Even in darkness, life has purpose

Posted at Catholic Insight

An_Old_Woman_Praying_-_Nicolaes_Maes“Every night when I go to bed I ask God to not wake me up anymore,” she confided.

I studied her tired face for a moment and then asked, “What makes you feel that way?”

“When I was young,” she began, ” I had my children and I looked after them. Then they got married and had their own children and I looked after them. Then my husband had a stroke and was in a wheelchair and I looked after him for fourteen years. Now, nobody needs me anymore. I don’t have a purpose. I don’t have any more reason to live. I have so many aches and pains. Look at my legs. They are so swollen again today.”

She is a very generous woman, often buying little bags of candy for the children of her parish and asking Father to hand them out. When I visit her, she insists on giving me a little something from her pantry: a small bagel, perhaps a cookie, maybe even a bit of candy for my children. I don’t dare refuse because I know how important it is for her to show that she cares for me.

Her tiny apartment is modest but comfortable, clean and tidy. The crucifix given to her at her husband’s funeral hangs against a narrow wall. On her low bookshelf stands a humble statue of Our Lady gazing up at her crucified Son on His cross. Her bible and prayer book are neatly arranged on her coffee table.

“Well,” I began slowly. “God obviously still has work for you to do here since you still wake up each day. I think you have a great purpose. Maybe you can’t do the things you did when you were younger but I know you pray. Prayer is important. You can pray for your family. You can pray for the world. You can pray for those who don’t know how to pray. That’s such great work.”

“Oh, nurse!” she exclaimed. “I never thought of that! I pray all the time.”

“That’s right,” I encouraged her. “Look at Pope Benedict. In the eyes of the world, he is nothing but a frail old man hidden away somewhere waiting to die. But he’s doing God’s  work by his prayers. He’s praying for all of us. That’s his purpose. And look at the saints who suffered from painful illnesses: St. Therese, St. Bernadette, St. John-Paul. And there are so many others. They offered up their suffering to save souls. Their pain and their illness had great meaning and purpose.”

By now, a smile seemed to melt away the lines on her face. “That’s true! I can offer my pains. Oh, yes! That’s prayer, too!”

Often we think that in order to live a purposeful life, we must be productive and very busy doing things. When illness or advanced age force us to slow down and we are no longer active, we can lose our sense of purpose, our sense of belonging, and life loses its meaning.

But God gives great meaning to our lives because He blesses each moment as an opportunity to be part of His great plan and to do His Will on earth. In a homily, St. Josemaria Escriva said that “[o]rdinary life is something of great value.  All the ways of the earth can be an opportunity to meet Christ, who calls us to identify ourselves with Him and carry out His divine mission – right where he finds us.” And for many people, God finds us in places of uncertainty and struggling.

Our call is to trust in His providence and pray always to know His Will in any given time, in every trial, in the greatest sufferings, in the darkest, loneliest night. And our call is also to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who have lost their sense of purpose, and for whom the struggle is sometimes too great and too dark.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote a beautiful prayer on the purpose of our lives:

I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by name.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have a mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next……….I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.  He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – He still knows what He is about.

Painting: An Old Woman Praying by Nicolaes Maes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This entry was posted in Catholic, Christian, faith, prayer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Even in darkness, life has purpose

  1. expectantlylistening says:

    That is a beautiful prayer, thank you for sharing it.

  2. John says:

    Thank you for this. I have printed your text and the prayer by John Henry Cardinal Newman. I need this to keep trying, even when it doesn’t seem worthwhile. I have always felt there is something special I was meant to do – something very important – and I need to give that a chance. But maybe that something special is not an event or a product, but a full lifetime. Maybe my something special is to live for God and not my own pity or selfishness. Heaven knows.

  3. Lovely prayer and excellent post (as usual!) God Bless 🙂

  4. reinkat says:

    Thanks, I needed this, not because I am faced with such a dilemma right now, but because there was a prominently featured article in the newspaper today about a young woman with brain cancer who plans to kill herself on November 1, after a campaign that she regards as totally “ethical” to demand the “right” to euthansia. She is not quite 30 yet, a newlywed. It’s a tragic circumstance, to be sure, but what made me even sadder is the self-righteous, evangelical tone of this article, with photographs of the beautiful young woman, extolling the views of the politically correct secular culture.
    Your post was a good counterpoint to this article and all it suggested. And the prayer is just beautiful.

    • You’re welcome, Reinkat. I read the article about the young woman too. It’s very sad and frightening how our politically correct secular culture has lured people away from what’s right and what’s true.

  5. Teresa Rice says:

    The entire article is beautiful!! I really needed to hear this. Thank you very much. With my illness and life not going the way I thought it is providence that I saw this post. This will help me out. Plus I may copy print and laminate the prayer to keep in my wallet so I remember this when I get down about life’s circumstances. God Bless.

  6. SR says:

    Great post!!! In my pondering’s on this post, all I could think about was, “how we always feel we never do enough.” The feeling of being “useless” does consume us. It does so because we always feel we want to do “great things,” for God. Things that are truly beyond our reach sometimes. If that is the case, we were not meant to do them.

    Sometimes our “greatest works” for God, are in the simplest of forms. Prayer to me is number one on that list. Offering our sufferings is number two.

    What you did for this lady is such an example of “the greatest works being in the simplest of form.” You gave her “HOPE.” You gave her a reason to “SMILE.” You gave to her the “DESIRE TO LIVE.” You brought the “LIGHT AND LOVE OF CHRIST TO HER.”


    • Thanks, SR. While reading our comment, I started thinking of the people this lady helped just by her story being told here and at the Catholic Insight blog. See how God used her suffering for good.

  7. l like to read your posts in the morning before l start my day.Blessings.Jalal

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