Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Joy in Suffering?

As a practicing Catholic, I try to live my faith.  Essentially that means I try to love and serve God and others.  Although I fail at times, God gives me the grace to get up and begin again.

One theme that appears over and over is that of suffering.  "Redemptive suffering."  "Joy in suffering." "God will bring good out of suffering."

As a recovering perfectionist, if I do not do something well, I think I am a failure.

Living through the most painful days of addressing the abuse, I experienced intense suffering.  Gut-wrenching, I-don't-want-to-live suffering. Getting through the day was an overwhelming concept at times, so I would focus on just getting through an HOUR.  There was just no way I could look ahead to the future because all I saw was pain.  It was unbearable to think it would always be there.

In my head, I knew that some day it would end.  My heart did not get the message.  So I suffered sometimes to the point of despair.

As I experienced this pain, the concept of having joy in suffering was incomprehensible.  Anything  about suffering was off the table.  Not only did I not have joy in suffering, but I fought it. I was mad at it.  I tried to escape the pain, usually in harmful ways.  I did not embrace the cross I had been given but tried to throw it off my shoulders.  This was all Catholic lingo for my world of hopelessness, and it was useless to me.

Yet I knew that it was correct, that our faith was centered on it as part of the Paschal Mystery:  the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If I united my suffering with that of Jesus, it had redemptive value.

Those words were empty and quite frankly they angered me.  I hurt so badly and then I was supposed to accept it?  I did not understand this but I did understand that so-called "good Catholics" found this to be an essential part of their faith.  They seemed to find solace in it.

I didn't, because I didn't get it.  Therefore, I felt like I was a failure and I was a failure at being a Catholic.  I was embarrassed because of it. This caused a burden to be heaped upon me that I was already experiencing as a result of the abuse.

Two things regarding this that my spiritual director told me stand out.  One was that I was persevering through the suffering, so that said something.  The second was at a time of desperation and I asked "Why hope?"  He said, "Because Jesus rose from the dead."  The message I received was that I should just hang in there, I was doing the best I could and that was good enough. There would be an end.

While I wasn't necessarily encouraged by that, I felt my burden lift.  I was grateful.  He had a way a saying so much in very few words.

With a combination of a lot of things, the pain has finally lessened, though it is triggered by certain things.  Recovery continues through many efforts.

In my daily spiritual reading recently, I read something that stopped me in my tracks.

"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."  Romans 5:1-5 (emphasis added)

There we go.  Scripture spells it out so very eloquently.

So if you are suffering today, open your bible to that scripture.  If you don't have a bible, write it down.  Read it slowly and repetitively. Let those words soak in.  If they do not resonate in your heart, just think about it and know it is true.  It is the Word of God, the absolute truth.  Suffering really does produce endurance. It also makes you stronger, and more empathetic.

Today go to the Lord, if you can, and open your heart, spilling out whatever is in it.  He is there to listen.  He is there looking upon you with love.  Waiting. Longing. Loving.

(image from Wikipedia Commons)

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