By Mark Azzara
My Dear Friend,
I was laid low by food poisoning for a week. Thank God! It began on Easter morning and continued for the better part of six days, only relieved when a specialist provided a prescription.
It’s amazing how life changes when you can’t do anything except nap, sip seltzer, do a crossword (until your mind fuzzes over) and force yourself to drive to the doctor’s office. It’s awe-inspiring when you wake up and realize you’ve slept for the bulk of 20 straight hours.
I won’t lie to you – I loved not doing anything for a week. I was not governed by obligations, timetables, demands or expectations – not mine, yours, anyone else’s, nor even those of God. I was simply present to God for a week. I didn’t have the mental capacity to read Scripture but God was present. I didn’t have sufficient focus to pray very much but God was present. I didn’t have the capacity to serve God in any way remotely Christian, but He was nevertheless present.
I realize that God used this illness to clear my agenda so that I could see what my life could be like when I live without an agenda. I learned that, even after seven years of retirement, I still derive more of a sense of value from what I produce than from who I am – and especially who I am to God. That’s a problem – a big one.
If I derive contentment from anything other than my relationship with God, then I’m looking for it in the wrong place. And if I keep that up too long, when the time comes to find eternal contentment in God, it won’t be there because I will have pushed him out of my life completely and eternally.
I was forced to confront my heretofore unrecognized desire to leave behind a “body of work” that would be my legacy – the proof that, in this life, I was valuable. That has led me to ask myself if I would be content – thoroughly, completely content – if God were to tell me I will never write again. Not the novel I’ve dreamed about, nor the magazine article that begs to be written, nor even another letter such as this one. After a week of doing nothing and merely being present to God, I am astonished to say the answer is “yes.” And I’m almost hoping that’s what he tells me.
Writing something meaningful comes out of a life that’s meaningful. And a life that’s meaningful must have God at its center, because God gives meaning and conveys value to everyone and everything. A meaningful life is an end in itself, but until this week I never gave that truth much thought.
My illness was scary, in and of itself. What I found even scarier, however, was how easy it is to push God aside from time to time. We all make that mistake because that’s our sinful human nature. I am grateful that God made me aware of my mistake. Now I am asking him to make me more alert when I’m tempted to do that again. If you feel like praying for me, ask God to give me that awareness. And ask for it for yourself, while you’re at it.
All God’s blessings – Mark
Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, “And So Are You.” He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut.