In answer to a question, Listening and Hopelessness

October 29, 2014

In following up on my post of what makes a good listener, I have thought much on what supportive listening looks like when met with hopelessness. It has provoked much staring off into space, avoiding staring at my near constant companion, hopelessness. I write from my own experience, so it may not be for all. I thought that first I would try to paint a picture of what hopelessness looks like. Hopelessness didn’t happen during the first year of Justin’s death, it descended during the second. The losses piled up, there seemed to be no end to the disappointments, things that didn’t work out, rejection, and somewhere along the way hope was lost. You are made to feel like it is a deviant character flaw to experience hopelessness and despair, that if you were stronger, better, more faith filled, you would not feel so empty and devoid of hope and light.

Hopelessness manifests itself physically, it can buckle the knees to where you are sliding down a wall to sit hunched over struggling to breathe with the weight crushing your chest, hopelessness is trying to sleep and in the quiet you see your child’s face and longing overwhelms you and there is nothing for it but to lie there with tears sliding down your face, hopelessness is to think “why bother”, for naught matters, there never will be any good anymore. Hopelessness is to look at projects, yard or house, website, or even laundry and not know where to start and why bother, nothing ever changes, nothing is ever finished, nothing is ever done, so why bother? Hopelessness, to think how long you have to endure a life of meaningless activity, just to die alone. Please do not point out that what I described above is depression, either situational or clinical – there is a difference, the presence of one does not dictate the presence of the other, and yet they can co-exist. Let go of having to label someone, please. Labels are so convenient, so tidy, so organized, and they work well for flour and spices, but human souls? No.

When you have the opportunity to sit with hopelessness in another, I can’t help but think it is an invitation to sit in the tomb on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of  Christ takes place over a three day span, culminating in an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. But Good Friday’s can last a lifetime, or so it feels. Our lives reflect the paschal mystery, and we should not be surprised when another experiences being laid in coldness with a stone blocking all the light, trapping them in stone. I am not sure we are called to roll away the stone, but to instead summon the courage to sit in the tomb with the suffering. To descend into hell and meet their hopelessness with quiet courage. Please do not throw scripture our way. Yes, we are told that scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training, and so it is – but it should not be used like a sledge hammer.  Hammering out scripture is easy, meeting hopelessness is not.

If someone shares with you their hopelessness, be honored. Know that they trust you. Know that they are perhaps overcoming a fear of being chided again or “corrected”, be that safe harbor. You cannot fix our hopelessness, but you can keep company with us, supportive listening for hopelessness is to empty yourself of all the temptation to share the latest evils of the world. We know the evil, being told of the latest pandemic, or a brutal group murdering children is not the best conversation for us.  Bring the hope that you hold in your heart and let it be enough, see I think that is key, you have to be hopeful to bring hope, it has to spill out over your reservoir that is already full, so full that it spills over into your very countenance.

I am not sure I answered the question of how to be a supportive listener when faced with hopelessness. Just don’t fear us or fear the hopelessness, see if the experience of sitting with hopelessness does not bring you a new awareness for small joys, simple pleasures, that by being with us in our hopelessness you are not stretched in your capacity to feel, that your heart stretches to encompass a love for the wounded. It isn’t about words or responses, it is about be willing to just be, to just keep company in the tomb for however long it takes for the stone to roll away. I leave with a quote from Sr. Constance Fitzgerald:

 “The hopelessness and emptiness of the Dark Night is precisely the condition that makes hope, in the strictly theological sense, possible. Hope comes into play when we are really radically at the end, unable to find any further resources to connect the memories, feelings, images and experience of life in a meaningful pattern or a promising future. Then hope, forfeiting the struggle to press meaning out of loss, become a free trustful commitment to the impossible, which cannot be built out of what one possesses.”

Desolation as Dark Night, The Transformative Influence of Wisdom in John of the Cross

 

 

 

 

Categories: Dark Night, Faith, Hope.

