By Michaelyn Hein –
A couple years ago, my daughter fell down our basement steps and gashed her eyebrow. “It needs stitches,” my husband told me over the phone. “Meet me at the hospital.”
An hour later, I found myself doing the job a mother detests. I helped a nurse hold my screaming 4-year-old down so the doctor could repair the wound on her brow. As my daughter fought against me, I looked her in the eye and tried to soothe her. “Shh,” I whispered as I stroked her arm, “Be still.”
But she, I imagine, could not fathom why I would assist the doctor in this seemingly malicious practice. As my daughter resisted, she couldn’t possibly understand that in that moment, what was needed was a little pain so that her healing could begin.
The experience of my daughter is not so different from the human experience of suffering. We resist pain with everything we have. When we are called to suffer, we look at the heavens and shake our head in wonder. ‘Why,’ we ask, ‘do You not sweep down and relieve us of this burden? We’ve seen You heal in the Gospels. We know You can. So why don’t You?’
But like a parent holding down her confused child as she receives stitches, our Lord knows when pain is for our own good. Because He is our perfect Father, we must trust that He would never allow our pain for its sake alone. Because He is all good, the only kind of pain He allows is that which is redemptive, which heals more than it hurts, even if we cannot see that.
This is when our trust endures its greatest test.
Years ago, I attended a retreat. I don’t recall what it was about, but I do remember the words spoken by a priest during his homily at one of the weekend Masses.
“This cross,” he said, pointing to the crucifix above the altar, “has two sides. One for Him, and the other,” he now pointed at those of us in the pews, “for you.”
It’s been almost a decade since that retreat, but those words still echo in my head. Usually, they rise to the surface of my memories when I find myself facing a trial. The cross has two sides, I’ll remind myself. As a Christian, you must embrace it.
But embracing it is hard when our natural inclination toward pain is to run from it. So what do we do? We may start by turning to the saints, for there is no saint who did not suffer. That fact alone should bring us some comfort, odd comfort though it may seem. We cannot become saints if we are not willing to suffer.
As St. Augustine said, “God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” Thus, can we possibly believe that we should leave this life free from suffering while every saint – as well as our Lord and Lady – did not?
What’s better, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi tells us, “You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.”
But that reward does not need to wait for heaven! Our God is so good that He often visits and consoles us in our suffering right here on earth. It is in its pain that He comes closest to a soul still toiling on this side of paradise.
As proof, Blessed Charles Spinola once exclaimed, “Oh, if you had tasted the delights with which God fills the souls of those who…suffer for Him!” He went on to share, “I have been afflicted with a continual fever a hundred days without any remedies or proper nourishment. All this time my heart was so full of joy that it seemed to me too narrow to contain it. I have never felt any equal to it, and I thought myself at the gates of paradise.”
Though it often feels impossible, we, too, can find ourselves at the “gates of paradise” in our trials, especially when we surrender to the One who is our peace when we feel we have none left.
I don’t say this lightly. Rather, I have suffered the losses of four children before they were born, and just recently, I endured a mastectomy that I hope has cleansed breast cancer from my body.
As I was wheeled into the operating room for the procedure, I was overcome with inexplicable peace, which ironically came from the fact that I could not do anything in that moment to help myself. I could not perform the surgery. I could not stand over the doctor’s shoulder and make sure she did a thorough job. All I could do was surrender myself to Jesus and admit that I could do nothing, but that our God, who created my body and soul, could also heal both.
Just as Blessed Charles Spinola promised, in that surrendering during suffering came the sweetest of consolations, as my body was overcome with “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
It is a peace that I pray my daughter finally felt when she stopped fighting me in the emergency department and instead settled against me and closed her eyes as the doctor stitched her wound. It is a peace I pray each of us is consoled with as we climb up on our own crosses and suffer alongside our Savior.
Let us not forget the words of Our Lady to little Lucia on June 13, 1917: “Are you suffering a lot? Do not worry. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” In other words, the way that will lead us to peace.
Whatever tribulations come our way, may each of us hear our Father whispering, “Shh, be still,” as we rest in the consolation of knowing that He is our God and that there is no better path to follow than His.
Michaelyn Hein is a wife, mother and Catholic writer who resides in Hopewell, New Jersey. She is a regular contributor to our blog and Soul Magazine.
Thank you for your thoughts on suffering! I was blessed to be where the Our Lady of Fatima pilgrim tour celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Fatima appearances in May 13, 2017 at St Anthony’s in Laurel, Montana. Father Bart recounted Our Lady’s counsel to the children and how to offer up suffering with the prayer “O Jesus, this is for the love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners and for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
I knew the prayer but was very glad for the refresher course that day as well as the glorious celebration with David Carello present with Our Lady’s tour. The next week I broke three ribs and refused pain medications and my doctor later said I was the only person he knew who went through broken ribs without pain medication. I did so because I did not want to become addicted and had a stark reminder of the toll of addiction when encountering a man who was waiting at the pharmacy for his opioids and I could tell he was really hooked. He said he went to an evangelical church in the town where we both lived. I knew that he would not have learned the way to offer up suffering and really felt for him. I was there to pick up a rib belt that the doctor said I should wear when feeding horses. So I used the prayer a lot and it helped me make it through and I was really grateful.
Before I left Montana, two men were indignant with me when I said that sometimes suffering can be redemptive. They were both Protestants of different denominations and it just irked them that I would say such a thing. So, I can honestly say that having that simple way of offering up suffering enabled me to not become a statistic in the opioid epidemic. The Blue Army is a treasure truly!