As I concluded, what I’ve come to learn about suffering is that I may never understand why God allows us to suffer but I do know we have control over how we respond.
The only way to get through suffering is by embracing and offering it with Christ’s offering.
But how do we do this precisely?
Jesus, I give this to you. Take this [my sickness, this challenging child, my job, my marriage, etc.] as an offering with your suffering. I unite myself and my pain with yours. Please give me Your strength and Grace to bear it for you and with you.
Second, Pray of Others and their Suffering.
When we experience acute pain, in the moment it’s impossible to really focus on anything else except for the terrible pain we are feeling. When we are going through a challenging time in our lives, though the pain isn’t physical, it can still consume all of our thoughts and make it impossible to focus on anything else.
So how do we get away from that? Turn to others. Join your suffering with their suffering.
Whenever we turn our focus to helping others, it doesn’t exactly take our own pains or sufferings away but it takes our sacrificial offering and turns it into something good – LOVE.
One day last week over Spring Break everyone had reached their limits on patience and things were starting to unravel – especially me. So I said,
Ok kids, get your shoes on, we’re going for a walk.
Almost as soon as we got out into the fresh air and warm sunshine, our spirits lifted. We decided to walk down to the assisted living and nursing home maybe ¼ of a mile down the road and visit our “Park West friends” as we like to call the residents we visit there.
About two years ago we started visiting the nursing home residents as part of a Visiting the Homebound Stewardship opportunity through our parish.
It has taken time for us to get used to it – old people can be scary to little kids (and adults!) but we’ve come to really enjoy our visits there because we see how much the residents enjoy seeing us. And we’ve learned a lot of through going also.
We brought some hand-made cards friends of ours made and asked us to share. The cards had cute doodles and kind messages like, “Have a Nice Day” or “Happy Easter” and we went around bringing one to each resident we saw.
Each time we did, an amazing transformation occurred. When we first walked in to see a resident lying asleep on their bed looking as if they couldn’t move on their own, as soon as we came in and they saw the kids’ bright faces (and wiggly energy), their eyes fluttered open, their faces lit up, and some of them even sat up as if they’d never been asleep. We left each room with a smile on everyone’s faces.
We came to visit one man who, as soon as he saw us come in, pulled the blankets off and shot up and immediately started talking with us, obviously pleased to have visitors. Rex told us all about a condition he suffers from called MRSA. He told us how a few months ago painful blister bubbles spread over his whole body, even the bottom of his feat, and how the liquid inside is poisonous so if it gets on anyone it would spread the same ailment.
He confirmed my thoughts by saying it’s known as a type of modern-day leprosy. Thankfully his ulcers have abated and we were in no danger of becoming infected.
We sat there a while as he recounted his ordeal and told us how he had endured the worst pain he had ever experienced in the whole of his life. He looked about 75 or so and was a big burly man who looked like he might have served in the military so we could only imagine how bad it must have been.
We visited a few other residents that day, all of whom had their own stories of pain whether they shared them with us or not. As we passed out the last “Kindness card” as we called them, we left feeling filled with Grace and renewed spirits.
I could have stayed at home that afternoon and wallowed in boredom, self-pity and selfish discontent. Instead, we stepped away from our own “suffering” and stepped into the suffering of others and we were greatly blessed by it and hopefully so were those we visited.
Today, on Holy Thursday, begins what’s called the Easter Triduum – “The summit of the Liturgical Year…from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.the Three Days of Christ’s Passion and Death.” (USCCB, emphasis mine)
On Holy Thursday, even as Jesus knew the tremendous pain he was about to endure, He began by providing a meal (the Last Supper) to the Apostles and He humbled himself by washing their feet.
Over the next ‘day’ he endured great suffering. Along the way others stepped onto the path with him and helped him in his suffering.
As we walked home from visiting our home-bound friends that day, I thought about everyone we visited and remembered how their faces lit up and smiles spread across their old-wrinkly skin and hid their sad and lonely faces. And this filled me with a certain peace and happiness that I’ve been missing. I especially thought of Rex and told the kids when we got home,
Today, we visited a leper (in a way) just like Jesus did.
They all nodded and then, just as quickly as the moment came, it evaporated and the kids were off chasing and yelling at each other in the yard.
The great Mystery of Jesus and the reason His Sacrifice means so much is because God became man so that he could enter into our suffering with us. He comes to us, takes our cross and says,
Here let me take that heavy load from you. Let me carry it for you. You’re not alone anymore, I AM [is] with you.