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Like A Virgin

October 23, 2014

I missed the 80’s, I was doing unvirgin things like getting married and having babies. I have never listened to Madonna, not familiar with her songs. In fact, I don’t even remember the 80’s, sleep deprivation can be a beautiful thing. I had not even paid much attention to the “singing nun” from Italy, Sr. Christina, until last night.  Sleep deprived with a foster puppy, I was trying to stay awake until 10 pm to take her out one last time in hopes of maybe getting to sleep until 4 am. She came across my newsfeed on Facebook and so I watched her cover of “Like a Virgin”, then I watched a couple more of her videos and I found myself smiling. Smiling at this beautiful young woman so full of life and joy. So gifted and exuberant. I wasn’t troubled by her singing one of Madonna’s songs, even with the title being perceived as controversial. For a culture that is obsessed with sex, we still don’t like to talk about, well, sex. Or sexuality, or sensuality, or anything that happens between sheets, on sheets, or even near sheets.

I was surprised at the flurry of comments directed at this young woman, this nun, who dared to sing this song from a different perspective. Why is it wrong for her to sing of being touched for the very first time? Is not the experience of being touched by Jesus what evangelization is all about? Scripture is full of the nuptial imagery, deeply sensual imagery – go read the Song of Solomon. She sings of being shiny and new – Jesus says He makes all things new. Hold on to that last thought, we will come back to it.

I remember many years ago when I was studying Theology of the Body and all that sex stuff, that it was thought we carried around with us every person we had a sexual encounter with, carried them around for the rest of our lives. Makes for a crowded bed. I accepted that reasoning, but it never resonated with me. It planted one of the first seeds of doubt in my mind about the power of Christ actually. Jesus said He makes all things new. Jesus said come to Him. Jesus said “I forgive you, go and sin no more.” He didn’t add and for the rest of your life you are carry this burden with you. No, not there. I looked. So is He the Christ or isn’t He? Look at the confusion we cast on our young adults. Go to Jesus, go to Confession, you will be made whole and clean. But oh, you had sex, sorry about your luck – yeah, you need to go to Confession because you are in mortal sin, and oh by the way, now you are burdened for life with that memory and that person. And don’t tsk, tsk, me. I had young adults and they talked to me. We tie them in knots about their own sexuality. Allow me to clarify, yes, sex is for marriage, please do not misconstrue what I am saying here.

We all can experience being a virgin whether we are sexually active or not. The word virgin is not solely a word to describe an individual that has not had sexual relations. I am going to link to the dictionary so you can see the multiple meanings: virgin. Did you see, virgin to sorrows, virgin wool, virgin forest, and yes, a maiden. Here is a virgin experience, approaching the marriage bed after the death of a child, yeah – quite a bit like a virgin. We live the cycle of virgin experience our entire life, but our narrow view refuses to accept it and we see only the sexual experience. More the pity to us to be missing out on the constant renewal of our being.

I thought last night as I listened and watched this young nun sing of being made new, saving her love, being touched, that I could hear many of the female mystics brought forth in her song. They wrote of a mystical union, she sings of a mystical union. She shares a window into the dynamic life of a religious woman, celibate does not mean asexual, chastity does not mean absence of sexuality. It is the integration of the two that create – yes, create, so it is even fruitful.  I think we all hunger to go back to our original innocence, isn’t the Joy of the Gospel is that we can, and part of that joy is that what is restored to us and in us is even better than that original innocence because we have been brought into relationship with Christ?

All humans need human touch. Whether religious or not, humans need to be touched. Not all touch is sexual, there is no shame in singing of being touched. Babies die without human contact, children need hugs, and even us grown ups need human contact, we shrivel and die without a touch, a hug. We lavish on our companion animals more affection than most people receive in a lifetime. It is sad.

So sing Sister Christina, sing and be not afraid. Show the world your relationship to Christ, sing of His presence in your life. Don’t let your joy be stolen.

 

Categories: Faith, Marriage.

