Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Shortly after the diagnosis of my son with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I feel into a deep depression and state of spiritual despair. I was angry with God and unable to pray most days, and while I thought I should consider professional counseling, I couldn't imagine fitting one more appointment into days already packed with homeschooling, therapy visits, specialist appointments, and more. I needed something to help me make sense of the hopelessness I was feeling, and amazingly enough, I found it on a random visit to our local library.
As I wandered the shelves, looking for some form of distraction, a title jumped out at me; Arise From Darkness. I pulled the book from the shelf and read the subtitle and author's name on the cover; "What to do when life doesn't make sense, " Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR. I was amazed at how I seemed to stumble upon a book that so accurately described my current state, and was written by a well-known Catholic. I took it home and finished it within a couple days. It marked a turning point in my life, and from the moment I set the finished book down I knew I would be okay and that I was taking my first step out of the sadness and darkness that had consumed me.
In the many years since, as I read about, met, befriended, and interviewed other special needs parents this book came up more than any other as seminal step in the process of healing and acceptance. Although it contains stories and advice that are applicable to many difficult circumstances, Father Groeschel's words provide the answers many special need's parents are looking for as they struggle to understand why God's plan for their child looks nothing like what they expected.
...when things start to fall apart...take yourself to prayer. Not prayer that is going to help you tell God what to do. That's not very helpful prayer. God already knows what to do. But prayer that will reassure you that you are in the hands of God.
At under 200 pages, this paperback from Ignatius is an easy read even for parents trying to carve out a few moments of quiet time. Father Groeschel tackles the tough topics many of us will recognize from our own late night worries. From the table of contents:
Arise from Darkness
When Friends Fail
When Our Security is Threatened
When the Church Lets Us Down
When We Are Our Own Worst Enemies
When Death Robs Us
What Do We Do When Everything Falls Apart?
There is also an appendix of prayers, plus a section of additional suggested reading. Because each chapter also ends with a short meditative prayer, this book can help get you back in the routine of prayer if your present circumstances have made it hard for you to do so.
I remember as I sat in an old rocking chair next to our crackling woodstove feeling a sense of relief wash over me as I read the pages as quickly as I could. Finally, there was someone who could understand the depth of my pain. The stories in Arise From Darkness were from people who experienced something as troubling as what I was wrestling with, and as I read about their journey I finally understood I could be happy, and even hopeful again. Up to that point, I'd felt so alone in my struggle, believing that no one in my circle of friends or family could understand or do anything to lessen my mental load. But Father Groeschel offered advice that could help me, rather than leave me angry or misunderstood.
...even in the most dreadful circumstances God is working toward our salation. By prayer, by good works, by a life of dedication, by carrying the cross, one may give God the chance to bring good out of evil. It is only by a misuse of the mysterious power of the human will that we can stop God from bringing good out of evil. Isn't that what the Passion and death of Jesus Christ tells us?
Several years after I returned that library book, I found my own copy at a local thrift store. When I got home and finally opened the book to skim some pages and take notes, I noticed some markings on the title page. It was Father Groeschel's signature. It is a special part of our home library, as the folded corners and underlines attest. I cannot loan you my copy, but if you are struggling to overcome the cacophony of feelings that probably accompanied your child's medical diagnosis, I encourage you to spend time with Arise from Darkness.
Kelly Mantoan is the founder and editor of Accepting the Gift. She blogs at This Ain't the Lyceum on Fridays.