Sunday, October 22, 2006

Some Thoughts on Suffering

I’ve been reading a lot lately about suffering. I remember reading “The Story of a Soul” when I was young, the autobiography of St. Terese, The Little Flower. It was the first time I had actually delved into the writings of any saint, and she being the patron saint of young people, the book was recommended to me. I remember marveling over her desire to suffer, her absolute love of suffering for the sake of Christ. Suffering to Terese consisted of the little daily torments of convent life, such as being annoyed by the sound of another nun’s rosary beads or falling asleep during contemplative prayer. She was barely in her 20’s when she died.

I think of her when I am tired at night and trying to wrestle four chubby arms into their pajamas and smile when four chubby hands grab my hair and try to rip it out. Or I am trying to button shirts that contain 22 pounds of giggling, laughing, squirmy, almost-toddler. When we have 10 dollars left and it’s still 5 days til payday. When my washing machine refuses to spin-dry properly and Im left with soggy, soapy clothing and a puddle on the floor.

Lately, I’ve been chewing on bigger sufferings and reading bits and pieces of titles like “Abandonment To Divine Providence” by de Caussade and Julian of Norwhich’s “Revelation’s of Divine Love”. (Both can be found online here.) Again and again, I read that sufferings and trials are the surest and quickest way to sanctity. I don’t feel very sanctified when I’m cursing my washing machine or my children’s father for lack of child support. But I do see the state of the world around me, and my own interior sufferings which are no small matter (no one’s are, after all…) and I am beginning to finally recognize a spiritual precept I never “got” until just lately. We are in exile here, this being a separation from Home. As we shuffle to and thro to work, to daycare, to home, to vacation, we are living a life that is temporal and filled with joys and trials and lessons that are hard on us. The trick it seems is to remain hopeful in all cases, whether our joy is great or our suffering is great- that we offer all things to God in the same spirit of trust.

This is impossible for me-but not for God. I had a friend who once told me that she wanted to learn everything there was to know. She felt that eventually she would hit a wall where there was nothing else to understand, that she would contain all knowledge and then they would give her a turban and she would be able to levitate and stuff. I don’t know who “they” are but I thought the levitation part was cool. What’s scary is when you realize there is no wall. You can’t know everything. But you still can come to a very dark place that offers you no explanation and no instruction except to trust in God.

I deal with interior attacks of voices and sensations and have for going on 9 years now. It isn’t fun, and it sometimes makes me feel like I live a separate reality than other people. Looking back, I can see where I have held my own intellect, my own pride, in far too much esteem. So now, as I am beginning to understand God’s great mercy to me, my intellect and how I perceive the world around me has been compromised. I was married and depended heavily on my husband emotionally and well, now I’m divorced. My financial security has become instead a circus where I must leap through one hoop after another and juggle the small amount I receive in return. People I have loved very much and trusted have betrayed and abandoned me. I have had to walk in dark places alone, holding my heart together in my chest by sheer will. Just when I start thinking that drinking bleach might be the answer to my problems, I read passages like this from “Abandonment To Divine Providence”~

“My dwelling is in the pure soul as in a paradise of delights, for which reason I cannot endure that she should lovingly and longingly attach herself to anything. But, from her very nature, she is inclined to pernicious lusts, and therefore I encompass her path with thorns. I garnish all her outlets with adversity, whether she like it or not, so that she may not escape from Me; her ways I strew with tribulation, so that she may not set the foot of her heart’s desire anywhere except in the loftiness of My divine nature. And if all hearts were but one heart, they would not be able to bear even that least reward which I certainly will give for the suffering endured by anyone for love of Me.”

And further… "We want first and principally to provide for our own interests, spiritual and eternal, and as for the glory of God, in our preoccupation we give Him only the second place. God sees this subversion with a jealous eye in souls He has loaded with graces, and by which He desires to be loved with a pure and disinterested affection! and, in order to make them return to this right order of things He sends them troubles, fears and interior agitation, seeking by means of these secret trials to destroy that self-love so harmful to them. He desires to induce them by degrees to think less of themselves and their own interests, and to occupy themselves quietly with Him alone by abandoning to Him the care and management of their salvation; and this is the meaning of those words of Jesus Christ addressed to many holy souls. “My daughter, think of me and I will think of you, busy yourself for My glory, and allow Me to occupy Myself with your interests and eternal welfare.”

And of course, I can’t forget about Hosea and his wife. In Hosea 2, God fully admits His jealousy for the house of Israel, and how He intends to “hedge up her way with thorns” so that she have no other recourse than to return to Him, her first and only true love. It’s kind of Harlequin-romance-novelly, erotic and fat with love, and anyone who thinks God’s love for the soul isn’t dripping with desire has never truly encountered Him. Those that suffer greatly may feel as if God has abandoned them, and the devil will use this as a means to further discourage a soul. But we are reminded in scripture, in the Psalms that “[God] tellest all my wanderings; put Thou my tears into Thy bottle, are they not in Thy book?” In reality (and indeed God’s majesty is evident all around us in reality, and not in escapism or fantasy) God is all the more near to us when we suffer interior and exterior trials and as Julian of Norwich put it so perfectly:

“For as long as He was passible, He suffered for us and sorrowed for us, and now He is uprisen and no longer passible; yet He suffereth with us.”


Blogger Mark W. said...

I think you might like a book called "Hind's Feet on High Places" by Hannah Hurnard. The title comes from the Old Testament. You can find it in most secular and Christian bookstores.

It is an allegory of the Christian spiritual journey. I wrote about the book here.

The main character's name is Much Afraid, and the Shepherd chose Suffering and Sorrow as her traveling companions from the valley to the High Places. Along the way, she is encounters many trials, tests, and obstacles. She is even taunted at times by the voices of her enemies named Pride, Fear, Bitterness, Resentment, and Self-Pity, hiding by trees and rocks along the path. Although the Shepherd does not visibly travel with her the whole way, he is always with in a simple call away.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Mikala said...

Hi Mark,

YES! I have read it, after it was recommended to me by a counselor and I really loved it. I think there are two additional books that continue on with the same character. Thank you for reminding me of it, I think it might be time to re-read it:)

7:55 PM  

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