Following God’s will is not a free pass from suffering
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a liberal, secular couple met, fell in love, and wedded in a pagan ceremony. Through the grace of God, in the most unlikely of places (grad school!), they encountered rational, joyful Christians who challenged them to rethink their assumptions about organized religion and about faith in the person of Jesus Christ. By the time their first child was born, they had joyfully entered the Catholic Church together and convalidated their heathen marriage.
But all was not as it should be. They had taken only the first baby steps along the path to real surrender. While they faithfully attended Sunday Mass, not much else about their daily lives — or their hearts — had changed.
Growing in Faith
A few years and a few moves down the road, the little family met even more rational, joyful Catholics who challenged them to rethink their assumptions about what it means to actually be a Christian. In other words, they started to live the teachings of the church more fully. Parish life became a fixture of not one but several days a week; prayer became the sticks by which their days were measured.
As the practice of their faith changed, the little family could not help but be changed in turn.
“How much Jesus loves us! What else can we give to Him? What else can we do for Him?” The answer came one day when the little family perceived a call to uproot themselves from the warm, close-knit community they had come to cherish, and move to a distant land, to accept work that would directly benefit the hurt and suffering.
“This will be a terrible sacrifice,” they nodded soberly. “But it is Right and Good to make sacrifices for Christ. We have heard the call, and we will answer.”
Accepting a Cross…
The not-so-little-now family faithfully set forth to the new land, expecting a period of hard readjustment, but also expecting the joy of the new work to shower graces upon them to carry them through it.
You can imagine, then, their surprise when this did not happen exactly as they expected.
The new work was just hard. The readjustment, also hard.
The little family looked around in bewilderment and cried out to God, “We did what you asked! We took up this cross for you, gladly! You promised to help us! Why is it still hard?“
They prayed for succor and relief, and in short order an opportunity arose, back in their old familiar home. They accepted it, and came home, shaking their heads in confusion.
It seemed God had not wanted them to complete this good new work. Perhaps, it seemed, He had only wanted their obedience and willingness to try it.
…Does Not Guarantee Clarity…
Last month, we (yes, we, the little family in question) went back to Minnesota for the first time since our failed relocation in 2012-2013. That time in our lives raised a lot of unanswered questions. The call was so clear. The invitation home was also clear.
What in goodness’ name was that move about, then?
As we wandered the streets of our former hometown, my heart both sang and ached. It is such a lovely, lovely place, particularly on a flawless August day. As I asked myself that question — what was this all about? — in the setting where it all went down, some clearer thoughts began to emerge.
We expected the transition to be hard. We expected homesickness, the trials of settling into a new job, making new friends, finding a parish community that was a good fit.
But, in truth, we also expected success. Consolation. Signs that we were on the right track. A spiritual pat on the back, if you will.
…Nor Does it Guarantee an Easy Road (Usually the Opposite)
I had many of these signs and consolations, and I was able to recognize them at the time. I was challenged and experienced a lot of growth that year. Slowly, we made friends and found our footing. But professionally, Todd really didn’t. And since it was for HIS job that we had moved there, we perceived the entire enterprise as a failure, and threw in the towel.
God never promised us that Todd would be immediately successful at that job. Or even successful, ever. All He did was ask us to go and do it. In asking us to willingly choose that cross and do that work, He did not promise us any immunity whatsoever from failure or from other suffering.
I wonder what would have happened if we had stayed, willing to humbly endure that suffering and lack of success in addition to the cross of leaving everything we knew in Texas. Willing only because the second trial was what followed naturally from the acceptance of the first, and we had explicitly agreed to the first. If P then Q.
We will never know now, but I bet it would have been amazing. Instead, we chose the other offered path, which has also been amazing, but it will never be the same kind of amazing that God had in store for us in Minnesota.
Suffering After a Lourdes Healing
I experienced so much peace and acceptance around Oscar and his future during the pilgrimage to Lourdes. It has been such a spectacular and unexpected grace.
But, dear readers, we have had some crazy, crazy things go down in the months since returning home. Things that would have been, quite on their own, stressful and difficult to deal with, without already having to parent a profoundly disabled special needs child.
Walking the streets of Rochester, I clearly recognized the trap we fell into five years ago. “Lord, I have accepted this cross you offered me. And now, I expect immunity from other crosses. At least for a little while, and in this particular area. My work here for you goes this far, and no farther.”
Oh, so wrong.
I was really struck by point three in this article by Eric Huffman, 5 Harvey things you don’t expect. People who had cancer before Harvey flooded their house… they still have cancer. And cancer didn’t buy them a get-out-of-Harvey-free card.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Life Isn’t Fair. Neither is Suffering.
There is no rhyme or reason or, yes, fairness, that we can see from this side of heaven, to explain the suffering in the world. We will not know why some people seem to endure far more than their fair share.
We can’t know the whole plan. We can only know the piece of it that God has laid at our feet today, and pick it up, and apply ourselves to it faithfully. We give our best effort, but we remove our ego from attachment to the outcome.
Agreeing to do hard or even impossible things for God does not guarantee we will succeed. Accepting suffering does not mean we will not be asked to accept more a few miles down the road. No one is immune, not even those already suffering.
The only thing we actually have to offer Him is our yes, our continued effort, ourselves.