“I will wait; I will wait for you.”
Call it my theme song. It’s a chorus I’ve been repeating to God for months now. Whenever I get impatient or frustrated, I begin to pray with these words from the Mumford and Sons song. It’s less of a prayer that implies God is not working in my life and more of a concession to not knowing exactly how. It’s a surrendering of control, a transfer of the ego away from the self—and trying to be alright with the process.
The past 10 months have been a time of both joyful anticipation and relinquishing control. I am engaged and will be getting married in about one month’s time. For the majority of our relationship, my fiancé and I have been praying about where to live, discerning everywhere from Denver to San Antonio to Washington, D.C. We’ve been doing all of this in the midst of something most find insane: long-distance. It’s a journey we felt called into rather than one either of us would have chosen.
There are times when I’ve felt like the Israelites wandering the desert sands. I’ve looked up at God and shouted, “where are we going!?” I’ve picked up the flakes of hoar frost on the ground, this food from heaven, and said to Him, “what is it?”—the literal translation of the Hebrew word manna. I haven’t always liked the manna the Lord has given me, nor can I claim to have responded with the confidence and joy that Our Blessed Mother had in her “fiat” to God at the Annunciation when she said, “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” (Lk 1:38). Most of the time, I have to fight the temptation to join the hungry and tired Israelites’ grumbling. I have to fight to say words that don’t come naturally to me as a human being: “I will wait,” “thank you,” and “fiat.”
Jesus and Mary teach me the appropriate human posture in response to God’s plan: surrender and thanksgiving in the midst of the unknown or in times of suffering. The most beautiful example of this occurs right before Christ’s Passion. At the Last Supper, knowing fully of his impending torture and death, Christ gave thanks, blessed bread and broke it (cf Mt. 26:27). Moments later, at the height of his spiritual and emotional passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ uttered words akin to those of his mother about thirty-three years earlier, “not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).
Meditating upon Jesus and Mary’s examples throughout my engagement and long-distance relationship has enabled me to say many, many times, “I will wait,” “fiat,” and “thank you”—sometimes feebly, sometimes resolutely. I have come to learn that these words are the foundation of the Christian life. They are the manna which helps move us forward in our desert wanderings. They enable the waiting period, the time of desolation, to be not only bearable, but fruitful, joyful. They are the wellsprings of life, the oases in the desert that refresh our souls.
Living eucharistically and receptively has given me the strength to say, “Yes, Lord. I will wait; I will wait for you and your plan for my life. I will wait joyfully, with hopeful anticipation as your plan unfolds—knowing that through suffering you lead me to resurrection. And I will live attempting always with your help to give thanks in the midst of the waiting, just as Christ gave thanks before his Passion. I will say ‘your will be done’ with Mary. I will wait for you to turn the desert before me into the Promised Land. I will wait; I will wait for you.”
As I settle into my second year at a parish in South Jersey, and find myself responsible for the entirety of programs like First Eucharist preparation and family ministry, I’ve noticed that I must also find my own solution to a continual tension involved in running such programs. I’m calling it “the tension between the urgent and the important.”
There’s a sense of being bogged down by stuff that isn’t important in itself, but is necessary for the important stuff to happen. I don’t want to focus all my sacramental preparation time on ensuring the kids all have baptismal records; I want to make sure we have a coherent plan for how we’re forming them after baptism. I have to be able to find time to look beyond these minor concerns (even if I can’t move on without them) to notice and evaluate where the parish is headed in our ministry, and if that ministry really is allowing Christ to change hearts.
Different personalities will use different strategies for managing this tension, so I can’t offer much of an explicit road map. However, we can all agree - it must be managed. If we don’t make time for the visionary in our ministries, we never move forward towards the vision. I understand that this year’s ministry won’t quite comprise the full realization of our eschatological hope, but I’m also in my last year at this parish, and I don’t want to accept continually the deferment, “Next year, we can actually catechize well.”
As I contemplated this professional frustration, I realized there was an analogous tension in my life: contemplative prayer. I’ve often heard cited that “finding the time to pray” is difficult, but each of us needs to take a good hard look at what exactly are the things which supercede our prayer lives. As a parish minister, mine are especially ironic - “I can’t pray now, I have to get to work... so that I can balance envisioning the direction of the Church with executing the logistics involved.” I may be well-intentioned, but that prioritization isn’t ultimately fruitful. I cannot say that I am doing the work of the Church, whether important or less important, if I am not also praying through the work of the Church.
“Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day," remarked St. Francis de Sales, "except when we are busy—then we need an hour." This pithy quote is a roadmap to balancing the tension between my active ministerial work and the vision, which in this case actually is the Kingdom of God. The Catechism also calls me out: “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter” (2710). Isn’t it ironic that the trial can be a temptation to plan out the best work of the Church?
I have to be able to make (not “find”) time to look beyond my work (even if the Church couldn’t move on without it) to notice and evaluate where I’m headed in my prayer life, and if that prayer life really is allowing Christ to change hearts... especially my own. I don’t want to promise continually, “Tomorrow, I will actually pray well.”
Laura Berlage serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ
It has been about a year since I told my students that I would not be returning as their Religion teacher. I decided that I was moving back to Los Angeles at the end of the school year. I wanted to be back with my family especially my mom and two young nieces. I was burned out from teaching. And perhaps most importantly-I wanted to travel and explore the world. I wanted to do and achieve great and glorious things. At 25 years old, I was incredibly restless with my life.
At the beginning of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes his most famous and oft-quoted line: “For You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Throughout the first ever spiritual autobiography, Augustine bares his soul for God and for generations of people to read and understand. As a young man and even probably as an old Bishop, Augustine was a restless man searching and struggling for salvation. He was lonely and frustrated. He sought material goods and earthly pleasures. Yet it was not until he accepted God-rested in God-that he found peace.
As I began to plan my travels, I remained open to any opportunity that would come before me. All I knew was that I wanted to see as many diverse places as possible and I wanted to do as many exciting things as possible. Thus, I hiked the 42 km Inca trail over four days to see Machu Picchu. I prayed at the Western Wall and knelt at the site of the Crucifixion. I saw my beloved Notre Dame get demolished in the National Championship game. I toured the White House and became breathless at the site of the Oval Office. I went on a medical mission in India and volunteered in various villages. I fulfilled “bucket list” places to see such as the Taj Mahal, Petra, and the Pyramids. It was an incredible blessing to be able to see and experience all these places, meet interesting people, and create such lasting stories and memories.
However, I did not find the peace that I was searching for in my journeys. I sought it, prayed for it, and longed for it. And yet, it was not there. Despite all the miles I flew and the cool photos I took with Instagram, my heart was not at rest. Or at least not the rest I was hoping for.
Nevertheless, when I look back on this year off, I notice the times that I felt at most peace were the days I spent with my nieces, Stella and Lauren. Stella is 3 and is incredibly precocious; she speaks both Korean and English, lectures us on how to listen better, and sings beautifully. Lauren is 1 and there is nothing in the world like her smile and her laugh. It has given me such immense joy to be with them, hold them, play with them-a joy that surprised me and builds upon itself. Seeing these two girls grow up and being present to them in very ordinary ways has given me peace that all the extraordinary sights in the world could not.
When she read Confessions, my mom commented that St. Augustine and I shared some traits in common. We both love public speaking. We both have strong mothers who worry about them. And we both have a “healthy” amount of “confidence”-to put it lightly. All I can hope is that I find the rest in God that he pursued and ultimately found.
Tae Kang has his MA in Theology from The University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Program and has worked both as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in a Parish and as a High School Religion Teacher.