There is something about the beginning of autumn that brings out the melancholy in me, even though I do like this season for its anticipation of Advent and Christmas. It is a time when nature says “slow down” and we tend to become more introspective, all the while the world says, “Hurry up! Only ___ shopping days until Christmas!” This is usually a busy time for our family; summer is over and we have just canned peaches and chokecherry jam. Now we pick several bushels of apples and take time to make apple sauce, apple pie filling, and spiced apple rings for the coming year. Sometimes there are pears or plums that we can preserve also. We get together with family and make our traditional red tamales to freeze for Christmas Eve. We try to make a lot so that we have some in the freezer for the next 12 months, but they never seem to last past June, if we can keep our hands off them for that long! It is a joyful, busy time.
But this time of year makes me a little sad, especially when it is a cold, cloudy day and I have not gotten enough sleep. I lack the energy I need to do the daily laundry, dishes, and meals: the work that is never ended. But God grants sunshine as well as clouds. He allows us to feel our imperfections and to experience the Ember Days in a more profound way, perhaps, than at other times of the year. We learn, if we are willing, to rely solely on Him. When the sun shines, the day seems to sparkle, with red and gold leaves and sometimes frost: the coming of winter is evident.
For the first time since I have been a mother, I am not homeschooling my children. Seven of the ten are attending a local charter school, and I am at home with the three youngest, who are not yet old enough to go to school with their brothers and sisters. It would seem that I should feel more free, and have more time to run errands, clean the house, work on projects long overdue, and even start one or two more that I have wanted to do for a few years.
But I am tired.
I do not seem to have more time now, and I need more sleep at night. I am older than I was. The coming winter is evident in the frost-colored hairs that appear little by little, and then less gradually.
But God grants sunshine as well as clouds. I feel the end of my life coming much faster than it seemed when I was young, although I have always, ever since I can remember, seen the end of my life very near. The years and decades are shorter than they were. The clouds of doubt and sorrow and sin and regret close in, and I panic, thinking I have only so many shopping days left and not enough money! The temptation to believe that I have done nothing worthwhile with my life is very strong, and I want to just fall asleep and not think about the hopelessness of it all. But then the clear, warm, saving Sun pierces my melancholy and I am suspended in the Love of God. I have time, but I must begin again now and not give up.
Thank God for good Spiritual Directors. They are sometimes the only light shining in the darkness. Mine told me recently, when I was having a hard time seeing any good in myself, “Love yourself as others love you.” That is possibly the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. He asked me to look at the successes in my life: all of my children are happy and know that their parents and God love them. The teens among them are joyful and outgoing. The little ones are thriving and confident in the love of their family. He asked me to look seriously at the way people see me, and recognize that I have allowed God to work through me my whole life. God has granted me favors that not everyone is granted. He loves me because He made me lovable. Others have always thought of me as a kind and holy person.
I always thought that those successes were all God’s, and they are, but my Spiritual Father reminded me that I had to cooperate with God in order for these things to happen.
And so, on this cloudy autumn day with amber sunshine piercing through the cold, I begin again to do the work He chose for me. That sink-full of dishes and that frozen roast thawing on the counter are my emblems. Some day they will be pictured beside me – grey hairs and all – on a holy card. In the meantime, “Jesus! MY Jesus! I trust in You!”
“Sometimes we feel tired and discouraged, just like Jesus’ disciples… ‘We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing!’ (Lk 5:5) However, nothing is lost if, in the hour of darkness, we are able to trust once again in Him, Jesus, in Whom we have placed our joy and hope.” ~Pope St. John Paul II