When your toddler wakes in the middle of the night with an ear infection, your husband has had a stressful day at work and needs you to listen, and your middle schooler has a science project that calls for adult supervision, it’s pretty clear where God wants you to direct your energies.
But what of the war in the Middle East, a man shot on the street 10 miles from where you live, and your former colleague dismissed from his prestigious job, now turning to alcohol for solace? Are these people also your assignments?
I recently got a letter from a man in prison who read my column in your Catholic Herald. This column is called “Faith & Family,” and he had a problem that involved his family and that was certainly calling for and testing his faith. Although he has visitation rights, his daughter has never been brought to visit him in prison. He did not explain all the complications of his case, but he was sure that I, a person on the outside who wrote a newspaper column, must have some influence and could fix this situation.
In his letter he begged me to do something so he could get in contact with his daughter. He even sent me a picture of his beautiful little girl.
I am a mother and my four are grown, but only one son lives close by. I know how I treasure every phone call, text message, e-mail, and brief visit I get with my children. I was blessed to be with them daily in their growing up years.
This man is missing his daughter’s childhood and will never get it back. What could I do for him? I had no information about his case or the circumstances around it, nor am I a psychologist, social worker, legislator or person of influence in the legal system. I felt deep compassion for this man and yet I felt totally helpless.
Was this man and his daughter my assignment? I was quite troubled by this question and spent much time in prayer, talking with God. After some “spiritual wrestling” I came to a place of peace. My caring, my heart aching, my praying were things that I could do for this man.
I placed his letter and the precious picture of his daughter under a rock I keep on my kitchen counter. This rock found me years ago on a walk by the lake. It is large, round and smooth; many people think it looks like a loaf of bread. My kids dubbed it “Mom’s God Rock,” and truly when I hold it as I pray or when I tuck my prayer slips under it, I know with certainty that I can “Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” (Is 26:4)
I can’t take away this man’s anguish. I don’t know where his daughter is, who she lives with, or how to locate anyone who does know these things. But I can pray, and know with certainty that my prayer is heard, and that in some divine and powerful way God will use my compassion to better the life situation of this man and his family. I can’t do everything, but I can do something.
When I feel overwhelmed, I use a simple mantra to re-center: “Do what’s in front of you and put the rest in God’s hands.” There is much in front of you each day as you care for your family. There is much in front of you as you are made aware of the multitude of needs in the world.
Each day ask God, “What is my assignment?” Listen closely for God’s response. God is your rock, your salvation, the ground of your being. God will make clear your daily assignment. Put everything else in God’s hands.
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke,” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)