Suffering can sometimes seem unfathomable. We ask ourselves why now? Why me? We each carry our own cross, we each at different moments of life encounter suffering, sometimes unimaginable suffering. More often than not its hidden except to those close to us. I wanted to share my thoughts on suffering because I know that there is strength derived from telling one’s story and I want to encourage anyone who is currently facing unknown health diagnosis or who is in the midst of anxiety and depression. I write because ultimately I’m grateful for my suffering.
Most people wouldn’t realize when they see me that some days I’m so fatigued I can barely get out of bed, while other days I can do everything on my to-do list and still have energy to socialize at the end of the day. The unpredictability that I don’t know which day will be which, or when I will have to leave somewhere early because I can’t keep going makes planning difficult.
While many brides may try to lose weight to look a certain way on their wedding day, I was trying to keep weight on to no avail. Alongside wedding planning I had numerous appointments and as a newlywed have spent even more time waiting for appointments. In an effort to maintain my health, I have radically changed our diet, cutting out many of my favorite foods. Even so, I have spent many nights awakened by a sharp stomach pain that prevents me from sleeping and leads to even more tiredness the next day. I had to drop out of a sewing class because the pace and length of the class was too much.
Uniting pain with Christ
Learning to suffer well wasn’t a lesson I thought I would be learning early on in my married life. I have been looking to St. Thérèse de Lisieux as a role model and friend. She really challenged me when she said, “It’s true, I suffer a great deal–but do I suffer well? That is the question.” Now I’m not questioning why this is happening or making myself feel bad for having eaten a certain way in the past, or wondering if I had just tried one thing would I be better. Instead, I offer it up for others and especially pray throughout those difficult days.
I have been learning to turn to God for strength when things are difficult when there seem to be more questions than answers. There are times when all I can do is cry out for help. I learned that some days showering can take all my energy. Other days I can be proud that I carried my groceries home and actually feel quite strong. When each small task takes immense effort I think of Christ carrying his cross and meet true strength.
Learning to Slow Down
In a previous post, I wrote about how working with adults with disabilities taught me to slow down and appreciate life in the moment. My own personal suffering has taught me to slow down in a different way. It has taught me to take things slowly day in and day out. To stop for a cup of tea, and lie down if necessary. I’ve been asking God to guide me to what tasks are really important for the day. I also ask my husband what I really need to accomplish for the day and sometimes as he reminds me the best thing I could do is rest and not worry about the dirty dishes piled up in the sink. I’m now more self-aware to how my body feels and actually listen to it.
The first day I walked outside after spending a lengthy time in my home, I was amazed to simply take in the rays of sunshine, feeling the warmth on my skin. I’m pretty sure I smiled at every person who walked by and was glad to just be doing a small walk. It also has made me grateful for the days I do feel well, for the precious moments I get to share with others. I also have developed more awareness of what others who are suffering are going through and that’s a gift.
I’m thankful that my husband works so hard every day, that I’m allowed to be home and can rest and go at a slower pace. That he prioritizes coming to my appointments and is on the same page with seeking answers. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for his compassion and understanding through this all.
Thinking outside the box
Suffering has taught me the hard way to be persistent when searching for answers. Following the traditional medical route since high school had gotten me nowhere and since symptoms were rapidly worsening I’m glad I searched out other alternatives. I didn’t want to keep going on the traditional path and when I moved to California I searched out different doctors. I’m grateful that my husband and I learned the Creighton method of fertility awareness and can see a NaPro Technology doctor as one piece to my health puzzle. I’m also glad I found a Naturopathic Doctor who could begin to make sense of everything that was happening and hopefully in the coming weeks put together a plan for a fuller healing.
The Importance of Health
I have gone from being a runner who had completed a marathon to at times not being able to walk around my whole house. I have learned along the way how vital mental and physical health really is. To take care of both is so important. To not place a job above health because a job can leave you feeling burnt out. There is value in just being. I don’t have to complete any tasks during the day and I’m still worthy of love and loveable. I am enough, even when I spend all day in bed.
I have felt like the woman in the Bible who just reaches out to touch Jesus and she is healed of her hemorrhaging. I’m reminded that miracles really do happen and that I could be healed with no medical explanation. I pray that Jesus will come into my heart, that he be at the center of my life and that if He wills it I will be physically healed.
So, if you are experiencing suffering, know that you aren’t alone. As St. Pope John Paul II said, “be not afraid”. We don’t even need to fear death itself as St. Francis would embrace it as Sister Death. This pilgrimage here on earth can be one full of much suffering and also great joy. My household at Franciscan was called Gaudete In Via Crucis, which means rejoice on the way to the cross. Part of the reason I choose that household was because I knew I wanted to live out my household’s covenant the rest of my life to rejoice on the way to the cross, and to help my brothers and sisters do the same.
When I watched the movie The Giver recently, it reminded me that when we numb ourselves to pain, to differences, or to suffering, we numb ourselves from what makes life worth living, from what makes life worth fighting for, from happiness, and from love. Without suffering, I couldn’t have grown. I won’t go seeking out suffering for suffering’s sake, but I will embrace it as a part of my life. A part that gives meaning, which stretches me and causes me to see the world in a different way. I hope my suffering will ultimately help me more readily serve others with compassion, to realize the gift that each moment is and to be a comfort to those in pain. God meets us in our suffering, meets us where we are at, right here, right now. How will you respond to God’s invitation, how will you respond to your own suffering or the suffering of others?
What have you learned from your own suffering?
How do you respond to others who are suffering?
Where do you draw hope from during difficult times?