Categories
Alison W Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sacred Scripture Saints Spiritual Growth

The Eyes of Suffering

The Eyes of Suffering

In the world, you will have hardship” (John 16:33). That’s a statement from Jesus, our loving Savior. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we suffer. We should expect it.

Poor Job described it so well “my eyes will never see joy”(Job 7:7).

We need not look far to stare suffering in the eye, and many times we only need a mirror. Suffering is a part of this life.

We see suffering in the eyes of the mother of a stillborn, the father of an addict, the scared abandoned child, the broken-hearted widow, the exhausted young mother, and the depressed single father. The eyes of the undisclosed addict, the wounded adulteress, the rejected hungry beggar, and the scoffed at Christian all tell a different story. The eyes of the tormented of obsessive thoughts, the pregnant teenager, the nursing home ridden elder, the stunned family of a house fire, and the cancer patient all mirror a similarity. The eyes of the worried mother, the misunderstood son, the secret porn addict, the emotional teenager, the diabetic, the lonely husband, and the pain-ridden elderly all have suffering in common. All of us, every single one has some sort of suffering.      

Something that has always been a place of comfort to me is to offer this suffering to Jesus. This mystical way of willingly offering our suffering is to share in the suffering of our Lord. We must carry our own crosses in this life. It’s ok if we stumble under the weight; our own Lord stumbled under his cross. Much redemption comes from suffering. The saints loved suffering.

They have left us with many writings to encourage us on this journey:

It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross, who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul. Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord are faithful. (1508) – St. Faustina

When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly. – St. Sebastian Valfre

Trials are sent to some so as to take away past sins, to others so as to eradicate sins now being committed, and to yet others so as to forestall sins which may be committed in the future. These are distinct from the trials that arise in order to test men in the way that Job was tested. – St. Maximos the Confessor

In suffering love and in loving, suffer! – Blessed Maria Lopez of Jesus

We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials. – St. Teresa of Avila

We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. – Saint Vincent de Paul

He longs to give us a magnificent reward. He knows that suffering is the only means of preparing us to know Him as He knows Himself, and to become ourselves divine. – St. Therese of Lisieux

We Find Suffering in Scripture

2 Corinthians 1:5 – For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives; so too does the encouragement we receive through Christ.

Philippians 3:8-10 – Yes, I will go further: because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I count everything else as loss. For him I have accepted the loss of all other things, and look on them all as filth if only I can gain Christ and be given a place in him, with the uprightness I have gained not from the Law, but through faith in Christ, an uprightness from God, based on faith, that I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being moulded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Wherefore, so that I should not get above myself, I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself. About this, I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me; but he has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.’It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions, and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.

Romans 2:3 – 5 Not only that; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

1 Peter 5 – Keep sober and alert, because your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that it is the same kind of suffering that the community of your brothers throughout the world is undergoing. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will restore you, he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts forever and ever. Amen.

It is easier to look back on suffering than to walk through it. It is without a doubt where we grow and change. It is without a doubt a part of every human in this walk of life. It is in moments of raw suffering that we are able to put these scripture passages and saintly words into action. It is in times when we hurt that we are becoming more like Christ. We are learning to pull ourselves through the suffering and are better able to lend a hand to help others through the suffering.

Jesus also said, “but be courageous, I have conquered the world.” So we have hope in our suffering. We should expect it, but we will not be defeated by it.

Job’s life was transformed into something wonderful that stands as a testament to suffering for all of us.

We have the loving option to reach to our loving Jesus. We have the option to let His grace shine on us. We have the option to let this suffering change us and help us to be more Christ-like.  

Today we will suffer, but tomorrow we look with hope to be with our loving Lord.

So today, let us suffer well.  

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth Susie

Letting Go of the Good for God

A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog as we do most days. Walking her is one of my favorite things to do, both because I get to enjoy some time with her doing something that makes us both happy and because it’s a consistent motivation to make sure I’m outside for at least a little while every day.

This particular evening, however, things took a scary turn.

