When I woke up in ICU after emergency open heart surgery, I discovered quickly that as well as a shattered body and a shattered mind, I now possessed a shattered faith, in myself, my heart and my God.
Up to then, life seemed largely like a Lego construction to me, built up brick by brick, with the reward of a beautiful structure at the end. Sure, there might be a few dodgy bricks here and there, but only a few, that one could rationalise as, inevitable, get over, and build with eventually. But, if you built unwisely and without care, then I imagined the building might collapse, but that you’d have to expect no less.
That’s why, having worked hard on family life and in my professional life up to the point of illness, I felt so rattled, wronged and shocked that I had been ‘rewarded’ with such a catastrophic illness. Was I a Saint? No. I certainly had a few dodgy years in college where I was, definitely, ‘lost’, but I had gotten myself together after that and worked hard professionally and in family life and hit all the life milestones? Was I a Saint then? No. But I was sincerely doing my best. So why had I ended up getting catastrophically ill, and almost loosing my life?
As a woman of faith, I immediately felt shocked and devastated by the fact that my God would do this to me, primarily because as I saw it, he must have felt he had to do it, for how wrong I must have been living. But I couldn’t marry the scale of the faulty materials in my life construction, with the scale of the collapse.
Yet I felt compelled to figure it out, night after night, in the high dependency unit. Those were lonely and desperate nights. How could I ever trust God again, or my body again, or my heart again, after all that had happened, if I didn’t at least figure out why it had happened, so that I might avoid similar pitfalls in the future.
Then one night, weeping behind the miserable, flimsy, curtain, that surrounded my bed in the cardiac ward, in despair at my situation, missing my children, and feeling in the depths of loneliness, I assessed that I was going to have to just accept that this was my lot, even if I couldn’t figure out why. But that still left having to deal with a future of uncertainty and fear. How could I live every day like that? And what about the fact that I felt so lonely in this experience too because I knew nobody just like me, suffering the agony of being on what felt like death row, with nothing but a guillotine end being a certainty?
And then midst the misery and tears, like a bolt of lightning, I had a vision in my mind of a book my mother had given me as a child, with writing on one page and images on the other, and the image I saw in this case was the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was weeping by a rock. I remembered the story instantly, how he felt isolated, lonely and in despair at the life ahead, wished for it to be different, but finally accepted the call of his God.
It honestly felt like a revelation. It seemed like I was being handed the whole purpose to ever having been brought up in my faith, and within that purpose another gift, that source of company with whom to move forward, someone, who, like me, had been in the despair, the sorrow, the fear, but who had chosen to go with it, in spite of the challenges, because it was of God.
I realised in that moment that my illness was not a punishment for something bad I had done, but perhaps a process of binging me to that very moment of connection with my God, a connection that was nothing like which I had ever experienced before in my life. Perhaps therefore life wasn’t as neat and figured out as I had once thought. Perhaps some rewards came not from the construction of life but from the moment’s of life collapsing. Perhaps there was always a mystery as to why things happened, but perhaps the job from the moment of collapse was to keep going regardless, to travel through the darkness of that time, so that we may find, in some time ahead, the light.
That moment transformed my life and my faith. It made me feel purpose in my pain and that purpose made me feel I could move forward less with fear and more with faith.
I know not everyone has faith in their lives or in their hearts, and that even if you do, that it can be especially hard to hold onto any faith after the troubling knocks of life come to your door. I understand it, having lived through all the above. But I understand too that if we don’t move on with some faith, or hope of better days ahead, regardless, we may never reach the full potential of why we are still here. In spite of everything we may have already gone through, we need to have faith in better days ahead and perhaps even to purpose to our pain, so that we don’t stay lost and lonely in the dark part of the mystery, rather than ever reaching the light.
© Pauline O’Shea