I crept into the cool, dark cathedral quietly. Slowly walking down the long stone aisle to the front of the church, I took in the familiar stained glass windows I have learned to love. After sliding into the pew and lowering the kneeler pad, I got down on my knees and began to weep. If only I could find a way through this pain.
Pain upon Pain
When the opportunity to ride with my daughter to an interview on the ground of St Phillip’s Cathedral presented itself, I leapt at the chance. I knew I could use some time alone in prayer in this thin, holy place. Since the cathedral is two hours away, I don’t get there often, but every time I do I find a balm from God inside its walls.
After making sure my girl was settled at her interview location, I told her I was going to wander around for a while and would be back in an hour. But those words weren’t exactly true. I knew where I was going. I was going to the altar to pray. To pour out my pain to God.
The past couple of months had been brutal. I watched my dad who has had dementia for years begin to physically fade away. Hospice tracked pound after pound he lost and hour after hour he spent in sleep. None of us knew if he would be with us on this earth for weeks or months or possibly a year.
And my mom who has been my dad’s rock for so long was now dealing with her dementia diagnosis. Each week I witnessed the disappearance of another memory, another ability, another part of herself.
This long goodbye with my parents is one of the most difficult, painful things I have ever experienced. Not only am I losing each parent day by day, but I am put in the position to take care of all the things they no longer can. Along with my brother, I now have to not only make sure they are functioning in their daily life, but I have to make hard decisions about their future. Decisions no child ever wants to make for their parent.
I took these burdens with me to the altar in my beloved cathedral that day.
Help Me Find the Way
As I cried out my prayer, I felt words forming in my heart. “Oh God, it has been so hard. It hurts so very much.” As looked up and caught sight of the lighted cross, I knew God’s answer. “Child, I know how much it hurts. I know what it is like to feel pain and to suffer deeply.”
As I wept a little more, a new prayer formed in my heart.
“Jesus, I don’t know what to do next. I can’t see the path ahead of me. I don’t know the way.”
Even as this prayer was uttered I recognized the words, for they have been said before. John records Thomas saying them in this passage from his Gospel.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
-John 14: 1-6 (NIV)
I understand Thomas’ panic at this moment. This exchange took place at the last supper after Jesus told the disciples one of them would betray him and that he would be leaving them soon. Jesus had been hinting at his death for some time, so this talk of imminent leaving would be scary for a follower who loved Jesus. Thomas likely didn’t want to lose Jesus and certainly didn’t want to be separated from him forever because he didn’t know the way to the place Jesus is going.
I am the Way
But Jesus’ answer is so, well, so very Jesus. He does not give his disciples directions or a how-to list. He just says, “I am the way.” If you want to know the way forward, follow me. Love me, stay close to me.
It turns out the answer isn’t a path or a plan, it is a person.
Ann Voskamp writes
“WayFinding isn’t about finding the path — but about you being found by the Person who is the only Way.”
It turns out that sometimes there aren’t GPS coordinates for where you should go next. There isn’t always a perfect path, a right next choice. We just have to take the best steps we can while staying close to Jesus and following the way of Love.
There are still moments when I feel overwhelmed and wonder if am doing the right thing as I walk this difficult path with my parents. But I remind myself that sometimes we walk uncharted pathways. Sometimes we do the best we can to find our way forward and that is enough.
What gives me hope on this rocky journey is that I know I do not walk it alone. God is with me every step of the way. Holding me. Comforting me. Giving me strength. God knows my pain and counts my tears and somehow that is enough for me to keep going.
Even though I do not always know what the way forward holds, I cling to The Way which brings life and love, even to painful places.