What size straightjacket?

I have had quite a bit of downtime in this month between graduation from seminary and ordination to the priesthood. While this has been a happy occasion to catch up on sleep and Law & Order:SVU, it has also produced a surplus of mental energy that is no longer being poured into my thesis and papers. Any of my friends could tell you that I think too much, especially about relationships. And when I have the time to think too much, my mind develops every choice, every scenario, every possible combination of what could go right and will go wrong to every logical and illogical conclusion.

In the last two years of seminary, I had few opportunities and even less time for my brain to engage in such frivolous and ultimately useless exercises. But now that formal studies have concluded, my mind wondered what to do with the extra horsepower. Without a relationship with a woman to examine, deconstruct, extrapolate, and fret about, my mind turned to my relationship with God.

As such, in the last month, I have had a few minor anxiety attacks, a couple small bouts of existential dread, and even a dark afternoon of the soul.* Am I ready? Is this really what I want to devote my life to? What about all the other things I could do? How huge is this commitment? Am I committed? Should I be committed? I wonder what size straightjacket I’d wear? My mind climbed the ladders to these lofty questions, and then it found a chute and jumped headfirst. The lofty questions mingled with the old set of relationship questions, and my mind ventured down all the well worn paths it has trod before, all the parallel universes in which I didn’t say this or did recognize that warning sign or missed an opportunity or or or…

Then I realized that all my dread and neuroses were misplaced. When did my relationship with God start mirroring my relationships with women? Now, this is nothing new: the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures often compared God’s relationship with Israel to a marriage, sometimes favorably, sometimes not so much. But, in those comparisons, God was always faithful–it was the people of Israel who broke the covenant and went after false gods. My dread came from confusing mine and God’s parts in the story. In my neurotic imaginings, God played the part of the leaver in the relationship. I was the faithful one, the stalwart. But that’s not how it is. The only thing that keeps me going in a world that seems full of leavings, full of broken relationships, is the faith that God will never leave, will never break a relationship. What a revelation.

My ordination is in five days. You might think it strange that someone about to be ordained to the priesthood seems just to be figuring out that God is here to stay. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve realized it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I need to. But faith is about remembering to remember. It’s easy to lose sight of God’s promises because life is built on those promises. Over time, they blend into the landscape. Small bouts of existential dread and dark afternoons of the soul jar me into remembering to remember those promises.

At the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Lord, help me remember that you are in this relationship for good. Help me remember that my neuroses aren’t going to scare you away. Help me be in this relationship with you.

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