In this episode, I share the terrifying experience of my family’s home invasion by the cartel, what it taught me about myself, and meeting God in the present moment. I discuss:
- what it means to meet God in the present moment,
- what are some obstacles that prevent us from being present to God, and
- what we can do to better our relationship with God in the “here and now.”
Here’s the transcript:
Back in October 2010, my husband and I were living in a Mexican border town – we were there for 3 years. Our first born was only 3 months old when we were home invaded by the Cartel in our apartment. They home invaded every apartment in the building. We were held at gun-point by 3 armed men. Everything of value, which wasn’t much at the time was stolen, but we are thankful none of us were physically hurt although the psychological trauma stayed with me for years.
I suffered from PTSD. I was angry…very angry at the perpetrators. I re-lived the moment every single day in my mind asking myself:
What should I have done differently?
Could Peter and I have avoided it?
I tried to live the best I could, why did this happen to me?
I was suspicious of everyone all the time. I was on-edge about the smallest things. My heart would race at every sound in the middle of the night. I lost my sense of safety within my own home. I had insomnia. I struggled to pray. I had a little baby and struggled to stay present for her. When I went into a trance-like state, deep in thought re-living the event, re-living the fear, everything and everyone else disappeared. I would lose awareness of my husband and baby and be trapped in a state of fear. I wanted to blame someone, anyone, but there was no one to blame. God simply allowed it.
For those fearful moments in time, Satan had won. He conquered my every thought and feeling. He conquered days, weeks, months, and years after the event itself.
What happened? One minute I was this faithful and prayerful human being and the next minute I’m a blubbering mess of doubt, fear, anger, and regret.
I thought I had lost it…but in reality, God was revealing to me how little my faith in God had really been – if it was even there at all. Chances are, my sense of security was 99% faith in myself, and only 1% faith in God. I realized my sense of control was a part of the fallacy I was secretly living with.
We prime ourselves for sin with our capacity to live outside the present moment and stay within the confines of our little minds. Listening to the little messages in our heads that the evil one plays over and over again is one of the subtle ways we move outside the present moment where God dwells.
What does it mean to meet God in the present moment?
In my story, it was clear I was not in the presence of God during fearful times. Sure, God was physically present since He is in all created things. Myself, being part of His creation should be always present to God but since we are created with intelligence, or mind, and a “will,” I have a choice. It was obvious I was not present to my family. Although they were physically present to me, I was not spiritually present to them. When my mind was consumed with fear, my family might as well not have been there at all.
As Father John Hardon, points out in many of his writings, being in the presence of God requires a relationship between ourselves and God. Having an “awareness” is simply not enough. If I take my daughters to the park and they go off to play, I can be aware they are physically there. But if I’m on my phone the entire time and fail to have a relationship exchange, such as play with them, talk with them, or show affection, I might as well not be there. I can argue that it counts to be there to make sure they don’t get hurt, to pick them up if they fall, but that’s not a relationship, that’s a one-way transaction. A stranger can pick up a child who’s fallen without having a relationship. But a stranger cannot exchange trust, love, respect, and deep abiding regard for the other without a relationship.
From my observations, to be in the presence of God means having the willingness to make a concerted effort to think of God in a loving way by lifting-up of the heart and mind to the one who is always gazing at us with Love. We must be involved in a three-fold manner – will, heart, and mind.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love? What was it like? Everyday, you wanted nothing more than to gaze into the eyes of your beloved. You listened to every word. You observed every gesture. You groveled with gratitude at every little gift you were given. At least until the honeymoon period wore off. Tough times came around, children came around, bills came around. Now all of sudden you were lucky if you didn’t have to repeat yourself 10 times to get things done around the house. You were lucky to get a please or thank you. You were lucky if you had help with the dishes once in a while.
This is where you had to strengthen your “will” to show your love for the other. Now you really had to make deliberate efforts to listen, communicate, forgive, make happy memories, and be of service to each other.
It’s the same with our relationship with God. God doesn’t stop loving us in the most intense way. Even when we fail to think of Him, He is ever present in the Eucharist. He is ever willing to shepherd us when we’re lost. Ever willing to forgive his prodigal children.
Are we always present to God? Yes. Is God always present to us? No.
