About a month ago, I was listening to Catholic radio on my drive to work and I heard them talking about a book that I had heard them speak about many times before. The book was called, “Arise from Darkness,” by the late Psychologist and Franciscan Priest, Fr. Benedict Groeschel. For the past 6 months I feel like I have been struggling to “arise” out of my own darkness, and I knew Jesus was calling me to read this book so I ordered it once I got to work. I just finished reading through it and I really can’t tell you how incredibly beautiful and healing it was for me. Most of the things Fr. Benedict spoke of were not new to me, but my heart has been so pried open because of my recent struggles, that it was like I was hearing these things for the first time, but on a much deeper level of understanding. This book reminded me of the most important thing, something I had slowly lost sight of in my pain: everything we go through in this life is about our journey towards Heaven.
Shifting our Eyes towards Eternity
As I was reading through the book and Fr. Benedict was speaking about eternity, it was like a light was illuminated in my soul again. What had been causing my soul so much despair, was that I had no context for my present sufferings. Without even recognizing it, I had taken my eyes off of eternity. My pain had caused me to turn inward and to start focusing on all the struggles and frustrations that my health problems and infertility have been causing. Without an eternal perspective, I had no meaningful context for my present sufferings. It sounds so simple since we know as Christians that Heaven is the end goal, but living life through the lens of an eternal perspective sometimes gets lost in the mix of things. Refocusing and shifting our eyes back to Heaven changes everything.
Suffering, darkness, the way of the cross, none of these things are desirable if we are looking through a worldly lens. When I lose the eternal perspective and I start thinking about what I want for my life my list easily grows out of control. I want comfort. I want pleasure. I want an easy life. I want as little pain, heartbreak and suffering as possible. I want to be loved, well-liked, successful. I want to be admired and holy and inspirational. I want security, a nice home, good health, a beautiful family. I want everything the world tells me I need to be happy. Nowhere on my wordly list would you see the word suffering.
What I am constantly being reminded of, is that we cannot have both a worldly mindset and an eternal mindset and at the same time expect to make peace with our suffering. It’s impossible. If we look at things through the lens of temporary happiness and a false sense of security, we will despise the cross. But if we recognize the fruit it bears and that all suffering is a tiny stepping stone leading us to heaven, than it is bearable and can be incredibly fruitful and transformative.
I have fought against my suffering and exhausted myself in trying to make sense of it. In the last 6 months I have felt the sorrow and loneliness of my infertility. I have wept at the thought of not bearing children, of being a mother. I never thought Jesus would ask me to carry this cross, but for whatever reason, for this season of my life, He has, and it’s time for me to carry it in a way that He is worthy of. I have gone through persistent health challenges that have made me confront my own immortality, and my utter reliance on Jesus for my security. I once felt great security in being young and healthy and picturing all that life had in store for me. While I am not dying yet, thanks be to Jesus, I have had to confront the reality that we all must confront- that my life could fade away at any time, without my control or consent, and I have to be ready and be at peace with that. I don’t get to dictate what illness’s I get, how long they persist or what they strip me of. I don’t get to decide what Jesus will permit me to experience for the benefit of my own soul and that of others, but I do control how I accept this offer from Jesus to use my sufferings for the sake of His Kingdom.
I noticed that as I have been asking Jesus to help me to have an eternal perspective, my sufferings have instantly been given new meaning. I don’t have to fight against my crosses. I don’t have to try to shield myself from pain. I can embrace all Jesus asks of me. And this is how I desire to live, in a disposition of surrender. As I have been meditating on Heaven, my sorrow is slowly fading and I am recognizing that Jesus will give to me or withhold from me whatever he pleases, and whatever I need for my salvation. If I don’t bear children in this life, but I save souls for Jesus in some other way, than that will be my greatest joy. If my health doesn’t return to fullness, and I have to endure continuous struggles for the sake of Jesus, then I can make peace with that.
