilonis is a senior in Morse College majoring in English.