Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Suffering – My Blind Spot

I’ve read the conversion struggles of others. The difficulty of accepting the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, trouble with Our Lady and her Immaculate Conception, difficulty with the Virgin Birth. All of these things are quite fantastic, and I can understand having trouble wrapping the mind around the concepts. They are all frankly ridiculous in the natural world, and require acceptance of the supernatural, an acceptance of all that is seen and unseen. They require the acceptance of a God who acts in both the natural and the supernatural world and who is in command of both realms. I don’t have trouble with these concepts, with the daily blending of the supernatural with the natural world. I’m completely comfortable with the miraculous.

I struggle with the concept of suffering. I understand the fall. I understand human rebellion and our efforts to elevate ourselves to a position reserved for God alone. I understand our shortcomings and Satan’s efforts to influence us against God. I understand that we are living in Satan’s realm. I understand Jesus’ mission to break Satan’s stronghold on humanity. I understand that by Jesus’ conquering death, Satan’s power is broken.

What I don’t get is how my suffering can help. I know the scripture where Paul writes to the Colossians. Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Col 1:24. What is lacking? What could be lacking? I don’t get it, and where the heck do I fit in?

I’ve read a great deal on this topic, and it just does not quite sink in. I even try to embrace my suffering. When my (wildly premature I assure you) arthritic hip is killing me and I would like to moan and groan at a loud pitch to anyone in ear shot, I choose instead to pray. “God, I have no idea how in the world this pain could possibly benefit others, how I can join my pain to your work of redemption on the cross, but I’m willing. I offer this pain up and join it to your cross.” It’s the most awkward prayer I pray. It feels unnatural, it feels artificial, it feels just plain weird. I’ve been asking for wisdom on this topic for quite a wile and I think I may have received an insight this morning.

Could it be that by my willingness to join in Christ’s suffering, my action, united with that of Jesus, joins in breaking Satan’s power over humanity? While collectively humanity elected to rebel, I elect to unite and align myself with God, even in God’s pain? Is the choice to align with God beneficial not only for me, but for others as well? How can that be, I’m not God. How does that work in God’s economy? Is this a part of rejecting the glamour of sin, which at it's core is self absorption? I’m still foggy on the particulars of this deal, or if I’m even in the right neighborhood.

Lord, I don’t understand suffering, but I want to be united with you in every way. I want your mission of redemption to be my mission of redemption so I offer you my whole life for the salvation of souls. Amen.


Tertium Quid said...

Suffering is currency in the economy of the kingdom of God. No suffering is for nought. All suffering has eternal value.

I say this as a person who has had an relatively easy life. Nonetheless, I see so many religions and Christian denominations go in the opposite direction and deny the efficacy of suffering for anything. Such is a formula to become mad as hell at God.

Flannery O'Connor once noted that if you determine that God is wicked and evil, then you become your own God. Thus, the Church's teachings on suffering make sense. God is good. Life is good. Suffering has eternal rewards because it relieves the suffering of others in the kingdom, whether in this life or the next.

Jennifer F. said...

I've been thinking about this sort of thing as well. One thing I've sort of been pondering (warning: half-baked thought ahead) is the connection of suffering to love. In particular: can you have true love without suffering, or at least a willingness to suffer? For example, if I tell my husband how much I love him all the time but never so much as get off the couch to give him a hug or help cook dinner or do other little acts of self-sacrifice that cause I really love him? I'm not really sure what the answer is there, but I thought I'd throw it out in case you can make anything of it.

Also, just after I read your post I came across this post about transforming suffering that I thought had some really interesting thoughts on the subject.

Interesting topic. Thanks for this post.

Anne Marie said...

TQ: My confessor says the same thing. And I think my soul understands, but my mind is not quite there, almost, but not quite. I can remember feeling the same way about the Eucharist as I was first coming back to the church. I knew something was going on there, but it was all a bit foggy at the time.

BTW, we have more snow today. I wonder if that counts as suffering?

Jen: Thanks for the link. I’ll check out her blog at lunch time. That’s when I make my little trips to the water well. I think of my time surfing Catholic blogs as time spent in my “Catholic Ghetto”. A comfortable place to hang out and say hi.

Jennifer F. said...

I love the idea of a "Catholic Ghetto." :)