by Joanie Butman
It finally happened. After 25 years of shattered fantasies, my family recently enjoyed the ‘perfect’ family vacation. It’s a universal delusion shared by young mothers—the recurring dream of the Norman Rockwell family vacation, where the moon and the stars align in such a way that everyone gets along, the weather cooperates, and plans go smoothly without a glitch. Unfortunately, reality (at least for me) more closely resembled National Lampoon’s Vacation. There were years we actually made it to the airport or the first rest stop before the inevitable argument over seating arrangements or choice of music began. One or two days in, I always began wondering why I subjected my family to this annual quest for a June Cleaver holiday.
Now that my ‘children’ are adults, our vacation was a glorious week where the weather cooperated, my husband/travel agent planned a spectacular trip, and best of all, everyone actually enjoyed each other’s company. For a mother, this was the realization of my own Don Quixote’s Impossible Dream.
Communing with God can often feel just as elusive as the perfect family vacation. A long, ongoing series of Chevy Chase escapades best defines my spiritual walk. My personal delusions aren’t confined to the family vacation. Originally (and maybe this belief was influenced by my Catholic origins), I thought perfection was the spiritual goal. Having the nuns remind me daily that I was a hopeless cause, I eventually gave up the effort. Only as an adult did I realize that it was persistence, not perfection, that the Lord asks of us. HA! If I could doggedly chase the perfect family vacation for 25 years, I could certainly pursue Jesus with the same zeal.
When I started Bible study to meet friends and take advantage of the childcare, I didn’t realize it would mark the beginning of a life-long journey of faith. Though I didn’t ‘feel’ the intimacy with Jesus these spiritual June Cleavers enjoyed, I was determined to continue until I found the joy they exuded. My tenacity paid off, but it took longer than my pursuit of the idyllic family vacation. It was when I was diagnosed with cancer ten years ago that the knowledge I had been accruing made the long journey from my head to my heart. Though studying scripture is always an excellent way to get to know God, it was suffering that landed me in His arms. It was only then that the holy longing in my heart was finally satisfied.
The difficulty is trying to hold onto His presence amidst the busyness of everyday life. Even the most faithful don’t always ‘feel’ close to God. We’ve all experienced the Dark Night of the Soul when God seems absent. That, too, is a universal condition shared even by spiritual giants throughout time. Mother Teresa suffered from this malady for the last FIFTY years of her life. However, you’d never know it because even though she didn’t ‘feel’ His presence, she continued to BE His presence in the lives of those she served. How did she accomplish this calling? Her faith was based on God’s truth, not her own feelings. She used the emptiness she felt to make herself a vehicle where God could shine through her. It was HIS presence, not her doubt, that overflowed into the lives of others.
Mother Teresa’s entire life was based on her early experiences of God’s presence. In reality, few of us are blessed with the privilege of enjoying God’s presence in a miraculous way. For most of us walking in faith involves believing in what we don’t see. Our own humanity guarantees moments of questioning and doubt. I believe they only bring you closer to God as you search for answers and meaning.
So, is God still as elusive to me as my dreams for the perfect family vacation? Sometimes. He often feels distant, but that doesn’t mean He is. It usually means I am. During those times I choose to remind myself of His promise:
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
It took much longer than 25 years to achieve an intimacy with the Lord, but like my recent family trip, it was well worth the wait and the effort to find my way home to Him.