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Friday, October 2, 2015

Understanding Suffering

I've been such a fool. I don't understand suffering. I'm not sure anyone really understands suffering completely, but people like Saint John Paul II had a pretty good handle on it when he wrote his encyclical on suffering. I read that. I prayed. I talked to my dear sister and a few other people. I read Saint Giana's story when hearing her name on the radio made me cry. I prayed that Saint Giana would tell me why she made her decision to not take pain medication near the end of her life. I've been a Catholic since before the age of reason and seen countless reenactments of the passion of our Lord Jesus. I lost a child to miscarriage, and gave birth to our second without any pain medication. But through this all, I'm still all muddled up and confused about suffering.

I've had a haunting feeling the past 11 months that I didn't give birth right. Yes I declined the medication and yes our daughter was born healthy and everything was fine. Yet I had so much pain and I didn't do anything with it. I'm not happy at all to say I tried to give up near the end. Somehow it made sense that if I were to just lay there and take the pain, someone else could pull the baby out for me. Somehow I thought if I cried mercy they would shoot some pain killers into my system and take away all that pain. Instead I had to suffer through it. I had to be the one to keep moving forward even when it hurt.

There are a few things I do know about suffering. Suffering can be an effect of a poor choice made, as in a hangover after a night of drinking. It can be less well explained too, as any person quickly learns the first time they fall ill as a child, or lose someone close to them. I know of the great virtue that can come of these sufferings, personal gain. The leap of understanding that I'm still struggling with is how my suffering can be of any use to another person, as with redemptive suffering. I understand that deciding to offer the suffering up for something or someone can make the suffering sweet. In some contexts, suffering has a direct positive that can be seen, such as when a mother does not eat so that her children can have food, or does not get life saving cancer treatment to save the life of the baby in her womb instead. These sufferings are the easiest for me to understand, and I think many people would say the same. But even as I understand that, I've missed out on so much opportunity in my lifetime already because of two things I missed.

I thought that none of my suffering has been a situation of direct positive. If I have a sore neck, or stub my toe, or am exhausted from staying up too late the night before, that's my problem, or so I used to think. Being tired I didn't complain about because I figured I brought it on myself. Stubbing my toe usually is a quick pain that one loud complaint of 'ooowwwwweee' will fix, and then I can move on. A lasting sore neck just put me out of sorts, making me easily angered at other people around me and prone to complaining about my pain. But I realize now that I was wrong. My suffering isn't a personal problem, by complaining or growing angry I made it a problem for those around me as well. I can offer my action of not complaining in order to make life more pleasant for those around me. Though it will be hard to break old habits I'm willing to try.

My pride is a tricky beast. Just when I think that I'm on the heaven path again I realize with shame what an utter fool I really am. For some reason I have had myself convinced that I can't keep my suffering completely a secret; someone has to know about it. Why does someone have to know? So that they can write it in my book someday, when I become a saint. It hurts to write those words. The thought makes less sense when spoken plainly, like a dream after waking up. Somehow I got it in my head, hearing about the saints and their struggles, that if no one knows about my suffering then it will not be recorded in my life history. I also had a notion that if I complain to people maybe they'll help take away the suffering. Asking humbly for what I need would have been the right answer there, but now that I have seen this fatal and ever so foolish thought I can remove it from me and return it to the devil who sent it. I have now written this foolish thought so I can no longer pretend I don't realize the error of my ways.

So, do I understand suffering? Not most of it. Some suffering comes from sin, mine or others'. Some comes for unexplained reasons, and instead of asking why I need to trust God in His infinite wisdom. In either case, I know I have choices in how I handle my suffering. I can take it like a sandy beach takes a wave, and let it wash me away bit by bit. I can sit and take the suffering like a rock takes a wave, standing strong and silent but nevertheless becoming weathered with time. Or I can take that wave with a water wheel and turn the energy into something more. Right now I feel like the sand has washed away to reveal a rock, and on that rock I am making a little water wheel, made by hand with sticks from the beach. It's crumbly and a huge wave might knock it over and take it out to sea. It doesn't do much yet, but it's there. I pray that I can keep that wheel spinning, and build it up stronger and better, to do more purposeful things. As my figurative wheel spins with no knowledge of how to use it's energy, I will keep my prayers spinning up to God to ask Him what I'm to do now.

God's Reply

I closed this post saying that I would ask God what I'm to do now. Then one night I couldn't sleep, which is unusual for me. Thoughts kept chasing round and round and my neck ached a bunch until a thought was given to me. I am selfish about my pain. I might not like to suffer, but when I am it consumes my thoughts. I want to let it ruin my whole day and fill my relationships. The thought of offering it Up not only confused me, it sounded like something I didn't really want to do at all. I wanted to keep hold of the suffering so that I could complain about it. 

 Redemptive suffering works because God knows we want to be selfish with our pain, and when we choose to rise above that and give it to Him as an offering for someone else He knows that it was a difficult and selfless gift of our suffering and answers our prayers. He knows, in His infinite wisdom, that it is good for us to be selfless in all things, even suffering, in order to grow in virtue and come closer to Himself. That's why He gives us the power of redemptive suffering. God is good.

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