In the weeks and months following my friend Veronica’s murder, in the midst of my agony and crying, I felt called to assess my life. I started my assessment with how I had always approached God. I think I approached God the way many people probably do. I knew God was good. I knew God loved me. But I wanted to know why He always seemed so far away. Was He just this guy up in the sky that allowed awful things to happen to us and stood back from us until the day we died?
It occurred to me that the only time I actually spent getting to know God was usually when I was wanting, begging or pleading for something from Him. I prayed the prayers in Church in Sunday at Mass, and if I needed something I asked. Please God, make these children go to sleep on time. Please God, help me get skinnier. Please God let me have enough money to get new hardwood floors. Occasionally, there was the begging. Make this pain stop, I cannot bear it.
I thought, what kind of relationship is that? If I had a friend and all they ever did was call me to ask for something but never spent any true time with me, I would be irritated. My relationship with God was so self-centered. It was all about me. No wonder I didn’t hear Him talking to me. No wonder He seemed so far away. I was too busy thinking all about myself. I had a smart-phone, a TV, kids & a husband to keep me busy. I didn’t need to talk to God because I was busy with life. There was no quiet. There was no calm.
I decided I needed peace. The ache in my heart that caused the begging this time, caused me to cry alone. Without all the noise I could hear God. “Build a place to talk to me Susan. You can feel me if you listen quietly.” In the corner of our bedroom is a space, a space, where I never knew what to do. I had tried the treadmill there, but didn’t use it. Then, I tried a love seat. It just collected clothes. I looked at the useless corner. I will build a peaceful place. I will build a place where I can talk to you.
I think my husband thought I was a lunatic. In between nights of crying and wailing, I was putting up partition walls, curtains and collecting religious items. Thankfully for me, my husband remained silent, and just watched. It took me a week or two and I had it assembled. It looked like a chapel in the corner of my room. I didn’t care. In there I could pray, be silent, find peace. I lit my candles and prayed.
Soon enough 3 little people were intrigued with the small private space in the corner of the room. They wanted to come into the “Peaceful Place” as it has come to be known. So I let them. My husband came in too. Suddenly we were praying together as a family. My heart began to heal. My conversations with God changed from, what will you do for me Lord? To what can I do for you Lord? What is your will? Slowly but surely years of panic attacks stopped.
God was becoming my friend. He was no longer someone who gave out rules to suck the fun out of life. He was unconditionally loving me, healing me, and freeing me. He was freeing me from anxiety and panic attacks that had plagued me. He was freeing me from materialism. I realized no matter what my weight was, He loved me. I wanted and longed for my will to conform to His. When I actively seek this, it can be turmoil outside, but my inside remains at peace.
He is transforming my heart. My heart wants to obey Him, to keep His Holy Day. I want to go to Mass instead of feeling obligated to. He has gifts there that are free for me. They free me from the pains of this life. I am getting so much more, but was only able to realize this when I put the focus on Him instead of myself. I still would like hardwood floors, and I would still like to be skinny, but I know those are not the important things in life. I can live and live well without that because God is so much more.
I still have a long way to go in my journey. I find on some days I have to will myself to pray. I have to decide that it is a priority. I have to choose it. In the days since the healing began, I can start to drift back to old habits. These are habits where I do not make God a priority. When I do this, the anxiety creeps back in. So I make a concerted effort to stay changed. I am a sinner. But I am a sinner who knows God as a friend, knows that He loves me. I know that to keep my friend I have to be a friend that listens as much as I talk. And so everyday I wake up and look in the corner where I built a chapel, and I know where my priority lies.