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In answer to some great questions…

October 22, 2014

I love when people ask questions about grief and how to respond to someone who is experiencing grief, it is such an avenue for dialogue and it gently coaxes me to reflect on what I found and still find most supportive and not demeaning. This article “Well Meaning Statements That Devastate Mourners” by Larry M.  Barber, started a great conversation and made me think all morning. I revisited some painful moments of hurt when people thoughtlessly said things that hurt bitterly, and made me even ashamed of the way I was feeling after Justin was killed. I withdrew and learned to build sturdy walls to keep me safe.

The question posed was “what does a supportive exchange look like”, what specific words could a supportive listener offer when confronted with anger or hopelessness. Great question, the question alone speaks to me of a compassionate heart. Lets look at anger first, anger scares people, we want to make it go away even if it means telling the person who is justifiably angry to not be angry. Well, we can’t make it go away. We are angry. We are angry our child is dead, we are angry that we are angry – no one likes being angry and we can’t shut it off. I am only speaking from my experience, I lay no claim to expertise. I remember being so angry some days that I could have joyfully thrown things through windows. We get angry that people stop calling us, we get angry that people avoid us and walk the other direction when they see us coming, we get angry when we are told that we should be over it. We get angry when people tell us that their faith would never waiver regardless of what happened to them. Leave the God talk alone. When confronted with someone’s anger, there are no words, just listen. If a grieving person shares their anger, know that they are showing you a deep wound and are incredibly vulnerable, when we show that anger we open ourselves up to judgement, ridicule, invalidation, rarely do we meet compassion. You can gently encourage someone to share more, to keep talking – often we are made to feel like we need to keep our grief to a thirty second sound bite and then move on. The gift of someone who simply listens is priceless. Some of the most healing words I have heard is “Thank you”, someone thanking me for sharing a vulnerable spot, it was humbling and anger diffusing, the kindness of that short, but sincere exchange has never left me. Anger is diffused with beauty, bring beauty to an angry person in your own person, when we have inner peace that is communicated to those around us – don’t bring your angst, whining, or complaining. We need to have practiced good self care before we can sit in silence with someone who is angry and grieving. Anger can be channeled through creativity, me, I write. And I fight with myself to truly write my heart – but when I do write honestly, it is like boulders sliding from my shoulders. Art, coloring – I love to color, I love to take photographs. Creativity moves our anger around, and exercise – how often have I wished to just all and all out spar with someone, I know my body can’t take full contact anymore, but to punch and kick until I am exhausted is so appealing. Thank that person for sharing their heart, even if it was an angry heart, don’t personalize it, don’t internalize it, just let it flow away from both of you. Follow up with a gift of colored pencils or crayons, chalk, beautiful stationary, nothing big, nothing expensive, but something that tells them you listened, truly listened, and a note telling them that you were glad of the time you spent together talking. We fret you know, we fret if we are authentic that people will leave us, because in reality, some people have already left us – our grief and anger overwhelming to them.

I can still remember with such clarity where I was and who I was speaking to when I was told some very hurtful things. A few people were downright mean and miserable, professed holy Christians, and their words and behavior despicable, all so soon after Justin had been killed. Those wounds never heal, it is like the trauma of child loss leaves us more vulnerable and impressionable to hurt. That causes a different anger. A supportive listener does just that, they listen. Don’t explain away someone’s bad behavior or make excuses, just listen and keep that confidence. Build a bridge of trust between you and the grieving heart, it will take courage. I think of my brother and sister-in-law who invited us to vacation with them, what a gutsy thing to do, not only invited us but told us that we were free. Free to do and plan as we saw fit, no obligations, we could participate or not, be quiet or engaging, the freedom to just be was pure gift. They are courageous and fearless, not afraid of our anger or hopelessness. There is one friend in particular who didn’t fear my anger, she just kept coming back, gently and softly. Never saying much, but she speaks volumes with the gifts that she has always brought to me, even at my most horribleness. A Grinch ornament that sits on my desk year round, that told me she had faith in me. She gave me frogs, that told me that she read my words and understood, they remind me to keep growing what I need, it was a shared silent humorous moment, not a word spoken.

