When we suffer in any way, it is normal to ask why. Why does this have to happen? Why would God allow this?
In some of our worst moments of suffering, it can feel not only like God is not present, but that he is very far away. We feel abandoned and betrayed. We get frustrated and angry.
I will never forget the bleakness of the time, years ago, when my infant son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an incurable, life-threatening genetic illness. A few days afterward, we went to Mass together as a family. I knelt before the crucifix as I had always done, but found that this time I had no words to pray. I was surprised by how angry I felt. I was entirely overwhelmed with the feeling that God had let me down. Betrayed me.
Didn’t God know that I was the praying kind? That I was the going- to-church kind? He had broken our unspoken agreement—the one where I do all the “right” things and I play by his rules, and he, in turn, never allows anything bad to happen to me or anyone I love.
Do you have this kind of agreement with God?
This kind of agreement can go on for many years, and it can all feel very nice. The problem comes when a really bad thing does happen, and we are left to make sense of the cruelty of a loving God who has allowed it. Back then, I was at a loss to understand it, and I stayed in that place for some time. Some people find themselves in that painful place of feeling abandoned and betrayed by God and they never do leave. They can never see anything but the stark reality of pain inside of their experience of grief or loss or trial.
But that is not what God wants for any of us. What we fail to see sometimes, when we are stuck inside the limited experience of our pain, is that every kind of suffering is an invitation from God.
Does that sound horrible? You may be suffering through something right now, something terribly painful and confusing, and those words might just make you want to throw this book into the nearest trash can. Thanks for the “invitation,” God, but I am all set!
It is human to want to avoid pain, and it is also human to want to understand it before we can accept it. You can embrace labor pain because you know it will bring forth new life. You can accept the pain of an eight-mile run because you know it will make you stronger. You might accept the pain of healing after surgery because you know that, ultimately, it will make you well.
But what happens when we don’t readily see a reason for our pain? I can look back at my own experience now, as a confused and frightened mother of a very sick little boy, and see that it was an invitation to let go of control and to trust in God. But it was hard to see that back then.
The Invitation To Let Go
Let’s talk about the invitation to let go. Because that’s the step that needs to happen first. Do you like to be in control of your life? Actually, let me rephrase that: Do you like the illusion of being in control of your life? Because we all know it’s true—everything can be humming along smoothly in our lives, but all it takes is one car accident, job loss, breakup, earthquake, or medical diagnosis for us to realize that we are not in control of anything at all. We never were. There are just some times in life when it’s easier to pretend than others.
We get uncomfortable when it’s hard to pretend, but that is also where we can begin to know who we are, and who God is.
Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Did you catch that? Apart from him, we can do nothing. Nothing! Jesus could not be more clear about who is, and who is not, in control of things. And yet, how many of us have read that familiar passage, even many times through the years, and failed to grasp its real meaning? We hold on to the notion that we are in control of our lives until something unpleasant forces us to reckon with the truth.
Jesus knows we have this weakness, especially in the face of suffering, and so he gave us an example of trusting and accepting. God calls on us to trust in him, but he doesn’t just talk. He acts. God went first.
Jesus was fully divine, but he was fully human too. When he prayed in Gethsemane, in the hours before his passion and death, he felt the very human inclination to reject pain and suffering.
“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:38-39).
Not what I want, but what you want. These are hard words to pray. Well, actually they are easy to pray—many of us pray them all the time in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done. The hard part is to actually mean them.
It is never God’s will that we suffer, but he does allow it sometimes because he can meet us in our pain. Through our suffering, God can bring about great things, if we will allow it. Through pain, we can come to know who we are and who God is. He meets us in our pain and invites us to let go of control and to trust in him.
If you are suffering through something hard right now, the very idea that God wants to meet you in your pain might make you angry.
A popular quote attributed to C. S. Lewis says, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
And isn’t that exactly how it feels sometimes? We think we know better. We reject pain and don’t realize that sometimes we reject the goodness of God along with it; we reject the invitation from God to meet him, to know him, and to see him through our suffering.
Teach me to let go, Lord. Come into all the places where
I cling to control and relax my grip. Give me courage to turn everything I have, everything I love, and everything I am back to you who are Goodness and Mercy and Love itself. Show me where you sit, waiting to meet me, inside of all the big things and small things I suffer each day. Let me see you there. Amen.
*This article is an excerpt from Danielle Bean’s new book Whisper: Finding God in the Everyday. Whisper is perfect for anyone looking to develop a more intimate relationship with the ever-present God. Grab a copy and a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and dive in to learn from Danielle how to grow closer to God. In this intimate and down-to-earth book, Danielle encourages women of all stages of life to slow down and experience the little whispers of God that are present in their everyday moments. Danielle writes about real, heartfelt moments that every woman can relate to. The constant striving after achieving more can be relieved. Even more, the ability to do less with more intention can provide a growing awareness of God’s constant presence and interior peace (even if the exterior is still chaotic). Get your copy HERE!