Visiting Florence, Italy, was a sensory overload for me. Every corner held an exotic sight — museums filled with priceless works of art, a 14th-century shrine to Mary tucked under the eaves of a building, The Duomo, an architectural triumph swathed in pink and green marble, or a gelato shop with mountains of delicious color begging to be eaten.
The city could be overwhelming. I worried I’d eat something that would make me sick. I worried I’d eat too much and get fat. I worried my two young sons would get run over by one of the motorcycles that zipped through the narrow streets. I worried I’d lose them, carried away by a crowd I couldn’t communicate with, never to be seen again.
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One Sunday, our family attended Mass at Orsanmichele, a tiny, nearly 1,000-year-old church. The Firenze Marathon was held that very morning and made for a lively walk to Mass. The usually crowded streets were barricaded between runners and spectators, making them even more congested. My husband led us in a sprint across streets whenever there was a break between the runners as people shouted “Avanti!”, “Forward!”. It was hard to tell if they were yelling at us or the runners.
There were just a few of us at Mass that morning, perhaps 30 in all. As the bells rang, the priest ran in, glistening and out of breath. He gave what I assumed were apologies in Italian as he rushed to the sacristy to change into his vestment. I watched him peek out and nod to the organist to begin. He was still winded as he led us in the Sign of the Cross.
As I bowed my head for prayer, I became completely disoriented. The structure of the liturgy was the same, but in Italian, a language I do not speak, I found myself lost. We could hear the marathon crowds outside the church. On one side, someone was clanging a noisemaker in regular intervals. On the other, a professional cheerleader led the crowd in a series of chants and claps. It felt as if the doors of the church might burst open and the race would continue down the center aisle.
Between the language barrier and the noise outside, it was difficult to find something for my mind to hold on to—especially when I wanted so desperately to experience God in this city, this church, and in my own restless soul.
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And then, out of nowhere, a small giggle began to form, growing to a chuckle. I attempted to hide my laughs from my family, not wanting to distract them. I was beginning to see how ridiculous I was being about my worries on this trip. You see, there were some things I just couldn’t control. I couldn’t control the crowds or speeding motorcycles. I couldn’t control the marathon runners or learn Italian overnight or tell the man with the noisemaker outside to stop having so much fun. It felt as if God was showing me, in some sort of extreme (and very loud) farce, what I was doing with the entire trip. I was spending too much time worrying about things that might go wrong and trying to control every situation.
I needed to surrender to him.
And despite my best efforts to miss out, God was being kind and loving toward me. He was showing me, giving me, all these beautiful experiences. And I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy them.
Parishioners in the church reached out for hands and began to pray “Padre Nostro.” And with those words, I knew where we were in the liturgy. The familiar and comforting cadence of the “Our Father” filled the sanctuary, drowning out the crowds outside.
Only by depending on God, giving up control, and trusting that he would provide for us each day, would I be able to enjoy this trip. It would be difficult, but clearly, I couldn’t do it on my own. I clasped hands with my family and began praying the words I’d hold onto for the rest of the trip: “Give us today our daily bread.”