Honest, just be honest. It is okay to say that you don’t know what to say, neither do we most times. To my good friend who asked this question, know that you are already reaching out and being so supportive. I was so touched by your gift of Post-it-Notes! You didn’t tell me to take a vitamin or see somebody for my memory gaps, you listened to what I spoke and then indulged me with bright colorful Post-it-Notes, that is supportive listening, you didn’t have to say a single word, but I will never forget what you said with your gift. You heard my heart, no words necessary.

The other question was about hopelessness, lets do that next post. I have a small, but determined German Shepherd puppy we are fostering, chewing on my desk chair. I will have to wait for another nap time.

Categories: Brothers, Family, Friendship, Grieving, Justin.

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Things that still surprise me after four years.

October 10, 2014

Four years. We are on the other side of the fourth anniversary now, we observe from September 27th through October 4th as a time of being especially gentle with ourselves. We each walk alone those days, remembering Justin’s death, the preparation for burial, the funeral. I remember the last mass we attended together before Ryan had to return to Washington, it was the Feast Day of St. Francis, October 4th, at the Shrine of St. Anthony. My heart made a memory of being together on those narrow wooden pews and cool stone floor of the shrine, so still and simple, so aware that we were three not four. It may seem odd that I say we walk alone, but each one of us carries our own grief, and yes we stand shoulder to shoulder, but at our core we are still alone in solitude, deep solitude. As I was mopping off my face in the Safeway parking lot today, I was struck by the things that still surprise me after four years of child loss and how much I still have to learn about grief. Here are some of those things.

I am surprised that I can still melt down in the two tenths of a mile that it takes me to drive to Safeway. Fine when I leave the house, list prepared, and then the beauty of the fall leaves just wrench my heart, and the longing wells up inside for my child and spills out my eyes. Why the car? I have no idea, I often get my best crying done in the vehicle, alone.

I am surprised how the spark for the holidays has not returned, the stores are quickly becoming danger zones, you try not to look but to just focus on making a strategic strike for what you came in for and then to get out as quick as you can. Perhaps the holidays are the hardest hurdle to achieve, maybe a new plan needs to be put in place, something different this year.

I am surprised by how little memory I have of Justin’s life, flashes, bits and pieces, but honestly I can’t retrieve much at all. I feel like I had seconds with him, not years. And it scares me so, how fleeting time is, how many opportunities did we miss for memory making?

I am surprised at the pain when I do remember his smile, his laugh, when I imagine him in my head, and bring back those details and look on that much loved face and eyes. I am surprised that my endurance has not built up, I can hardly spend any time at all with my memories. Seconds, moments, but then I have to leave them.

And I am surprised by how quiet we continually grow, not in a withdrawn bitter sense, but in a deep quiet. I wouldn’t call it a passive quiet, for there is listening going on, just an economy of words used. I have found it surprising, not unpleasant, just different.

The question often gets put to me if the loss of a child gets “better” or easier after some years, it gets neither actually, it becomes different. And I think it is good to reflect on what surprises us, what is different, to acknowledge the continual evolution that is taking place within ourselves. We find we need to make room for all that is different.  Sometimes I am surprised how often I have to go back to basics, to count all the small victories of the day. To stop, breathe, and be grateful that we have never once ran out of Kleenex in the last four years, that we have always had food and running water, to be even grateful for all the pet fur because that means we have the great luxury of companion animals to make us laugh.

Justin, I am surprised after four years without you we are still standing. But you know, I just laughed out loud at a memory. I suddenly thought of being awakened in the night after one of your surgeries, you were an old hand at being cut by now and despised using crutches. You would hop on one foot through the house, holding up that heavy, bulky cast that stretched from your toes to your knee behind you, your  balance was amazing and you never fell – but oh did I want to call down and tell you to use your crutches. But I didn’t. I knew that it was your way of not being defeated, of not allowing your feet and surgeries to dictate to you what you could or could not do. For all your gentleness, you had a backbone of steel, such a will and determination to overcome any obstacle set before you. And with that thought, that memory of you, I will introduce a new word – legacy – that our surviving and thriving, will be part of your legacy and memory. One hop at a time.

