Monday, March 19, 2007
The Grace of Suffering
This morning I woke up with knots in my stomach, already shaking as I considered the job ahead of me - returning to work after my blessed week off. En route to work I prayed my "emergency novena" (rosary and 9 memorares), and confessed to God that I know I have to do this, I don't know why, I don't have a choice, and I don't want to embrace this cross. So I offered him the agony of wanting to escape my suffering and the reality of my own unworthiness. I asked for help in overcoming my unwilling spirit.
God answered, and although the day was busy, there was a certain grace that seemed to accompany me all day long.
During lunch, I did some studying, reading the course notes on Salvici Doloris, which is the Encyclical I read over the weekend.
For the class I'm taking, we have the choice of one of several options for the paper due in April, and I have chosen the topic on what John Paul II says about the meaning of suffering and how it is redemptive. I have no idea what I'm going to say but I have determined that I need to do ALL the reading before even considering my outline because so far, everything seems to work together. Such is Catholic theology; it is a cohesive whole.
But until my lunch break, I wasn't really understanding the message John Paul II was trying to get across; but then came the revelation.
As I read the course notes, suddenly it hit me; I'm LIVING this encyclical, and somehow, I am seeing my journey reflected his words and in the course notes that give an explanation.
John Paul II, in Salvici Doloris, uses a question/answer dynamic to explain the theology of suffering and redemption. Within this, he describes how a suffering person is driven to ask questions about the reasons for the suffering, the meaning of the suffering; in other words, the suffering soul is going to God for the answers to this pain.
God welcomes these questions, and is of course prepeared to answer them, for He draws very near to suffering souls. Through their suffering, He directs them to Jesus Christ and the cross that redeemed us; he points to the words of Jesus, he who asks us to take up our crosses and follow him. That is to say, the invitation of Jesus to us all to unite the sufferings of this life with his, and it is through this surrender that we find the answers and we come to understand how suffering is salvific.
God does not give simple answers, however, I've found that when we are truly open to those answers, they are simplicity in themselves, for the understanding is not temporal but spiritual, not intellectual, but interior.
Through my work, I have been suffering...my regular readers will testify to my whining, my angst, and we are all in agreement that I need to get away. But every time I turn around, I find I am penned in with nowhwere to go. I can't just quit; I have to pay for my mortgage. I know that God lead me to the home I now "own" (which of course owns me!), I have to consider my dogs, those lives I have agreed to steward. I have to be responsible; God does not ask us to walk away from obligations - such actions are folly. So I find I am trapped.
While yes, I am seeking a way out, I have been spending far more time in seeking God's will and asking those very questions detailed by John Paul II. Why am I suffering? Why is this so difficult? Why do I have nowhere to go? What is the MEANING of this? And ultimately, my question is narrowed down to, "Is this all there is? What does my life mean? Where does God want me to serve Him?"
I have posted a few times about seeking spiritual direction and my agony over this; my unwillingness to pursue it...my recognition of the need for it. I am a lost soul, I am a suffering soul, and I have come to realize that without God, my life has no meaning.
I cannot go on this way. On Sunday after communion I couldn't seem to pray so I looked up at the crucifix, trying to understand more clearly what Jesus did for us. Suddenly I felt so far away from him, the seperation was almost tangible. I recognized my unworthiness and my own inability to overcome my own sinfulness. I fought hard to hold back the tears, suddenly understanding how far I am from union with God. I became absolutely THIRSTY for this unexplainable union with God; and this, this...is the source of my agony. The seperation from God, the desire and need for union with Him.
So today, as I sat at my desk, staring at my course notes, all of this was running through my mind and I realized that God was using my employment to drive me into asking those questions; the deep questions where the answer will be found if I will only find the courage to go deeper. The answer to all of my questions is found on the Cross, and the only way to understand the Cross is through suffering. The only way to find the answers is to suffer for them, suffer in them, and offer that suffering on behalf of something or someone better. To look for the meaning in that suffering, where God draws near and provides the answers to a soul that is finally listening.
Ultimately, my questions and the answers to them are not about employment, the house, or the stuff I own. It is not about the angst that is my daily life. Rather, it is a spiritual affair, leading down the path to holiness if I should be willing to walk that path. That is not to say that I should be a doormat and not seek another position more in line with my true gifts. Quite the opposite! What I came to realize is that if I am not first seeking God, I will not find the answers, I will not discover my true gifts or my true Vocation UNLESS I am willing to surrender my will to wherever God wants to lead me.
I cannot do this alone.
This weekend I realized that my angst about finding a spiritual director is the same torturous experience I had when I was fighting God about returning to Confession; it was all about fear.
Who is the author of fear?
So I sent a note to a priest I highly respect and whose advice I trust, deciding that this is the first step in submission to God's will; to find someone to hold me accountable and help me stop fighting God so hard. To lead me through this suffering to the answers which will never be found in another job. I would trust him and, if he sees fit, I would trust his recommendation to another. I submit this decision to God alone.
Ironically, I sent the note before I read the encyclical and I think this was key; I first had to overcome my fear and take the first step before God would reveal to me WHY I was taking that step.
I do not know what is going to happen at work or with my potential spiritual direction, but I do know this; this afternoon when I realized the meaning of my suffering, suddenly I was filled with a sense of peace and joy that I could not deny. Somehow, in the midst of my suffering, there is a certain amount of peace and I can only pray that this peace continues as I am truly seeking God's will through this.
Many of you have expressed that you are praying for me. Thank you. Prayers are powerful.