What are some obstacles that prevent us from living in the “here-and-now?”
Acedia or Spiritual Sloth. What is acedia? Sometimes we think of it as slowness to get something done. But it’s actually doing everything else except the one thing I should be doing. It’s called Acedia but St. Thomas Aquinas called it Sloth. Antidote from Fr. Mike Schmitz is to stop yourself and do that thing you’re supposed to do such as pray instead of going around doing other things. Jesus was a perfect example. Then ask yourself, “how can I love well in this moment, in this place as Christ loved?”
Buying-in to the Worldly “Belief in Oneself” rather than Poverty of Spirit. Remedy this by taking St. Therese of Lisieux’s advice, she said, “Jesus has chosen to show me the only way which leads to the Divine Furnace of love; it is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing, in its father’s arms.”
Inconsistent Prayer Life. Make prayer your priority. Set aside time to pray.
Dryness in Prayer. Stay perseverant and push through dryness in prayer. What is dryness? It’s a lack of consolation in prayer. Consolations do not necessarily you have a greater degree of God’s favor and not having consolations doesn’t mean you’ve fallen in disfavor.
Mental Noise and Distractions in Prayer. This is normal and everyone experiences this. Falling asleep during prayer falls into this realm. Some things you can do is to pray first thing in the morning or do a calming activity before prayer.
Pre-occupation with Self. Being preoccupied with your own feelings, family, worries, short-comings, sinfulness, financial issues, work, etc., are all ploys to take your attention away from God.
Spiritual Gluttony. Sometimes we fall into spiritual gluttony and begin disproportionately reading spiritual books, attending retreats, taking on too many volunteer opportunities. We tend to convince ourselves that these things can take the place of having a relationship with God.
Catholic Servants how does living in the present moment benefit our vocation? What can happen if we do not?
*Praise God in all things
*Seek refuge in God in times of trial – childlike trust in the Lord
*Be joyful in our vocation
*Be ready to forgive our transgressors, including ourselves
*Be able to recognize Christ in the eyes of the poor
Here are some things we can do better our capacity to be in God’s Presence…
Practice Mental Prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
Connie Rossini wrote the Q and A Guide to Mental Prayer states, “Teresa sees two aspects to mental prayer: sharing with a friend (remembering that this Friend is far above you, but nevertheless calls you into an intimate relationship with himself); and time set aside specifically to be alone with God. The word mental signifies that this prayer comes from your own mind, rather than being written down by some-one else, as in vocal prayer. It is usually a silent prayer, but does not always have to be (see Question 11). When you spend time with a friend, you do not usually recite to him or her someone else’s words about friendship. When you spend time with a spouse, you don’t usually read Shakespeare’s sonnets to that person. Instead, you speak from the heart. You know you can share your deepest self with your com-panion, because you love one another and will not reject each other. The time you spend together draws you even closer. Some authors include both meditation and contemplation in the term mental prayer, which is the way it is used in this book.18 Other authors use the term mental prayer as a synonym for meditation.
Since mental prayer is a sharing, you should expect God to reveal himself in some way to you as well. In fact. John of the Cross said that all true prayer brings an increase in knowledge of God. In meditation, God primarily reveals himself through Scripture and the truths of the Faith. In contemplation, he gives an experiential knowledge of him-self that you cannot put into words.”
Philippians 4:6-8 Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
Psalm 9:2-3 I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds. I will delight and rejoice in you; I will sing hymns to your name, Most High.
Psalm 16:8-11 I keep the LORD always before me; with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure, For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one see the pit. You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.
CCC # 2697-2699
Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life in the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart: “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.” But we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration.
The Tradition of the Church proposes to the faithful certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer. Some are daily, such as morning and evening prayer, grace before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours. Sundays, centered on the Eucharist, are kept holy primarily by prayer. The cycle of the liturgical year and its great feasts are also basic rhythms of the Christian’s life of prayer.
The Lord leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and each believer responds according to his heart’s resolve and the personal expressions of his prayer. However, Christian Tradition has retained three major expressions of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. They have one basic trait in common: composure of heart. This vigilance in keeping the Word and dwelling in the presence of God makes these three expressions intense times in the life of prayer.
Cathechism of the Catholic Church
Father John Hardon