 

Categories: Justin, Surgery.

Four years ago today we buried a boy. Rediscovering the…

October 2, 2014

We buried Justin on the Feast Day of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 2010.  I have been working on transcribing the homily given by Father Conrad at the funeral Mass. Fr. Conrad was Justin’s spiritual director and good friend at Franciscan University of Steubenville. We were honored and grateful that Fr. Conrad traveled to Maryland to be with us. This is one of the hardest days of the year, you wake up and your only thought is what you were doing on that day. It has taken a long time to listen again and transcribe these beautiful words, tears and sorrow can be overwhelming and it can take years to work through that sorrow until you can type and actually see the screen. These words have given much comfort, deeper insights into Justin, sharpens the pain of his absence, but also gives strength for the journey. Below are Fr. Conrad’s words, may they touch your heart with the love that Justin has for each of us.


 

I should first of all like to express the condolences of Franciscan University of Steubenville to Justin’s family that I have felt I have known for many years because I have been witness to Justin’s love for you. Three times a day the students gather for mass and some three hundred, three times a day pray for Justin as a member of the alumni. This being Parent’s Weekend and Alumni Weekend, at every Mass Justin is prayed for.

I express also the condolences of the Friars, you know not having sons and daughters of our own, we adopt the parents’ sons and daughters while they are students there, so we too grieve at the loss of someone that we have we loved. It is good to grieve, our Lord grieved at the death of Lazarus. Not to grieve would be to say that we have put no value upon the presence of the person who has been with us that we have loved. Put no value upon his love, his presence, and that we are not going to miss him. If we did not grieve that would be probably what we were saying.

But there is a limit and a perspective to our grief of course, because Christ has risen from the dead. The first fruits of those of who have fallen asleep, we shall all rise and after our death we shall be with Christ and eventually our bodies will be with Christ also in the general resurrection of dead. So there is a perspective to our grief, a relative grief, a grief being deprived of the presence we have known. But that presence isn’t totally taken away, Justin has not lost his memory, he is not in heaven saying “I did have a mother, a father, a brother, didn’t I, relatives, didn’t I?” No. He knows and he loves. We can pray to anyone that has died, trusting that they are in the presence of God. So our grief is relative.

There are those who would say of course that we mourn because Justin’s life has been cut short, been deprived of the fullness of life. But of course there never was anymore than what there was. God knew on Monday and told the angels in heaven I’m sure, to prepare a banquet because Justin was coming home and there would be a triumph in heaven at his arrival in heaven. We did not know that, he did not know that, but God knows everything. And with God all time is as a single day, so I think we have to temper whatever thought we would have had. We would say perhaps, “well it is to bad because he did not have a family, he did not marry, he did not have children of his own.” But, not long before he died, he became a spiritual father, becoming a godfather to a child. What a privilege that child has. Not only a guardian angel that we celebrate today on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, not only a guardian angel in heaven, but Justin to look over him and intercede for him, how fortunate he is and Justin did experience that spiritual fatherhood of becoming a godfather before going home to God

