Several years ago, I felt the Holy Spirit tug at my heart while I was engaging in morning prayer. It was well before we were blessed with our two beautiful girls, and in many ways, I was in my spiritual infancy. Though my heart was receptive to God’s prompting, I remained somewhat reticent at the invitation I heard Him speak with gentle persistence:
Do you accept the cross I will give you?
He asked me a few times, and I received with increasing clarity that this new cross would entail tremendous suffering, which terrified me. I grappled with this haunting question for days, but my heart grew restless. The truth was clear: I could not ignore God’s call. And because I truly loved Him to the capacity of which I was able, I could not deny Him this request, this invitation.
Little did I know at the moment of my resolved yes to God’s question that the cross to which He referred would involve our daughters. Both of our children have different special needs: Felicity’s are sensory and psychological in nature, while Sarah was born with a very rare craniofacial condition.
All the while I prayed that we would be blessed with children, I never considered the possibility that the blessing would involve continuous struggles in our daily lives. The gift, of course, is the incredible joy of our daughters’ childlike wisdom and untainted love, but the cross is that my husband and I are asked for a particular level of dying to self that most other families may never face.
Two passages in this chapter struck – no, lanced - my heart as if they were words of prophecy that specifically pertained to my wrestling and suffering. First, Sonja Corbitt explained that the answers to my prayers for changing my life circumstances may, in fact, be that God is asking me to change instead. That wrestling with the desire that life would get easier somehow is met with a merciful, tender no from God.
He is asking more of me – and more of you, too. The “more” is hidden in the crosses we bear. It lies in the mystery of our struggle and strife. It is the hidden gem that can only be refined in the crucible of God’s love.
The second reflection that rested on my heart pertained to pain and suffering itself:
We see that pain and suffering are in the normal pattern of growth, and that avoidance causes sickness or sin. C.S. Lewis once said God shouts in our pains. ‘Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’ And so it is. It teaches us to hear without the noise of words.
St. Peter tells us pain and suffering is cleansing. Those who willingly accept this important function of suffering experience something utterly astounding… (p.101)
Corbitt struck me with painful, powerful, and necessary words – words I had been attempting to circumvent through my cognitive temper tantrums of which (thankfully) only God and I were aware. I have particularly pondered the truth that suffering “is a normal pattern of growth,” “teaches us to hear without the noise of words,” and “is cleansing.” The finale is our intentional reception of our crosses.
Since I have become a mom of kids with special needs, I have lived these truths every day, without exception. I have never grown in character during the comfortable periods of my life, but rather in the times of tension, darkness, and frustration. That struggle – if I persevere in faith – is what leads me to a more tempered self-appraisal and refines the rugged edges of the virtues for which I strive. So suffering is, indeed, “a normal pattern of growth.”
Suffering also forces me into that school of silence and solitude. Without that sacred space, I am rendered hollow, and words ring fruitless to my heart. Words become idle chatter when I am experiencing intense emotional pain. In fact, noise – any noise – easily transforms into an unbearable cacophony that slowly erodes my spirit. So suffering is essentially an invitation to the desert – to exit our frenzied and often frivolous lifestyle and then to enter into that arid place devoid of purposeless banter and empty sounds. Silence beckons us to learn what lessons suffering offers to teach us.
Suffering is also cleansing. It sounds paradoxical that suffering could bring about healing, but it’s true. I have never been able to fully articulate the particular cross that patient and loving caregiving entails on a daily basis, and I’ve found that most people choose to believe that our family isn’t all that different from other families, anyway. So the cross I carry is very invisible and hidden, which makes it all the more excruciating to bear at times.
But the cleansing occurs when I unite my perpetual grief to the Paschal Mystery. My soul has become kindred to Jesus’ soul, and His wounds have truly healed my agony, strife, and sorrow. The veracity of Scripture, “By His stripes we are healed” (see Isaiah 53:5), is well-incorporated into my daily trials, especially when I feel the weight of my cross pressing upon me. Somehow Jesus heals me when I enter into my pain rather than run from it.
Finally, Jesus asks the universal question: Do you accept the cross I will give you? This wasn’t just a personal question from God to me, but rather it is a collective solicitation for every individual. He wants us to freely choose between acceptance or abnegation of our crosses. In essence, He is setting before us life or death and imploring us to choose life, so that we may live with Him in eternity (see Deuteronomy 30:19).
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- When have I heard God beckoning me to accept my cross? Do I reject suffering or willingly participate in it?
- How has God healed or cleansed me in times of suffering?
- In what ways has pain taught me important life lessons or deepened my character?
- How can I say yes to God’s invitation today?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week's reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
Next week, we'll cover Chapter 6. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Unleashed Book Club page.
Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing
About the Author
Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose. Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines. She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website lovealonecreates.com.