Let’s be totally honest: we all feel totally crappy sometimes. It just happens. Some mornings we wake up, look in the mirror, and just groan. Some days, we feel empty, lonely, or even worthless; the weight of the world and all your flaws just hangs over you. Some nights you just collapse into your bed and hope sleep comes quickly so that the day can be over already.
It is altogether too easy to look at ourselves and see only what we have done wrong, or all the wrong that has been done to us. We are bound up within our own flaws and failings, all our fears and hurts, all our crosses, all the past. Somehow, we feel as though we can’t look at reality except through the lens of everywhere we’ve been and all the ugly inside.
But there IS another perspective which we can, and indeed, we MUST take: an eternal one.
I mean this in two ways: we must be able both to look at the truth of our lives as God does, and also keep our eyes fixed on eternity at all times and in all things.
All to often, I fall into the lies whispered in my ears by my own frail ego, my past, and the evil one who wants nothing more than to keep me in darkness, away from the light of truth. It is difficult to look at myself without feeling a great deal of shame and disgust. In such times, I forget the deepest, most essential truths about me: God made me. He made me for a purpose. He has given me all I am and have. And He loves me.
Then come the struggles of everyday life. Some days are better than others, but each day carries its own particular struggles, and each day is another path along which I must pick up and carry my cross. Things happen to me that hurt me, that make me feel as though God isn’t watching, that He doesn’t care, and that no one else does either. And yet I’ve missed entirely the big picture. My thinking is bound by temporal and spacial limits. Things happen which at the time seem purposeless, painful, and horrible. And yet, the truth is that everything that happens happens for a reason, which we often cannot know, but which God has perfectly planned, He Who is outside of time and loves perfectly, in such a way that He cannot bear to leave us where we are, and allows us to break only that we may find our true, ultimate, and most perfect and beautiful and fulfilling happiness: HIM.
The two complement one another, and depend on understanding the truth of Scripture, God’s very words of challenging, faithful, constant, perfect love. And they ought to lead us to rejoice.
Hold the phone…rejoice? In suffering? Uh, yeah, sounds nice, but how the heck does that work?
Well, here’s the thing: no matter what the heck we feel or think we know, God’s love is completely constant. ISN’T THAT AWESOME?! God doesn’t EVER stop loving us, no matter what we feel! His love for us doesn’t depend on us, His greatness isn’t changed by anything we do, His mercy isn’t overcome by any sin we commit. In the words of a dear friend, “GOD IS SOOOO BIG!!!!!”
The music is God’s unfathomable love and mercy, the dance floor is this funny place called life, this wild and beautiful, rocky and treacherous road to Paradise. No matter how the wind buffets our bodies and souls, no matter how tired our legs get, there is ALWAYS reason to rejoice, for God’s love never stops pouring through creation and our very souls.
So excuse me, I’m going to get back to the dance, hands raised high, joy in my heart, and eyes fixed on Heaven.
Y’know those people who have existential crises?
Apparently I’m one of them. Or so it seems.
I’m typing this on the floor of my dorm room, and after a solid hour laying flat with music blasting in my earbuds, I’m finding some semblance of peace at last. Or the closest thing I’ve known to peace for a few years. It’s not so much that everything has gone away, because it definitely hasn’t. I’m still laying here, feeling small, looking at the enormity of my problems while simultaneously realizing how ridiculous some people would think I am.
But right now, I’m looking at it all without feeling like I’m drowning. I’ve got just enough strength to keep breathing for awhile, and just enough hope to turn the next dark corner.
And after all, what else can we ask for?
I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, that God still cares for me. But everything I’ve ever known about life and love is that, in the end, everyone leaves you, and you’re left behind.
So it’s always a refreshing, beautiful thing when God’s constant love hits me like a brick wall all over again. Every moment that He reminds me is a treasure, completely new and completely breathtaking. And it always comes right when I most need it and least expect it.
