Blessings in the Cold and Dark

Posted at Catholic Insight

the temperature in our house - blackout

My son’s photo. When the temperature in the house fell to 3 degrees celsius (37 degrees fahrenheit), it was time to leave.

At about one o’clock in the morning on the twenty-second day of December, an ice storm blasted through  Toronto and the surrounding area, turning roads into skating rinks, knocking down ice-covered trees, severing power lines and leaving an estimated three hundred to four hundred thousand people without electricity and heat. One of the areas that was hit was our neighbourhood, leaving us in the cold and dark until Christmas day was almost over.

There are no coincidences in God’s plans and He wasn’t absent or silent during the ice storm. As in all situations and events of life, the storm provided many opportunities for doing His will, for being a light and a servant to others, for accepting our limitations with humility, for setting aside our distractions and focusing on the arrival of Baby Jesus.

In the midst of hardship, we have a very human tendency to justify our self-pity as our plans, emotions and physical comfort are threatened. In those times, it’s easy to lose sight of our Lord, to forget about trying to do His will and turn in on ourselves. But it is precisely in the struggle that we need to look beyond ourselves.

Providentially, the ice storm arrived a few days before Christmas when, ironically, a time that ought to be quiet and contemplative is instead fraught with tension and noise. Jesus was all but forgotten as we scrambled to buy the perfect presents, spend too much money and stress out all the joy of the season.

Then, wham! For many of us, an ice-coated power line and downed, ice-laden trees slammed us into a full stop. All of a sudden, our families’ and our own safety were more important than anything else. Without laptops and other electronic gadgets, and as we conserved what ever life was left on our phones, we had more time to be present to each other.

In our family, we played games by candlelight and had animated discussions that brought out our competitiveness, sharpened our already well-formed opinions, and strengthened the bonds  of family. We continued to pray the evening Rosary and Advent prayers even when the Advent candles were burned down for light. As much as possible, even in the upheaval of our daily lives, it was important to keep the  Advent season.

It wasn’t easy. As the day dawned with still no electricity and as we had to pile on more clothing and blankets at night, I found myself easily slipping into frustration and impatience. For the sake of my family and for my own peace, I kept praying for the grace to not sink into discouragement. When we faced the third night without heat and our house couldn’t keep the sub-zero temperatures at bay any longer, we gratefully accepted offers of a place to stay and a lovingly prepared Christmas dinner.

As I listened to our Associate Pastor’s typically well-written homily on Christmas day, I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was, especially since at that point, my family and thousands of other people were still without electricity. The power and heat in our parish church had just been restored the previous evening, one hour before the first Mass of Christmas  Eve.

In his wonderful homily, Father talked about peace and goodwill – two words we hear often during the Advent and Christmas seasons. He explained that “when it comes to matters of the spiritual life, goodwill is not about being perfect. It’s not about being without sin. And it’s not about always living in complete conformity with the will of God. No. It’s about trying your best. It’s about putting in the effort. It’s about asking yourselves: am I really trying my very best – in all sincerity – to be true and authentic in my relationship with Christ? Because, you see, if the answer is ‘yes’, you are truly abounding in goodwill. The Lord is very pleased and the peace of Christ which is ‘beyond all understanding’ is truly yours for the taking.”

Understandably, it was easy to lose peace and goodwill as the hardship of those few days wore people down. But in the struggle was gift. In the struggle was Christ: the focus, the reason, the God-man, humbled, homeless, cold, yet radiant. Christ was with us in the frigid darkness of a displaced Christmas. In the aftermath of the storm, He reminded us that a dark, cold world is in dire need of the warmth and light that only Jesus can give. Unlike the innkeepers who didn’t help His homeless parents, He expected those who were not affected by the power outage to extend a charitable hand to their brothers and sisters in need. Thankfully, so many people did just that, showing an abundance of generosity and kindness that made the days more bearable. Using an icy blast from nature, He showed us that in spite of our meticulously written to-do lists and non-stop preparations, the control was His, not ours. And with the usual distractions unavailable to us, we were given the time to focus on what is truly important: our relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters.

Looking back, and without any intention of minimizing anyone’s difficulties, there were abundant graces in the ice storm of Advent, 2013. They were there for the taking if we wanted them, if we allowed our restless, troubled hearts to seek them out. “Everything is grace,” wrote St. Therese of Lisieux, including ice storms.

The greatest tragedy would be if we soon forget the kindness and lessons of the days before and during Christmas. If we don’t learn anything from the experience and if we don’t use our new found insights for good, then those few days will have been in vain. Don’t let that happen.

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17 Responses to Blessings in the Cold and Dark

  1. SaintlySages says:

    I have seen time and time again how those who love God the most suffer many trials. I think God uses these trials as means to prepare us for greater glory in heaven by developing in us greater virtue here on earth. The God Who creates things out of nothing and draws good from places where good is lacking also raises us to everlasting glory by means we do not fully understand. The Artisan is infinitely skillful, and we works of art cannot help but be amazed at the methods by which He builds and refines us into His own image and likeness. Praying for you and your family daily. God bless!

  2. joshjfox says:

    Really enjoyed reading this! God loves nothing more than our sincere desire to follow him. Thanks for the post. God Bless
    Josh

  3. Nancy says:

    I know the aggravations of being without light and heat in frigid temperatures… our longest bout of it was several years ago. It does wear one down. But in the struggle was Christ. This post touched me deeply – thank you.

  4. Imelda says:

    God does work in mysterious ways and sends His choicest gifts wrapped in thorns. I am happy your family was safe. 🙂 A blessed new year to you all.

  5. Me says:

    Thank you for sharing that wonderful story! Times like that can be frustrating but you swapped perspectives. 🙂 God needed to hit the pause button to get everyone to focus on what really matters.

  6. Ellie says:

    Your post really resonates with our thoughts and our experience of the power outage. New experiences of community and new appreciation of things we normally take for granted.

  7. Rachel says:

    Terry,
    At the 9 p.m. Christmas Mass on December 24th, our pastor (and yours, of course) said at the end of Mass that the ice storm reminds us that Christ was born into a dark and cold world but he is the light of that world. So simple, so profound and so moving. Thanks for a great post.

  8. When we lose electricity, we literally lose power. There is an ominous feeling and concern as to how long it will last. It really is a spiritual test in a way, as you point out, Terry. Trusting in God’s loving care is easy until we need to do so. Thank you for another very thoughtful post.

  9. Wow, that was beautiful Terry! What a challenge – and at Christmas time too. Yet also a time for such an experience to be a great grace, if looked at properly, like you said. I was thinking, while I read it, something along the lines of what the other commenter Rachel said – there can be symbolism in that darkness and cold, when comparing it symbolically to how Christ was born. God bless you!

  10. Inspiring post ,the storm reminds us of our weakness as human we needed Christ to redeem us because we can’t do it on our own.The freezing weather are the work of God’s wisdom.Blessings jalal

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