Sunday, April 20, 2014

A new beginning

I really feel like I failed at lent this year. At this time last year, I was still attending daily mass and twice monthly confession. I attended my first Easter Vigil. My spiritual life felt like it was soaring.

Then life hit me with a whole new kind of suffering- my marriage was literally falling apart, the pain and isolation of infertility was at an all-time high, and I felt myself pulling away from God.

It wasn't a conscious decision. I've of course kept up with the minimum required of me as a Catholic but haven't been obedient to that ever-present call to love greater- to love better.

Before the pain of infertility, I used to beg God for my husband's conversion. I would pray every day that he would let me suffer for the good of my husband's soul.

Then infertility hit and I thought, "I can handle this," then some really awful events which threatened the very existence of our marriage, then more sickness and more surgery. And I thought, "I don't know if I can handle this. Please no more, God."

I went from walking toward Christ atop a stormy sea to fighting desperately to keep my head above water while letting the current pull me in the opposite direction of my goal.

At the core of holiness is the call to love. In many ways I let holiness drift out of reach this year as I told God, "no." "I won't go to daily mass. I won't spend that extra time in prayer. I don't want any more of this suffering."

Easter reminds us that despite all there is to fear, we will overcome. Jesus didn't just get-by. He literally over-came sin and death. If I want to stop treading water, if I want to share in the resurrection, I need to allow Christ to suffer in me.

How in the world will I find the strength to accept anymore suffering?

I need a paradigm shift.

We live in a world that wants to dismiss suffering. A world that tells us "it really isn't that bad." A world that leaves us yearning for more, as it responds to our deepest pain with empty platitudes like, "everything happens for a reason." And at the same time this world tells us suffering is the ultimate evil. Evidence of this is everywhere: euthanasia, aborting babies with disabilities or who will grow up poor, constant encouragement to do what "feels" good, the "conscious uncoupling" of love from sacrifice- the list is endless. This world tells us to avoid suffering at all costs and paradoxically tells us to deny the reality of suffering when it cannot be avoided. This is the perfect recipe for confusion and meaninglessness.

Even as Catholics serious about following church teaching, it's all but impossible to totally avoid the influence of the times. While we may know that suffering has divine purpose, we're caught between this world and the next. We can't find meaning in suffering if we deny it's reality. We can't find meaning in suffering if we're focused on running away from it.

“It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.”

- Pope Benedict XVI

So my plan is to tell this world they've got it wrong. I am suffering. I don't need to feel bad about acknowledging that. Acknowledging reality doesn't mean I'm seeking attention. Let's stop requiring one and other to minimize the hurt and the pain while telling each other we can find meaning it.

Can you imagine if the John had turned to Mary at the foot of the cross and said, "there, there, everything happens for a reason?!"

Of course not! Suffering has meaning but its meaning comes in part from staying present in the reality of our circumstances- from staying at the foot of the cross.

No matter what your cross, stop denying it. Stop minimizing the crosses of others. We are "walking through the valley of the shadow of death." God does give us more than we can handle. And yet we "fear no evil" because Christ has overcome all the ugliness of this world.

"Because he has overcome, we shall overcome."


  1. As you can probably guess from my post about Good Friday, I completely agree with everything you say here =) That's really perceptive - the world wants to both deny suffering and avoid it at all costs. How different from the life of faith: "take up your cross." Have you read Fr. Jacques Phillipe's book "Interior Freedom"? The Benedict quote you shared here reminds me of it - there's a fantastic section on what it means to acknowledge and accept suffering.

    Praying for you in your new beginning!

    1. I haven't read that book. I will check it out! I think I've heard of it before. Yes, you're Good Friday post was dead on! Thank you for your prayers:-)

  2. This is beautiful, thank you for this reflection and challenge!

  3. A beautiful reflection! I absolutely needed to hear this. Thank you, L!

  4. These are such true words. It is perfectly OK to say (heck, shout!), "This hurts! This sucks! I'm not enjoying this!" while at the same time doing our very best to trust in Him and hope for a time when this doesn't hurt or suck.

    1. Amen! Thank you for your comment, Chella!

  5. I love the image of John turning to Mary and saying "Everything happens for a reason." (Though that would have been the Apostle John; John the Baptist had died previously [at least I think that's the right time line]).

    I recently had a conversation with my mother, who is a Protestant, about the value of suffering. I'm not sure I got through, but it helped me to voice it.

    1. You're right, Stephanie! Thank you for the correction. 17 years of Catholic education and I mess that up! Whooops! That's wonderful you were able to talk to your mom and voice some things! If you're up for sharing more, I'd be interested to know more about how it went.

  6. Oh how I feel for you in this post. You are so so right, we should not have to sweep our suffering under the is too big for that, anyway. "Acknowledging reality doesn't mean I'm seeking attention," an excellent point that I find it hard to articulate! You are embracing your cross with dignity and courage. It is inspiring to read. Prayers for your and your family, that God heals these wounds and delivers to you the peace that only He can bring.

    1. Thank you, E! I really appreciate your feedback. You are too kind. Praying for you too!

  7. I love this post! I think you are right on the money.