05/02/2014 10:52 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Defending the Defenseless Is Wisdom to Thrive

I have been a spiritual seeker for many years and from much reading, I not only thrive but have met the most wonderful and talented people in the world. Recently, I had the privilege of learning even more from Arianna Huffington's incredible book Thrive, which touched me in a way no other book I've read has. After reading Thrive, I was elated that one of the world's most influential women, Arianna, redefines success, money and power -- all of which she believes are founded on well-being, wisdom, wonder, compassion and giving. They have truly been the key principles and values credited to how I lived successfully for the past 25 years, and it was thrilling to see these principles spelled out so wonderfully in Arianna's words. Thrive is without a doubt the richest collection of researched science, wisdom and compelling life stories that our world needs to see. There is a message for every one of us -- whether we're down to our last dollar, counting our millions or going to the next level of greater achievement. As Arianna shows, we will not thrive unless we use these higher principles and values in our daily lives. Although my wake-up call was quite different than Arianna's, I believe we all come to this same place at one time or other. I am most grateful to share my story.

My journey began at the age of 26 when I lived through the most traumatic month that forever changed my life. First, I lost my husband to cancer after a year-long battle that cost us our home, which we had to sell to pay for his trip to Mexico in search of a cure. As if I didn't already feel completely alone, imagine my devastation when my beloved mother died in her sleep only one month later. The two people I held dearest were suddenly gone, and soon I was homeless, with a 5-year-old daughter depending on me to take care of us before moving back into my parent's house with five younger siblings. During that awful time, I struggled and prayed. And without Mom, my father completely lost the will to live. He could do nothing for himself or for anyone else, that's how deeply he was grieving. It was complete chaos, and nothing was right without Mom. She'd brought the light of the living God to all 17 of us, and she had always guided each of us in whatever way we needed. We were now a family of eight, including Dad, my daughter and myself, and each of us was grieving. Five of my siblings were still living at home when Mom died. This meant that her youngest kids who were still living with her, between the ages of 16 and 22, felt Mom's loss even more deeply than the rest of us. It was obvious how profoundly my younger sister and brothers had depended on Mom, compared with the others who were married with families of their own. Nobody outside that house could understand what lost souls we all were, and if I hadn't been living there at the time, I may have been as blind to how hard it was for them.

During my journey of hardship and sorrow, which I blamed on the world around me, I prayerfully searched for answers. I was lost and looked for ways to endure my overwhelming problems, and I observed my family and friends to see how they coped with tragedies like mine -- which I was having such trouble overcoming. They seemed to handle their grief so much better, perhaps distracted by their busy careers or else by distancing themselves from anyone who would bring down their spirits. I realize now, they simply were better grounded, having spouses or family members they were close with and could rely on to give them a sense of security or foundation that my younger siblings and I lacked.

My own suffering was compounded by the strain of trying to support my younger sister and brothers, who all looked so lost. Each of them was struggling and in dire need of help, and I reached out to them in any way I could. I surely could relate to what they were going through; we were basically dealing with the same level of loss. I felt a deep need to take care of them, and I found that as I did so, my heart, mind and spirit began to be soothed. This gave me a bit of joy, as that lonely feeling of separation began to diminish and I felt slightly more grounded. Before I had shifted my focus away from myself and onto them, I could barely function; but the more I did for the kids, the better I began to feel. At last, I was starting to heal.

This was the valuable lesson I learned: To transform our own suffering, we must have compassion for others and act on it. It is the only way to heal. We will not come into our own authentic power as grace-filled human beings until we first are able to give ourselves to others. Perhaps, we would not have to live through such great tragedies if we opened our hearts with love the way God intended. But until we learn to rely and depend on God as our foundation, we will continue to come to grief as lost souls.

During the day, while I was at work, my dad, sister and brothers found it hard to deal with even the simplest things on their own. Life was by no means getting better; in fact, it was turning into chaos. Without Mom, there were no dinners waiting for us, no freshly washed clothing and no welcoming warm home she'd always had ready for us. We missed seeing her light up when we came in and her smile that had always warmed our hearts. Realizing how the whole household was struggling, I offered to quit my job to stay at home and take care of the rest of the family. But Dad, in his infinite wisdom, told me that working was good for me and that I should stay at my job. By then, I had gone back to work as a hairstylist, and the people I worked for were very kind and understanding about my situation. Their compassion helped me feel supported when I needed it most, and I was glad to keep working there, but still, I felt torn over not being home to take care of my daughter and my younger sister and brothers.

Meanwhile, I tried my best to contain my sorrow. And rather than closing off my emotions, I learned to go within and ask God for comfort and help in understanding the meaning of what I was going through. For the first time in my life, I was learning to take time to pray, and I trusted that I would be guided to the answers I needed. I began to see that the same compassion I sought was exactly what I needed to give to others. When we give what we need to others, we are healed.

I found that the more I gave, the more I had to give, and I prayed that I wouldn't bring negativity to those around me. I didn't want them to feel responsible for my crises, which were beyond anyone's control. Staying positive and seeking God's guidance helped me focus on helping my father and the kids, letting me feel empathy for them rather than having them feel sorry for me. By not complaining about my plight to everyone around me, I was able to seek understanding from God. And when I stopped crying, I eventually attained a greater sense of peace, assurance and an awareness of God's presence.

Fortunately, I'd learned a valuable secret on my journey, and that is this: To be happy in this life, you must give whatever it is you want for yourself to everyone else. Give them in the spirit of love and compassion, in the spirit of health and wealth and in the spirit of joy -- without exception. Pass no judgments, and always give thanks to God for everything in your life. Do this and you will get back whatever you give to others, all in God's perfect order.

Having practiced this way of life for so many years, today, my spirit is full of love and joy. And in that same spirit, I want to gratefully share how the power of prayer can transform each of our lives, if we only give it a chance.

Catherine Nagle grew up in Philadelphia with 16 brothers and sisters, reared by loving, old school Italian parents. Catherine's artist father's works graced locations from churches to public buildings; her mother was a full-time homemaker. A professional hairdresser, Catherine worked in various salons while studying the Bible and pursuing spiritual growth through courses, seminars, lectures and inspirational books, including A Course in Miracles and the works of Marianne Williamson among many others. The mother of two children and a grandmother, Catherine lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. She is the author of Imprinted Wisdom.