Q: I find myself consistently becoming more and more aware of the good things in other people’s lives — and the lack of good things in my life. The demands of work and family and taking care of my parents is really weighing on me.
A: This is such a fantastic question. And this is such a fantastic problem to have.
I apologize: I can imagine that my excitement over your dilemma doesn’t help all that much. But I hear something in your question that has resonated deeply with me recently.
Students have recently returned to the campus where I serve as a chaplain for our Newman Center. After a year and a half of looking across the street and seeing the parking lot less than a quarter full and only having limited contact with our students, it has been such a blessing to see them in person and to have the parking lot full again.
At the same time, since it has been so long since we have been able to have them all back, I have to admit that I became a bit accustomed to having more space in our little Newman House to myself. Now, I can’t walk through the living room without noticing all of the dirt that students have tracked into the house. I walked into the chapel the other day and someone had left all of the lights on. I was trying to record an episode of the podcast for the Bible in a Year, but musicians were practicing for Sunday Mass in the basement, and I had to wait until they were done before I could hit “record.” On top of all of that, with so many students back, I am constantly tired and dream of the day when I will be able to get to bed at a normal hour for a middle-aged man!
I was praying about all of this one day. And I have to confess that I was feeling a little bit salty (which is Gen-Z for “bitter”) about the lights and the mess and the noise and the lack of sleep. But then I realized something: there is a mess in my house because students feel comfortable spending time at our Newman House. The lights were left on in the chapel because our students have been choosing to make time to pray in the Lord’s Presence. I wasn’t able to record a podcast because we have students who generously offer their musical gifts and practice for Sunday Mass. And I’ve been tired because so many young people are responding to the call of Jesus to follow him, and they just want some guidance on how to do that.
All of my complaints were actually “backwards blessings.”
Would I prefer that the house was clean and no students were there? Would I prefer space and time to myself rather than having the chance to be a part of the miracle that God is working in the lives of future saints? How crazy would I be to trade having a front row seat to what God is doing on campus for a full night’s sleep?
And I wonder if this isn’t true for many of us. You note that you have experienced the demands of “work and family and caring for your parents.” Those demands are real. I would never want to minimize the difficulty and real suffering that accompanies so much of life. The idea of ”backwards blessings” isn’t an invitation to ignore real trials and difficulties. But it is an invitation to look at the other side of things.
Yes, our jobs sometimes place more stress on our lives than we prefer, but what a gift to have a job. Family can be a real thorn, with fights and disagreements and more demands on time and resources, but what a gift to have the responsibility of family. And certainly, it can be taxing to have to care for elderly parents, but the day is going to come when we would give anything to be able to care for them one more day.
Again, I do not want to make light of real pain. But almost every pain in our life can be lightened by perspective. I wonder if this isn’t why St. Paul invited Christians in Thessaloniki to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can do this when we know that God is in all circumstances, and that even many of our pains contain hidden “backwards blessings.”