I would (there was a bit of a pause)…Justin has not lost his memory, I have lost lost mine (much good laughter). He is preparing a place for all of us assuredly. We would grieve perhaps he did not finish his studies. Finish his studies? Justin had a deep knowledge of what some of us perhaps lack, this is a knowledge of the ways of God. You see, well I always think of the quotation from St. Bonaventure “I have come forth from you the most high and I go to you the most high, and I go through you the most high. Justin knew that he had come forth from the hands of God. I think that is why we have a longing to back to God. Because we came into this world through God’s creative power, God holds us in existence, we belong to God as the violin desires to go back into the hands of the violin maker, we have in our hearts a longing, a yearning that can never be satisfied, it is a yearning to go home, to go back to where we came from to go back to the God who made us. St. Augustine expresses much more beautifully, in saying “you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We have a longing for God within our hearts, a restlessness that can never be totally satisfied in this world until we are in the presence of the God who made us. I have come forth from you most High, Justin knew that, and I am going to you the most High, we live on a pilgrimage of return to the God who made us and Justin knew that. And he knew that he did not walk alone however along that road that leads back to God, because he walked with Christ. The completion of the sentence “I have come forth from you the most high and I go to you the most high, and I go through you the most high,” we return to the God who made us through Christ, through Christ our Lord, who is the way, and the truth, and the life.

In our Baptism we die and we are born again, we are born sharing in the life of Christ. So that Christ lives within us by grace. Doctrinally, the gift of uncreated grace, the presence of God within us communicating to us a share in his own life. As Justin tried through life, as we try through life, to see reality with eyes of Christ, to hear with the ears of Christ, to hear the suffering and the pain that is around us in this world and to try to do something about that. To serve with the hands of Christ, to walk with the feet of Christ, to love with the heart of Christ. Christ lives within us. That he is present in our heart, moving us to love, to love the Father, to love God, to love all humanity for which God died, Christ died upon the cross, that his love lives in us. Justin may not have completed his PhD, but he knew what is the most important knowledge of all, because it is the knowledge of life, of what my life is about, that I have come forth from the hands of God and I am going back into the hands of God and it is through Christ that I will return back into the hands of God. That is the great knowledge, the great wisdom which he had. And that presence of Christ within him he knew was strengthened each day with the Eucharist we receive. We receive Christ in the Eucharist and by that we are joined to him, But we all receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are joined to one another as we receive Christ in the Eucharist and that is the nourishment, food for the journey of life, the presence of Christ within in us nourished by the Eucharist that we receive each day. So that was the great wisdom that he learned, it was the great wisdom that he lived, it is the great wisdom which he leave to us.

We pray that the angels may lead him into paradise on this Feast of the Guardian Angels, we pray the angels may lead him into paradise and we pray that Mary, the mother of Jesus may be there to welcome him. How many times, how many times did he pray “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” The Mother of God is not deaf! He prayed that she might be with him in the moment of death and we pray that Mary may present Justin to her son and say to her son, “my Son I have been reminded of you through him, I saw you living in him, I ask you now to accept him into your kingdom, to show him that dwelling place that you prepared for him from the beginning of time.” That is what we pray for. To be sure, one must be purified to enter into the presence of God, that is why we pray for him, that is why we say many prayers. Not to want that is to want the impossible, if one does not wish to be purified to enter into the presence of God, one either has a very low estimation of God, or a very high estimate of oneself. All the prayers that we say for him, all of the Masses that we offer for him, they are already present in the presence of God at the moment Justin appeared before him.

And so we enter into Eternal Rest. Oh perhaps rest, yes rest indeed. No more worry, no more anxiety, no more fear, none of those interior tribulations that we experience in this life. No, rest from all of that, rest from struggle. But the rest of sleep? I think not. The mind enters into union with God, God is infinite, if we started today and looked and saw God as He is in Himself, all the days that have existed from the creation of the this world to the end of the world could not exhaust our growth in knowledge of the infinity of God. And with that knowledge comes loves. We just don’t look and enjoy what we see, but we love what we see. No, our life after this world is a life of complete, endless, endless, plunging the depth of the infinity of God and our heats inflamed and filled with love and joy in God’s presence. And in all of that, his prayers, his love for us, for his mother and his father, and his brother, and all his family, and all his relatives, and all his friends. That love that moves him to ask that we might all be united with him forever. Yes, it is a time of grieving. Grieving because the way in which we have known him and experienced his presence is not there for us now. But he is here for us. We receive the Lord in the Eucharist we are joined to one another, we are joined to Christ. We pray that he is joined to Christ also, and so we are united as we come to the altar and celebrate the Eucharist with those who are present and those who have gone before us. So let us rejoice with Justin and this day even as we acknowledge that wonderful presence that we have had, that we can’t quite experience in this world as we did a few days ago. May the Lord bless us and give us His peace.


