This Lent has become strange for us all due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some of us are frightened. Many are feeling restless. All of us are uncertain about the future. But I am certain most of us are praying diligently.
My family had an uneasy beginning to our Lent. During a separation between the rest of my family and me, I learned some important lessons about continuing to petition, trust. and thank God amid fear and apprehension.
On Ash Wednesday I flew to Idaho to honor my nana who had passed away. It was impossible for my dad, Nana’s youngest son, to be there. And none of my siblings could make it to our paternal grandmother’s funeral. I knew my presence in representing my dad’s side of the family was important.
But I had severe anxiety leading up to my trip. I hate leaving my family. I worried about my children’s safety during my absence. I worried about my youngest having a family member or friend waiting to meet him when he got off the bus in the afternoon, though I had made arrangements for that. I worried that the plane might go down, and my children would be left without a mother, and I wouldn’t see them again in this life. I worried I would bring the coronavirus home somehow.
Traveling without my husband and children amplifies my fears, exaggerating causes for concern into certain calamities.
I prayed for days to gain peace.
In the very early morning of Ash Wednesday, I sat on the plane praying the Rosary, waiting for it to take off.
But it did not.
The pilot finally announced that the plane was being de-iced. It was logical, considering the temperature that morning. Yet all I could think of was an Air France plane that went down off the coast of South America long ago because ice disabled its sensors, killing all on board. During prayer my anxiety increased.
A long time passed. Then the pilot announced that the computers were malfunctioning; they were shutting down the engines to reboot them.
I heard the engines turn off and whir to a halt. My anxiety became a beast.
Behind me two men joked about the delay, wondering aloud if the computers would “malfunction” during flight.
As the wait lengthened I stopped abruptly in my prayers, imagining myself accosting the flight attendants and demanding to be let off the aircraft right now, because I have rights, and thought desperately – almost an inner yell, Father, I asked you not to let me get on this flight if something bad was going to happen!
My inner outburst was startling, as if I had poured a bucket of cold water on my mind and heart.
I struggle with anxiety. It’s not merely tied to flying. I sometimes wake up in the morning, and it comes to sit on my chest and glare at me as I attempt to combat it with reason and faith, to lessen its grip.
On that plane I felt alone and scared silly – separated from all whom I love.
But I was not. The One who loves my family and me beyond imagining was with me, though I behaved as if His Presence didn’t count amid my fear.
Ironically, just days before I had written about how my paternal grandparents, both now deceased, taught all their family that everything in life is better with Jesus, and nothing in this life can compare to the joy of being with Jesus.
But in facing my vulnerability and situations beyond my control, I sadly lacked faith in that. I didn’t want to be apart from my family. I couldn’t or wouldn’t just trust Him; my anxiety ruled me.
Still grappling with intense fear, I nevertheless began to pray again on that stationary plane, asking for mercy, exerting my will to stay close to and rely on Jesus.
Just as King David’s psalms often turned from fear and pleading to praise and rejoicing in the mercy and love of God, I attempted to make my prayer do the same.
The plane eventually took off, and after several hours I safely reached my destination.
Only late that evening did I learn that my youngest son’s Ash Wednesday was frightening and confusing, too. His usual bus driver was absent in the afternoon, and the substitute bus driver became confused on his double route. My son got off at the wrong bus stop with other children in a panic. None of the parents in our neighborhood knew where their children were or why they were so late. One of the girls with Daniel called her dad with a friend’s phone. The dad then picked up all the children, including my little guy, and brought them safely home.
Though the situation was passed, that evening I felt extreme anxiety surge again as I listened to my little son crying on the phone about how frightened he had been. With effort to put my own fear and anger aside, I calmly counseled him about how to handle the situation in future. I praised him for staying with others and doing his best under the circumstances. I told him that next time he must stay on the bus – all things his father had already said.
My cousin Jared – who does not worry as I do – reminded me following our Nana’s memorial the next evening of how our Heavenly Father counsels us in the Bible 365 times – once for each day of the year – not to be afraid.
Ash Wednesday was a long, trying day for our family. My earnest prayers had not prevented that. But God was with us, watching over us during our travails and separation. My son made it safely home from school. I made it safely home from my trip. And I did not bring the coronavirus with me.
The whole world is having tribulation right now, grappling with confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty during this Lent like no other – a Lent in which many or all of us cannot attend Mass at our parish, cannot easily receive reconciliation.
It is eerie, I know.
But I pray and hope we will all be re-energized in our commitments during this penitential period – to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s needed now more than ever.
We may be unsure. We will pray for everyone.
We may be frightened. We will sacrifice for others, offering it up, uniting it to Jesus on the cross.
We may be stuck at home. We will extend a helping hand.
No matter the conditions faced and combated during this penitential season, I have learned anew this Lent that … truly … everything we confront in life is better with Jesus.
Here is a prayer I composed as penance after Reconciliation years ago, using some of my favorite Bible verses, and I pray it often after the Rosary:
Lord Jesus, have mercy on us sinners. Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more. Forgive us our sins and give us your peace. Let not our hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. But give us your courage and guidance in all things. Amen.
What prayers do you recommend in times of trouble and uncertainty?
Copyright 2020 Hillary Ibarra
This article was originally published at CatholicMom.com and is shared here with permission.