My Spiritual Lesson From an Ear Infection
For the past few weeks I have been struggling terribly with my ears. I picked up an ear infection while travelling for work, and it’s thrown me completely off balance, literally.
At first I didn’t notice that I wasn’t altogether well. I had a slightly sore throat but thought I’d get over it with my normal arsenal of natural products. But as my work trip progressed, I found myself getting worse.
The breaking point came during a dual-leg flight. I experienced extreme ear pain and nothing I did eased the pressure and stabbing pains inside my head. By the time I arrived at my destination, after nine hours of flying, I couldn’t hear a thing.
I was confused, dizzy and disoriented during what seemed like an interminably long drive between the airport and my hotel.
It didn’t get any better the next day or the day after that, as I struggled to hear my colleagues, or make myself intelligible while trying to deliver technical training.
In fact, I continued to feel off-balance until I finally asked to see a doctor and was given enough medication to open my own pharmacy! What had started as a sore throat had become a full blown ear infection.
As I write this, I’m still not feeling quite right, but know that if I continue to take my medication diligently, my ears will clear and the lingering infection will go away.
Why am I telling you this story? Because our spiritual lives sometimes also get thrown off balance.
We often don’t realise that we have moved away from that intimate relationship with Jesus—until something happens that knocks us off our feet.
The gradual distance between us and Christ begins with the little things. The warmth and comfort of our beds entices us to lie in a little later, and we miss out on morning prayer. It happens once, then again, and then it becomes a regular pattern.
Or it can happen when we’re just going through the motions of our daily prayer or going to Mass, but we stop being consciously aware that this is an opportunity to connect intimately with God. We finish our time of prayer or leave Mass and find ourselves completely untouched and unchanged by the experience.
Other times, enticements lead us away from our time with God, such as choosing to binge-watch a TV series over the weekend instead of setting aside some time for prayer, or missing Mass to go to a braai or a party. “It’s just this once,” we say. And before we know it, we are missing Mass regularly.
When Spiritual Health Begins to Unravel
One by one, our attachments to a life of prayer slowly begin to dissipate, and one day we wake up with the sensation that all is not well with our spiritual lives.
But still, we can’t see that the reason for this is that we’ve lost that healthy connection with Jesus. We try to find excuses — the lack of time for meaningful prayer, work and family commitments, a poor homily, a Church that no longer meets our needs, a sense that we’ve outgrown our faith.
Hopefully most of us can recognise the signs that our prayer life is slipping, and restore our time for prayer before we end up completely out of sync.
But sometimes that is precisely what happens. As our spiritual health begins to unravel, so does our capacity to remain calm in the face of difficulty. Our ability to trust in the midst of uncertainty begins to wane, and we may even begin to develop other signs of mental stress or physical illness.
When this happens, it’s a little bit like my ear infection. What started off as a slight discomfort becomes something that throws us completely off balance. Similarly, when our prayer life unravels, the rest of our lives tends to follow suit, until we find ourselves in a complete mess.
The good news is that the door is always open for us to come back. Even if we stray from the path of faithfulness, Jesus never strays from us. He is always waiting for us when we are ready to admit that we cannot continue alone and that we need his healing grace.
We can also catch ourselves before we hit rock bottom. If we have that one non-negotiable in our prayer lives, we can catch ourselves and come back into relationship with Christ.
For me, it’s Eucharistic adoration and Sunday Mass.
I know that there will be times when I will wake up late and miss my morning prayer time. There will be times when I will have been on the go from early morning to late at night, and I collapse on my bed and am asleep before I’ve even managed to give thanks for the day. There will be times when something distracts my prayer time.
But I know that on a Friday night, before the start of the weekend, I will spend an hour in adoration to give thanks for the week that has been, and to connect with my Creator through prayer, a reflection or music.
My other non-negotiable is Mass on a Sunday evening, which for me marks the start of the new week. The community worship and celebration remind me that my faith is not just personal. I use the time at Mass to pray with my fellow parishioners, to pray for those who have asked for my prayers, but also to entrust all of the unknowns and the encounters of the coming week into God’s hands.
What is your non-negotiable that helps you to continually come back to the love of God and to keep the balance of an ever deepening relationship with him?