We all have crosses — or weights — to bear, Susan Ciancio observes. And we all handle them differently.
If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve likely seen all different types of people with varied strengths working out with weights. Some can lift only a few pounds, while others can lift an immense amount. And some fall in between.
The ability to lift varied amounts of weights reminds me of our ability to handle emotional and physical weights in our personal lives. We all have crosses — or weights — to bear. And we all handle them differently. Indeed, we even handle the same weights differently. What may seem heavy to you feels like very little weight to me. And vice versa — just like those people in the gym. Bench pressing 200 pounds is a piece of cake for a body builder, but it’s near impossible for me. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that the weights are intrinsically heavy.
Have you ever unloaded your sorrows or grief to someone only to have her reply “That’s not as bad as … ” or “Well, it could be worse”? It’s a little dismaying, isn’t it? Sure, things can almost always be worse, but the pain you feel is still real.
Further, has anyone ever responded to your pain by telling you that “God has a plan”? Though the person may be trying to comfort you, her words don’t offer the comfort you need. Yes, we firmly believe that God has a plan, but we also know that grief is not part of His desire for us. To say that a sick child, a cheating husband, the loss of a job, or cancer are part of God’s plan is not quite understanding God’s love for us. God does not want to see us hurting any more than we want to see our own children hurting. In fact, we would do anything to take our children’s pain away when they feel it. But sometimes all we can do is hold their hands or lift them up while they carry their own crosses.
St. John Paul II once said: “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. ... On the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection.”
God allows us to feel pain so that we can grow closer to Him, so that we can rely on Him. He doesn’t want us to suffer. He wants us to grow. Only in this growth can we prepare ourselves and make our souls worthy for eternity with Him. This is why God does not step in every time something “bad” happens in life.
Furthermore, the Church wants us to understand the redemptive value of suffering. Most of us were taught from an early age that we can offer up our sufferings for a poor soul in Purgatory or for someone suffering here on earth. We believe that our suffering will help someone get a little closer to heaven or may even help alleviate someone’s pain. And when we offer up our pain, we can’t help but feel an immense joy because we know we are doing good for someone else. In addition, when we allow it to, we unite our suffering with Christ’s on the cross, and we can feel a tiny fraction of what He felt when He gave His life for us. Sharing in Christ’s love and sacrifice is an immense blessing.
Recently a friend expressed her sadness over the relationship her daughter has with her stepmother and how it breaks her heart to see how close they are. A well-meaning person once told her: “Well, it’s not as bad as losing a child” and “At least the stepmother is good to her.” Definitely. And absolutely. But that does not make her pain any less agonizing. Her cross is still heavy. Knowing a cross could be worse does not make its weight lighter.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch wisely teaches Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Keeping that advice in mind will encourage us to understand that the weight of our crosses varies. And it will allow us to help our friends carry these crosses rather than trying to convince them that they aren’t as heavy as they could be. Though we can never get in someone’s skin and feel exactly what she feels, we can help her carry that weight. That is what Christ does for us. And, as His children, that is what we must do for our spiritual brothers and sisters.
About the Author
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer. She is executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program and editor of ALL's Celebrate Life Magazine.