Trusting Jesus in the darkness
I had surgery last week and as soon as I was in the recovery room, the doctor told my husband that my scar tissue and endometriosis was much worse than she originally thought, so I will need another surgery sometime in the near future. I thought I would’ve been devastated, angry, anything but at peace, especially considering how many angry outbursts I have had with God in the last 6 months. It would’ve been easy to be tempted by the enemy to start thinking, “Really God, I’m not even out of the hospital yet, and I’m already being told I have to come back here?” But Jesus held me and Our Lady held me and I was too tired to feel anything but trust and peace. I went home that day with peace in my heart. Maybe it was the leftover calming effects of the anesthesia, but I think God was giving me a special grace in that moment, to realize that I’m not yet finished carrying this cross. (My parents were in Medjugorje at the time of my surgery so I have no doubt that their prayers to our Lady helped me in a special way that day).
I’m slowly starting to understand that trusting Jesus, doesn’t mean that there is a time limit on when our suffering is going to come to an end. We don’t always know when Jesus will relieve us from some of the crosses we are carrying, or if we will carry them up to the gates of Heaven; but our peace doesn’t have to depend on that because peace can be one of the fruits of suffering.
“Trust in God does not mean that everything is going to work out just the way we want it to, that everything is going to be peaches and cream. Trust in God doesn’t mean that he is going to restore the false sense of security that we had before. It means that, whatever happens, we believe that God is there with us and that, if we cling to him, he will bring good out of evil, even out of the evil that he has only permitted to happen. I must make up my mind now that in the darkest hour of life, I will believe that God is with me.” –Fr Benedict, P. 47
I continue to choose to believe that Jesus is with me in all of this. That doesn’t mean I expect Him to give me children, or to heal me physically in order for me to trust Him. I trust Him even if He never heals me enough to have children. I couldn’t say that 6 months ago, but the fruit of all this pain is slowly being revealed to me, and I am finally, finally getting out of God’s way (praised be Jesus).
“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people.”-Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey
If I’m honest with myself, most of the time I just want an easy life. When times of trial hit, there is an interior temptation for me to think, “how long is this going to last?” I don’t readily welcome the things that I know I need in order to grow in holiness. Until the last 6 months, I really didn’t realize how much my attitude towards my life, my health, my sense of security has been dictated by the world. I have been living out my faith, but little by little, without my full awareness, I have developed the mentality of the world that I want an easy, comfortable, healthy life. Jesus isn’t calling us to an easy, comfortable life, he’s calling us to imitate his life, and nothing about his life was easy or comfortable.
Our health will fade. Our bank accounts may dwindle. Our friends may abandon us. The job we’ve worked at for 30 + years may let us go. We will have moments where we feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us, but we won’t completely lose our sense of security if our security rests in Jesus. If we die and we’ve lived faithfully, we go to Jesus. What do we have to lose? If we lose everything and everyone we love, but we still have Jesus, we are still rich. We have all we need. I am praying to truly let my heart rest in knowing that Jesus is my ultimate and only source of security. Everything else I try to grasp onto, as good and holy as it may appear to be, will fade with all things that are passing. Jesus and His love for us, that is eternal. That is lasting. That is where our security must lie. I leave you with this beautiful prayer that Fr. Benedict wrote in his book.
O God, Our Father, you give us each day our daily bread. You give us what we need and often much more than what we need. You tell us in the words of your Divine Son to trust in you and to rely on you for all things. Often we are filled with fear. We are afraid to lose our security, our place in life, our health, our reputation, what we style as our importance. We are afraid to live and more afraid to die. Give us your Holy Spirit that we may find our peace in you. Strengthen us in hours of need. Most of all, may your Holy Spirit teach us to see what is truly important and to surrender that which is really unimportant and perhaps an obstacle on our road to you. May our Lord Jesus Christ, the poor carpenter of Nazareth, the homeless preacher of the roads, the man condemned to death and deprived of all the earthly things, including this life, be our model. May we not wish to be more secure than he was. And when things are taken from us and our security fails, may his example and life be a guiding light to us through the short journey of this life. Heavenly Father, you alone have riches to give that time cannot carry away. You alone can give us that Kingdom which does not perish. We pray, O Lord, that through the example of your Son and the grace of your Holy Spirit, we and all of those dear to us may have a true security based on the acceptance of your Divine Will. May we have eyes to see beyond this world and hearts to cherish that which does not pass away, but which lasts forever. Amen.
2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by George Hiles at Freely Photos