I guess it’s almost a good thing that I haven’t been able to make friends until recently. If I didn’t believe God’s love was constant and faithful and intimate, how could I believe that human love could hold possibly hold anything good? Even friendship.
And suddenly I find myself learning both of them at the same time, without ever fully taking it in. Every time, just every time, I can’t help but feel like my heart is gonna break from the healing joy thrusting out the memories and lies. And I cry easily, so it’s been a lot of tissue boxes to go through.
There’s really nothing like it, having everything fall apart only to realize you were seeing it from the angle, and God’s got all the pieces of your heart held right where they need to be. I haven’t quite gotten there this time, but somehow, I don’t need to know.
So even though the leap is still terrifying, even though stepping out of my comfort zone has strained every nerve to the breaking point, even though I know there’s probably many more broken nights in the near future, I think I just might make it through. Just as long as I throw myself into the arms of the Lord.
I remember a time I loathed the idea I might have some limitation, some handicap. I always knew I had seemingly odd differences, but I began to see them as no longer neutral but profoundly negative. I trembled at the terrible notion that I might be terribly held back. And yet the stark reality of my own weaknesses, my difference from the world around me, was staring me in the face and daring me to discover its source, tossing up the most horrible possible answers. More horrible still, I latched onto the worst possible answer and hinged my life on that assumption about myself, about who, or maybe more accurately what, I was.
Three years later, I would discover this was false, that I had believed a lie. Or half a lie. I was wrong about WHY I was different. But if those three nightmarish years taught me anything, they confirmed more fully in me that I truly was different, limited, and in some sense weak, though I began perhaps to see a flicker of strength within.
Still, the fact of my weakness plagued me. For another three years, life would be full of questioning, self-loathing, and terrible displays of my weakness: I felt too much. Every face was either one more stimulus for an already-overwhelmed mind or one more reason to cringe into a corner. Every sound, every inflection of the voice, every touch, every speck of light–I was paralyzed at times. One moment I would be sympathizing with a loved one, the next nearly gagging on my own breath from the weight of the emotional stress. And all I could think was how much I sucked for not being normal.
The past few weeks, after learning that all my life I’ve been living without a choice in the matter, I’ve been trying to live as if I could make it go away, make it stop hurting. I know now that that’s impossible.
And somehow, that makes me happier.
There’s a strange sort of…peace, I suppose, in simply sitting back and saying, “I’m limited.” There’s a remarkable clarity in looking at all you wish you could do and saying, “So be it.” There’s an odd kind of consolation in simply stretching out your arms, looking to a crucifix, and saying, “My turn.”
I’m not despairing, I’m not despondent, just…a different kind of hopeful. I’m not hoping for healing anymore. I’m just hoping for the strength to see this journey through, cross and all. I’m choosing to accept the hardships of this life with patience and look to the promise of an eternity without pain or tears. I’m not giving up on this life, I’m just trying to see it through a new lens, one that does not rejoice in suffering but accepts it anyway and tries to be joyful through the pain. I’m seeing outside myself, seeing the beauty that God has placed in the world, not as simply a nice touch to the reality He created but as a message of His love for us, a source of his comfort on this rocky road to Paradise.
I don’t see all rainbows and butterflies anymore, but I’m not limited to the showers and worms either. No, at last, praise God, I’m beginning to see reality as it was meant to be seen, and it’s because I finally know that I can’t see it all.
I don’t even know if any of what just spilled from my fingertips even came out coherently, but it doesn’t matter. I know that if it’s touching the paper, someone, somewhere, needs to hear this. To whoever it is, know this: you are dearly loved, your pains are not punishment but profound signs of the love of a Father too dearly fond of us to let us live in mediocrity. He has shown us what it means to suffer in love, and the great rewards that are to come. It’s easier said than done, but speaking as one who is beginning to pass from darkness to light, it is well worth all you must surrender in love to He Who first loved you enough to die for you. May God bless you.
