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|Posted on March 26, 2018 at 12:22 PM||comments (44)|
The Question. Often while sitting in the psychological counselor’s chair a very common question emerges:
“Why does God allow these bad things to happen?"
There are many similar takes on this question such as:
“Why does this happen to such an innocent child?”
“If we have such a good God, then why is there so much suffering in this world?”
“If God was on the Cross for so many hours, then why has my relative been afflicted with this or that ailment for so many years?”
The Dilemma: These questions always stop me in my tracks and I even find myself getting tongue tied in trying to come up with a compact soothing succinct answer. After all, in my work, I want to help bring comfort to people’s lives and to teach them how to face challenges and trials.
But ultimately suffering is a sacred mystery of God ---much like the Eucharist and the concept of the Holy Trinity. No matter how we slice it, we cannot wrap our minds around it. Much of the challenge stems from the realization that suffering is a fact of our existence. We all suffer in some form or fashion. People suffer in a variety of ways: physically, psychologically, spiritually, socially, and culturally. We all have a Cross or even Crosses to bear whether we want to accept the situation or not. Truthfully, none of us are left unscathed. And ultimately, we can benefit from our trials. But how?
I have heard it said that suffering is actually the twin sister of love. Just like sorrow and joy can be twins. It is with great joy I discovered St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” which was released to the faithful on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984. From that great work three words resonant: “Suffering unleashes love.”
“Suffering Unleashes Love.” The Crosses in our lives are those occasions for love to blossom, by interior acts of love, exterior acts, and cultural acts. We have a choice. We cannot choose our type of suffering or calamity, but we do have control over how we are going to react to it. Out of an act of our own free will, we can decide to become bitter, lash out at God, refuse to go to Church, blame others, call everyone hypocrites, and curse the day we were born. Or we can choose to cooperate with the Grace of God. Through prayer and discernment, we can look for the good that can stem from a situation and look for the expressions of kindness and love from others that inevitably abound. Psalm 27 states: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” Look for the little acts of love such as the get-well card, the kind word, the sharing of resources, the bouquet of flowers in a hospital room, the new and old relationships that are forged. Don’t see anything good happening? Sure, we can also see the negative fruits. But look hard enough and there are inevitable acts of love abounding.
Jesus Chose His Cross. If still nothing good seems to emerge, one can become that beacon of love oneself, just as Jesus Christ himself did. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” Unlike us, Jesus suffered voluntarily and innocently to unleash love in a profound sacred mysterious way. He chose to suffer when he didn’t have to do it.
Most of us are not taught the value of suffering. An old Catholic cliché is to “offer it up” and we can choose to become prayer warriors at the foot of the Cross, sharing in the Passion of Jesus Christ. We can take every smidgen of difficulty in our life and transform it into something that has redemptive value for ourselves and others.
The Way Over it is Through It. In psychology, a common phrase that I often repeat to my clients is: “The way over it is through it.” This is extremely true for anxiety, fears, trauma, and grief. Avoidance only intensifies the suffering. For example, being able to stay with the feelings of a panic attack actually helps one to get over it, as counterintuitive as this may sound.
So, stop wasting that good suffering that inevitably emerges in life. One doesn’t have to look far. One doesn't even need to create it (none of us likes to be around those that create their own sufferings!). It is all around us naturally.
Go forth and unleash some love!
|Posted on September 15, 2012 at 3:38 PM||comments (0)|
I’ve heard it asked so many times. Someone experiences a tragedy. Something terrible has happened. A person asks, “Where is God?” Then they spend the rest of their life and/or countless number of years blaming God for what happened to them. They wonder what the Almighty God was doing when their difficulties hit the fan.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The Book of Job is an example of suffering in the Old Testament. As a brief summary, Job was a wealthy righteous man who found himself afflicted when he lost riches, family, and became covered with sores. At that time, it was the custom of the people to believe that suffering was given as a punishment from God. Therefore when a person encountered a tragedy, people would search for what grave sin a person or their family had committed. But the lesson contained in this Divinely inspired Book of Job is that suffering can happen to the righteous as well as the unrighteous. In fact, although God doesn’t cause suffering, He can sometimes allow it as a spiritual test and to help strengthen someone. There is a quote going around on the internet that states: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” My Mom always likes to call it, “The School of Hard Knocks.”
What’s the point?
So if something bad happens what is God trying to do? Where is God? Though no one can know the mind of God, sometimes people miss the whole point of why Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected. He came to help us through this life, not to contribute to the difficulties. The difficulties that we encounter come naturally as a result of being part of an imperfect world. Suffering and hard times are the consequence of original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1521). Sin entered the world when God, out of love, gave mankind choices. True love involves being able to choose. We can accept Him or reject Him. We can do His way or our own way. It is that simple. A priest friend of mine once told me “God is not pushy.” Some have tried to purposefully block God out of their lives, their homes, their communities, and their countries. So when we ask where is God? We must also ask ourselves where we have put Him.
Some of life is a Dark Night of the Soul
People ask: “I can’t see God, I can’t hear God, I can’t feel God — how do I know that He is here?” However trite it might sound, this is what faith is all about. Faith is a gift. We all have a chance at this gift. It is not that some get it and others don’t. It is freely offered to everyone. Immediately what comes to my mind is that everyone is invited to go to Mass where one can indeed see, hear, and feel God. One can even “taste and see” through the Eucharist. This is because Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine which becomes His Body and Blood through the consecration. In addition to the Sacraments, people can also encounter God through prayer, other people, and in nature.
So then, where is God?
He was on the Cross. It is not like God can be bound by time. His crucifixion happened for each one of us for all time. Through our own individual difficulties, He is there suffering and dying for us. And we are asked to pick up our own Crosses and follow Him.
Exaltation of the Holy Cross
This week the Church observed the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Cross for us is like a compass that points our way through difficulties. Instead of grumbling in the wilderness of our lives, wondering where God has led us, we can look to the Cross to be our guide. It is not only healthy spiritually, but also advantageous emotionally to cling to the Cross. None of us are spared difficulties. What makes the difference is how we embrace them.