My prayer for 2014 was “Lord, teach me about suffering.” My goodness I have learned so much! And I am so grateful. Here are a few of the main points I have learned:
1. To watch someone else suffer can be harder.
Sometimes it is harder to watch someone else suffer than to suffer yourself. I have known this all too clearly this year. I’ve had to watch my husband go through the ravages of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do to take that suffering away – not even a little bit. This killed me. I would have done anything to take it upon myself – but that is not how God wanted it to be. There is purpose in my husbands suffering that I do not understand, but I do understand that this is his cross. So, sometimes I will be his Simon of Cyrene and help him carry it. Sometimes I will be Mother Mary and walk along side him. And sometimes I will be John or Mary Magdalene and will simply be with him as he is crucified. Even though I cannot take this suffering upon myself, I can be there – so he does not have to suffer alone.
2. Crucify yourself as soon as possible.
I have come to the understanding that the worst kind of suffering we can experience in this life is to be separated from God through our own sin. I have experienced this in a massive way this year. I have been hanging onto a sinful thought that has indeed been damaging my relationship with Jesus all year. I was hanging on in false hope of a situation that I knew could never be because it was outside of Gods plan for my life. This has caused me so much needless suffering this year I can hardly begin to explain. It could of course have been entirely avoided if I had just stopped rebelling and instead accepted the situation for what it was by crucifying my own wants and desires immediately as soon as I saw the situation developing. It came to a head last week when the Lord asked me how long I intended to keep carrying this cross for before I would finally crucify myself and accept the freedom that this would bring. If I had crucified myself at the start, I would have saved myself a whole year of needless cross carrying! Through His grace, obtained for me by a dear friend who willingly offered to suffer for me, I have managed to let this crucifixion of self take place and I am now reunited with Christ with a pure heart. My peace has returned and now I have come through the crucifixion process I am enjoying the fruits of the resurrection I am now experiencing in my life.
3. Suffering is a gift.
Most Christians (including myself up until very recently) have no idea how to suffer. We will all suffer in this life – that is for certain, but we can either decide to do it in line with Gods plan or outside of God’s plan. When we suffer outside of Gods plan it is because we are sinning. Our suffering in this way is self-inflicted and entirely avoidable. When we suffer within Gods plan through no fault of our own we are presented with an opportunity to accept this suffering (bizarre as it may seem) as a gift. To offer this type of suffering in prayer for others is one of the most powerfully loving things we can do as human beings. Personally I have experienced a seismic shift in my attitude in regards to suffering when I have started offering it for other people. I have found that offering my suffering for others intentions not only gives it meaning and purpose, but also fills me with the most profound sense of joy. By willingly and joyfully offering my suffering for others I am imitating my Lord, and loving others in a sacrificial way that seems to touch hearts deeply. It also seems to remove the fear from suffering that I used to feel. Once the fear is gone, there is room to love. And where there is love, there is God. I never in a million years thought I would ever feel a desire to joyfully suffer – to actually be attracted to it, but I am. My Carmelite sister Therese of Lisieux is helping me to understand this.
4. The little way of suffering.
Suffering is the biggest, most un-tapped resource we have as Christians. Can you imagine if every Christian opened their hearts to the power of redemptive suffering and what effect that would have on the world?! Sometimes God gives us huge sufferings to bear, but usually on a day-to-day basis it is just little things we are given. A headache, someone annoying us, a boring job, being lonely etc. Imagine if every Christian joyfully used these little gifts to pray for the conversion of their loved ones, or for the souls in purgatory who once in heaven could intercede for us, or for priests, bishops and the Pope. It would utterly transform things! You can also give little things up to produce a suffering: sleep without a pillow, give up 1 cup of coffee and have water instead, hold your tongue in an argument (that’s the one I really need to work on! Ha! Ha!). There are billions of Christians all over the world. One little suffering each day offered joyfully in prayer from each of us would renew the church. It would renew face of the earth.
And that leads me on to my prayer for 2015…
One suffering that is dominant in western society is loneliness. This comes from a lack of depth in our relationships with each other, and more profoundly from a lack of depth in our relationship with God. If we only knew how much He loves us. If we could only understand and accept that He loves us so much He would rather send His only son to suffer and die, than risk spending eternity without any single one of us. As we begin to learn the incredible spiritual power of suffering this mystery becomes more and more understandable. Do we love someone enough to die for them? Do we even love someone enough to give up our morning cup of coffee to obtain graces for them? How many people in your parish do you know who would willingly give up their morning cup of coffee for you? My guess is that if you asked them they would probably look at you as if you were mad – or they would make some excuse as to why they could not do it. We are so weak aren’t we?!
The great North African theologian Tertullian (160–220 AD) recognised the love expressed in suffering in Christian relationships. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . . how they love one another … and how they are ready to die for each other…” And on the same subject Christ even tells us that “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
If we understood and imitated Christ’s sacrificial love for us within our parish communities – is it possible that any of us could ever be lonely again? We are called brothers and sisters for a reason. But I think perhaps in our modern world of comfort and consolations we have forgotten how to love each other properly. Love and suffering go hand in hand.
Faith has become a solitary pursuit – rarely discussed and often compartmentalized. Suffering has become taboo and is associated with failure. Yet it is the cross that unites us as brothers and sisters, and we come together in church each week to be part of this. The key to this whole issue is here right in front of us. If we personally accepted the sacrificial love that occurred for us individually on the cross, and understood that this is the way to love each other as a community, we would never be lonely again. But many, many Christians, many Catholics do not understand these mysteries – because they have never been taught.
So, my prayer for 2015, and the subject I will be predominantly blogging about is: “Lord, teach me about the Mass.”
I hope you will join me on this voyage of discovery!