Like curling wisps of toxic fumes, the pain
begins again, and chokes my very breath
to naught. It seems there’s nothing here to gain
but slow surrender to an inner death.
But I would gladly do it all again.
I hear it whispered in the dark of night
that this is craziness, this seeming mess
that I make of myself for this, and right
they are. They can’t see past the loneliness.
But I can. How I wish I’d seen it then.
I set myself upon this rocky path
the moment I said “Fiat” to the One
Who holds the universe. There is no wrath,
no bitterness. My road has just begun,
and I will see it to the very end.
For love is not for weak-kneed men. It asks
each ounce of life, each breath, each moment dear
to you, and you relinquish all your masks
for truth like lightning, scorching yet so clear
in life and beauty. There’s no save, just spend.
So set Your till upon my soul, and make
my eyes to rain, for there is requiem
and spring just past reality. I’ll take
my chances, give my all for You and them.
I love my God and all my fellow men.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This well-known “Serenity Prayer” was what a friend chose to have tattooed on her shoulder. My first reaction was something like, “You put what? On where? Using WHAT????” Needles and I have a long-running love-hate relationship: I hate them, and they love to see me squirm. Naturally, I was curious as to what would possess a person to voluntarily have one stuck in their shoulder multiple times.
Turns out, she had dealt with great grief and suffering in her life, and this prayer had come to be not only a comfort but a guide to how she dealt with life: receiving wisdom from God to analyze her situations, serenity to accept the things that had happened to her, and courage to change how she dealt with them and approached the rest of her life. This prayer was so much a part of her that she wanted it permanently etched into her very flesh. While I don’t normally advocate tattoos (I mean, c’mon, who needs a skull in flames sitting permanently on their body which probably looked much better without it? There’s gotta be a better way to spend that money…), I could not help but feel great admiration and respect for this young woman.
This prayer has come, in the past few days, to touch me in a very deep way. It turns out that I have an inherited trait called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, making me an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person…real original name, huh?). It affects about 15-20% of the population in varying degrees, and basically it means that my nervous system is incredibly sensitive and easily overwhelmed. On the pro side, it’s easy for me to enter deeply into the spiritual life, to appreciate beauty, and to pick up on the feelings of others. On the con side, I’m easily overwhelmed by crowds and over-stimulating environments, I’m hypercritical of myself, and, because of old insecurities, social situations are an ordeal for me.
Having only recently discovered this, I’ve dealt for my whole life with this without being able to name it, and thus unable to accept it without any amount of serenity. I always had a fear of fireworks, couldn’t connect well with guys (loud, rowdy, obnoxious guys were the only guys I knew), and never got why I couldn’t get into sports and preferred instead singing in a choir. Insecurity after insecurity built itself up within me, and all I could say with any certainty was that I was different, and the only word I knew for “different without a name” was “freak”.
I’ve always heard that the most relieving thing for a person dealing with psychological problems is to be able to put a name to it, and now I can say it’s totally true. It’s a little like dealing with temptation: once you can name your demons, you can combat them. The difference is that we’re dealing here not with demons, but with our own broken and beautiful humanity. When once we can look at our brokenness as God does–with great love–we find new meaning and purpose. I am not a freak; I am a man with both a gift and a cross, just like everyone else; mine just happen to be rolled up under one heading.
My prayer is that I may accept with serenity who I am, change with courage the way it has affected and will affect me, and know with wisdom which is which; to simultaneously love myself and make myself the best I can be, not so much for my sake but for His.
And my prayer for any who struggle in any way, especially those who are fellow HSP’s, is that you, too, may receive wisdom, courage, and serenity from the loving hands that first created you.
Life is a beautiful thing, truly breathtaking. Yet even the most beautiful rose will be studded with thorns.