 

Categories: Family, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Grieving, Hope, Justin.

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What suffering has taught me, and why I don’t say…

October 1, 2014

We jokingly look at the animals sometimes when they are denied a choice bit of turkey and tell them to “offer it up.” We don’t tell humans to do that anymore. Why not? Because it is rude that’s why. Telling someone to offer up their suffering and sorrow has become a neat and tidy approach to not entering into another person’s pain. If we tell them to “offer it up,” we are off the hook then to be compassionate and tender. After all, no pain, no gain. And we are encouraged to suffer, or are we? And I could fumble this, but life has plenty of opportunities for suffering, we don’t have to look for it, life in its essence is sorrowful. We are fragile human beings, we feel pain, we get sick, we hurt others, and we are all guaranteed death, no way out of that one. Suffering is also a guarantee. So is loss, we will all lose people we love, people who were our security, our anchors.

Allow me to share with you a snapshot of my brain patter when told to offer something up, I get an immediate visual of a greedy God so eager for pain that he must be fed more suffering and pain in order to be appeased. I internalize the vision of a God who caused this suffering just so that I could be put to the test, will I offer it up or will I struggle and fail. When I am told to offer it up, I am introduced to a God that is cold and impersonal, who cares not for my pain, but just wants blind obedience. When I am told to offer it up my pain and suffering is invalidated and I have no where to go with my very real and physical heartache, and feel guilt for feeling how I feel. And then I walk away from the people, the church, and the God who have belittled me to search for a safe place to take my pain.

As I have thought about suffering and God, I have come to see that we cannot tell each other to offer it up, it is akin to telling someone to go have sex without having a secure relationship first. I cannot separate my body from my heart and soul. That will happen at death and not before. And that separation of body and soul is unnatural – it was not meant to be – I am both body and soul. It is why a ghost or a dead body is so frightening to us, it is unnatural. To open up and extend to God my suffering and pain can only happen when I feel loved and secure, when I can trust that He will not scoff at me and tell me to suck it up. To offer up my pain to the unseen God, that is done in intimacy, a naked, vulnerable moment. When Christ was stripped naked and paraded for all to see, who among us would have told him to offer it up? Why then do we say that to each other so callously? Why can we not see the naked Christ in all who suffer? And in humility and compassion, tread so lightly before their wounded souls and offer the cover of our love over their vulnerability instead of falling back on learned responses that foster no grace.

Perhaps we have misconstrued when we have read of saints offering up all their suffering to God and thinking that yes, what an excellent proposition that we all should follow. But as I read more and more about these very human people, they struggled, the offering did not come easily. The offering came after a relationship was established, and relationships take time and energy, their seemingly “one-liners” came from hours of meditation, common work, ordinary days of ordinary life. So we cannot simply take “offer it up” and apply it as a curative, that is not compassion, nor is it discipleship, and it certainly is not effective mentoring.

Suffering has taught me that a person’s story is paramount, to listen is to share in their story. Suffering has taught me that I cannot tell anyone what to do with their pain, I can only offer my story in their safekeeping. Suffering has taught me to trust that there will be growth from the pain, that if embraced it will sculpt my being. In that same trust, I see how suffering has sculpted those I love. I see the lines, the shadows, the eyes that no longer judge by merit or worth, they look with love.  Suffering has freed me from fear of entering into another soul’s pain, there is nothing to fear in my pain or their pain.

It is said that suffering makes us better people, if that were true then the entire world would be saintly. Suffering can make us bitter and angry, most especially in the absence of loving relationships. Suffering can indeed transform us into beings of peace, suffering can grow our hearts beyond what we every thought possible, but not unless we are loved first.  Only in that place of trust, can an offering take place.

 

Categories: Faith.

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