Turns out I can’t stop thinking about it, which means I also can’t stop writing about it. Below are some thoughts I wrote for a social media prompt that my Catholic parish put forth to its parishioners: How are you finding moments of grace in these difficult times? FYI: There is a little anecdotal overlap here from my previous post on talking to my daughter about COVID-19.
Let’s be honest: finding moments of grace in your daily life these days is almost as difficult as finding toilet paper at Mariano’s. (Is anyone else switching to paper bags, just in case?)
If you rise early in the morning and watch the sun come up, you might stand a better chance of getting a moment of grace–or at least getting some of the newly restocked toilet paper–but life feels difficult enough right now, and you’re already getting up early to check in to your Zoom video conference for work.
So where did all the grace go? Well, our faith tells us that it is everywhere around us at all times–whether we’re facing our fears from a pandemic or legitimately enjoying a random spring-like day in Chicago in March. Being on parental leave from my job as the father of a newborn who arrived just a couple weeks before the rest of the country started shutting down, my life was already fairly quarantined. I was spending nearly every waking moment trapped in our house with our newborn son Sammy, my wife Theresa, my 3-year-old daughter Maddie and my nearly 2-year-old son Charlie. If you attend the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, you probably know me as the guy who is forcibly removing a giant, flailing child from our pew as he screams “Cheerios!” during the consecration. Remember when that was our biggest problem? The good old days.
Suffice to say, the newborn-imposed social distancing has been made much more difficult by the state-imposed social distancing. All my plans of taking the older kids on outings or doing the preschool drop-off/pick-up routine or arranging some play dates with other families have disappeared faster than green beans in the frozen food aisle. Out of an abundance of caution, we even canceled the generous meal train that had been set up for us. Grace…? Are you there…?
Yes, grace is there. Nestled perfectly into the season of Lent, the empty streets and terrifying news alerts and shuttered businesses have actually provided a perfect backdrop for better recognizing the beautiful moments of grace in our midst. My 3-year-old daughter, with whom we had not specifically addressed the pandemic, shocked us last week when out of the blue she exasperatedly asked, “Why is everything being cancelled?!” I tried to explain to her that lots of people were sick, so we had to stay home a lot more so that we wouldn’t get sick and the sick people could get better. Maddie replied, “Maybe we can ask God why everything is being cancelled.”
Let the little children come to Jesus…and let’s follow them there. I confess that while I have prayed about many aspects of recent current events, it has not always been my first reaction in moments of frustration or stress to offer it all up to the Lord. But here was my precocious young daughter being confused by what was happening in her world and immediately turning to God in search of comfort, understanding and peace.
A few nights later she piped up with a petition during our bedtime prayers. “Let’s pray for all the doctors and nurses, so that they can help the sick patients to get better.” Aside from being unaware that my preschool-aged daughter knew and understood the word “patients,” I was once again in awe of her basic understanding of the power of prayer and blind faith that God could handle the situation better than any public health policies or economic stimulus. Obviously we need those things, but we need prayer, too.
It strikes me that so many aspects of this crisis are making us all feel more like children—in good ways and bad. Sometimes we feel powerless or scared and want to be comforted. Sometimes we just rest in the security and love of our family—enjoying meals, game nights and quality time together that we might have been missing for years. Since we are forced to abandon so many of our “grown-up” work and social obligations, we are reverting to some simple pleasures and recognizing the beauty of our shared humanity. We’re writing positive messages on our sidewalks for others to see. We’re waving to neighbors and strangers alike when we pass them at safe distances. We’re live-streaming Mass because we are deprived of it for the first time in our lives and it just doesn’t feel /right/ not to have it.
I’m filled with gratitude for all of these grace-filled scenarios, despite the tragic circumstances that have brought them to light. One of my hopes is that our return to normalcy includes an acknowledgment that some of the precautions we took actually forced us all to be a little bit better toward one another…and maybe these are some personal policies worth adopting for the future. Can you imagine the joy you will feel the next time you get to have friends over to your house? How about the next time you get to attend Mass in person? You might even introduce yourself to what’s-his-name that you sit in front of every week. For my part, I know I will be smiling widely as I drag my son to the exit.
As Catholics, we are blessed to live in a post-Resurrection world—even during Lent—in which we know the story has the happiest of endings, no matter how bleak it might seem to get. My greatest hope is that grace will lead us all to model the powerful faith of a preschooler in these troubled times—taking our worries to God first and truly trusting in His care for us as the Divine Physician.
The Resurrection can’t be cancelled…and that’s all the grace we need.