As we were walking, I heard the sound of motors coming from what I thought was the nearby neighborhood. The sound kept getting closer and closer, and I finally turned to see two guys coming up behind me on four-wheelers. The first one passed me without incident, but as the second started to pass me, I realized that it wasn’t aimed straight on the path but was coming towards us at an angle – and by the time I noticed the direction it was going, the four-wheeler was just inches away from my dog, and was not slowing down.

As a single 30-something, I admit to being more attached to my dog than I probably should be, but she’s my baby right now. (Note: I do not consider dogs equal to children, at all, but my dog *is* important to me.) I got her when she was around a year old, after she had been found as a stray. Once I brought her home, it took us both a little bit of time to warm up to each other – I had never gotten a dog that wasn’t a puppy before, and she needed to get used to having a real home and security. Now, eight years later, she has helped me get through lots of tough times, and she is one of the most precious things to me. I hate the thought of losing her, though that’s pretty much part of the agreement when you get a pet. (Despite my pleadings to God to let her live as long as me, I don’t think he’s going to say yes.)

You might be able to imagine, then, what was going through my mind when I saw that she was about to be hit by that four-wheeler. I was sure, when I lost sight of her as it reached her, that my dog was going to be mangled at best when it came to a stop. To my surprise, she came right out from under the four-wheeler on her own, shaking, scared, and covered in dirt, but still alive. It took me a few moments to check her over as I was in shock at what had just happened, and to see that somehow she had no obvious damage anywhere. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she appeared fine, though very shaken.

After a precautionary trip to the emergency vet, where they looked her over and gave her the diagnosis of being a very lucky pup, we were back home and the worst was over. I kept a close eye on her throughout the weekend, but by the next morning you wouldn’t have known anything had happened to her. I couldn’t understand how she had made it out without a scratch, but obviously God had arranged the situation just so perfectly so that she didn’t have any injuries and I didn’t have to lose her yet. I’m sure that if any number of factors were just slightly different in that moment or anything had been off by just an inch in any direction, things would have turned out much differently.

You would think I would have been able to stay in that place of gratitude for the gift she is to me after knowing it all could have gone so much worse, but (much like the Israelites, with whom I identify more often and more deeply than I’d like to) it didn’t take me long to start complaining to God that she would, eventually, die. The past year especially has been tough, and having my dog around has helped keep me sane. The more I appreciate the joy and peace she brings me, though, the more I know how much it will hurt when she dies. Sometimes I wonder, if God showed up and asked me to let go of her right now, would I willingly say yes to him? If I did say yes, would I resent him for taking one of my biggest joys? What if it were one of my family members, instead of just my dog? Could I still love God as much if he took one of them away suddenly?

A couple of days later, the Gospel reading included the lines from Matthew:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Ok, God, I hear you.

My dog isn’t the same as a human family member, of course, but I do have to make sure that I’m not loving her – or anyone/anything – more than I should. I need to make sure she and anything else in my life isn’t placed higher than God at any given moment – even things that are good and are blessings from God. I always have to check myself to make sure that my relationship with him is the most central thing in my life, even if he’s saying no to a deep desire of my heart. I imagine that if I am someday blessed with a husband and children, it will be many times harder to keep my relationship with God in perspective. Without him, I am and have nothing.

God has given me everything I have, and has been there for me in my sorrows, and will always be there. I have to remind myself that Jesus is all I ever truly need. We all have sorrows we’ve experienced, or are experiencing – maybe it’s not the death of a family member, but maybe it’s a chronic painful illness, or a long-held dream that is now impossible – and in the midst of those times it’s important to remember to place God first, and remember that he works all things to our good, even the worst things that make the least sense.

It can be easy to take God’s presence for granted when we have other great relationships in our lives. When something bad happens to someone we care about, it’s easy to blame God and question him, even to lose faith. But those are the moments we have to cling to God even tighter, especially when we want to push him away.

Being a Christian (and a human) means we’re guaranteed to have crosses, to feel heartache, to say painful goodbyes. Being a follower of Jesus means we have the tools to get through this life, the heartaches, the suffering. Sometimes that tool is the very cross we’re asked to carry – even if that cross is the loss of something we hold so dear, something that hurts so much to give up or to say goodbye to that it seems impossible we’ll ever be ok again. But Jesus has promised that he is there in those moments to hold us up when we can’t hold ourselves up. We just need to be willing to let him.