I’m a college student, so I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about suffering. I can claim, though, that I have felt pain, I have faced and still face trials and struggles. Through it all, for the longest time, it all swirled under an ebony cloud of confusion. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was really facing, or why I had to face it. This past week was no exception. Until a drop of sunlight fell blindingly through the cloud to bring back the light of hope and joy stifled for so long in the darkness.
I and many friends consecrated ourselves last December to Jesus through Mary according to the formula set forth by St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. De Montfort wrote a book on what it truly means to devote oneself to the Blessed Virgin entitled True Devotion. Which, unfortunately, I have yet to read myself, but which a dear friend is currently reading. Now I don’t believe in coincidences–I believe that which is referred to as serendipity is really the hand of God at work–so it was not just a nice surprise but a spiritual gift when he shared the following insight from the book: Mary hands us the sweetest gifts of Heaven–crosses.
How can this make any sense? Crosses sweet? The mind reels at the paradox. Allow me, then, to share with you the path I took in discovering the beauty of this truth.
Fellow pilgrims, Christ Himself said, “[H]e who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Harsh? Considering He literally carried a giant cross on a scarred and bleeding back with thorns dug into His skull, through streets and up a rocky hill, alone but for those who lined the streets to mock Him, after which He died a slow painful death by suffocation and blood loss with nails through His hands and feet, all so we might have the chance to spend eternity in Heaven, I hardly think so.
And no, I do not digress. Consider: our God knows the full extent of our suffering. He was physically tortured, murdered, knew loneliness, was tempted when He was weakest in bodily strength in the desert, had a cousin who was killed, watched His mother suffer as He carried out His mission–in the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, “I fight not under a Captain Who has never sensed a wound, but One who stumbled to His Throne.” There is a poignant scene in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis in which Diggory, beginning to cry, hangs his head in shame and pain before Aslan, who represents Christ. When he finally looks Aslan in the eye, he is shocked: Aslan, too, is crying.
Brethren, God does not rejoice in our suffering. What He does rejoice in is that which lies just beyond the suffering, if we will only trust Him. You see, God’s love for us is incomprehensible, because He is Love Himself; He is that love which says, “I freely sacrifice all I am and have for your greater good and ultimate happiness.” The thing is, He sees what will truly make us good and happy, while we can’t even see what will happen to us in the next moment. He is outside of time and space; we, for now, must work within it. So inevitably, God’s going to allow things or give us things that simply don’t make sense.
But there is peace, is there not, in knowing that God is not only walking with us but guiding us? If we are trusting in God and striving to grow closer to God, then the times in which we feel lost may well be the times in which He holds us closest to Himself.
A final point: in the Catholic Church, there is a teaching of ‘redemptive suffering’–the belief that in our suffering, if we truly offer it to God joyfully and unite it with Christ’s salvific sacrifice, we can participate in the work of salvation. By our offering of that which we struggle through, we can win souls for Heaven. Brethren, consider: we have been given the chance to participate in the divine work of redemption, the very work which transforms us and makes us adopted Children of God. Besides the gift of Himself for the work of salvation and in the Eucharist, please tell me what greater gift there could be.
I wish I could say it gets easier. News flash: life is hard. And the closer you get to Christ, the harder it will become, the deeper He will call us, the more struggling He will entrust to us. And yet, how much greater is the joy that will come with it, how much stronger is the fire of purpose leading us ever forward to Paradise. How great will eternity be for us, how beautiful is the promise made by He who will never break His promises.
And for those who simply need a little encouragement: God walks with you in your suffering. He weeps with you as you cry, feels your pain as you fall. To get back up again, to struggle forward again on this rocky road of reality with praise on your lips and faith in your heart, brings untold joy to the Heart Who gave you life. And just beyond the twilight is the promise of a rising sun that will drive away all doubt, eradicate all pain, dry away all tears.
Hope in the Lord, for the sun will rise.
(Credit due to my good friend Joe, for giving me the quote and, more importantly, the friendship that has brought me to this understanding)