I stood in the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker in O’Neill Hall—my home for the four years I spent as a Notre Dame undergrad—and stared at the small wooden statues depicting the Stations of the Cross that hung on the wall. Usually when someone mentions Stations of the Cross, my mind immediately returns to Lenten Friday afternoons at St. Joseph Elementary School where the cycle of standing, genuflecting, listening, and reading felt like it went on for hours on end. This experience at Stations, though, was quite different. A lot weighed heavily upon me—academic stresses, concerns with being a Resident Assistant, trying to help friends through changes in their lives, and the uncertainty that came with graduation. While I now can pinpoint some of the causes of these feelings of stress, at the time I could not, and so I tried to dismiss my feelings and to convince myself that I was merely creating a drama in my own mind. And yet, while I recognized that these were natural things for a college student to worry about, I came to question whether the feelings of stress I was experiencing were even worth offering up to God in my prayers.
Even though I felt alone and could not escape these emotionally and physically exhausting feelings of stress, I waited before turning to God for help. I kept telling myself that people all over the world suffer in far worse ways, from far worse things than I was in this moment, and I never expected to feel so downtrodden because of a few stressful things on my mind. I think I always believed that I would hit this kind of a low point in my life due to a more dramatic event, and only then would it be acceptable for me to turn to God for help. To add to this, I like to solve my problems on my own terms, especially without involving or concerning others. But as I continued to pray the Stations on that Friday afternoon, the reflection on the Fifth Station—Simon of Cyrene Helps to Carry the Cross—was read aloud, and it said that “through the helping hands of our neighbors and through Your grace, we also are not left alone to bear our crosses.” In this moment, I realized that I did not need to bottle up these feelings and resolve them on my own. In this moment, God spoke to me and his grace strengthened me to look beyond myself, towards my family and friends, for help and guidance.
Immediately after Stations, I went to my friend Chris and tried to explain to him how I felt, but it wasn’t easy. One of the first things I said to him was, “I don’t expect you to be able to solve this, but I just need to get this off my chest.” As I think back on our conversation, I imagine that I was just going on and on while trying to say everything that I had been rehearsing beforehand over and over in my mind. I tried to pinpoint the cause for the way I was feeling, but I couldn’t. I tried to play off my emotions as silly and miniscule in the grand scheme of things, but I couldn’t. I don’t know if anything I said in those few minutes made much sense, but when I finally stopped talking, I felt a great relief and was met by just what I needed—reassurance.
Chris reassured me that what I was feeling was normal and that it was okay that I could not resolve these feelings on my own. He listened to everything I said and offered me comforting advice in my moment of weakness. Instead of always trying to be strong for others and to help them solve their problems, Chris told me that there are times when I need to embrace my vulnerability and be weak. He also pushed me to turn to God for guidance through prayer. Chris’ words still resonate with me, as his two pieces of advice have formed the foundation of a beautiful truth that I have come to appreciate—the strength that comes from being vulnerable.
When I think back on this conversation, I now realize and appreciate how actively God was working through Chris. Empowered by God’s grace, Chris provided me with the support that I needed to accept these feeling of stress and to embrace the looming changes in my life with the knowledge that God always will be with me. I learned that there is strength to be found in moments of vulnerability and this strength comes from God. While my pride told me to bottle up my emotions and try to resolve my worries on my own, it was in humbling myself, praying, and turning to others for help that I found the comfort that I was seeking in God. I learned that I should not try to predetermine which prayers of mine should or should not be offered to God. He is there to help us at all times, in times of strength and in times of weakness, and he knows that these peaks and valleys take different forms in each person’s life.
This prayer experience at Stations of the Cross and the following conversation with my friend Chris helped me to appreciate my family and friends as instruments of God’s grace. They remind me of the reflection I heard during Stations: “We are not left alone to bear our crosses.” As I move forward into this new phase of my life, I must remember that, just as Simon of Cyrene was there to help Christ carry his cross on the road to Calvary, my family and friends, empowered by God’s grace, are there to help me in times of worry and stress. I just need to turn to God for the strength to be weak and vulnerable.
Matthew Metzinger is a 2015 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a former Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015).