Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chasing Rainbows

None of us can really understand suffering though we certainly attempt to make sense of it. It's a mystery and one we won't completely understand until we are in heaven. Last year, I met with a prayer group a few times and  one day we were discussing suffering when one of the women said to me, "God doesn't want us to suffer. You can have the suffering, I prefer to live in the Lord's joy." I felt rebuked and hurt by this remark because at the time I was in a lot of pain and I felt that this comment not only belittled those who were ill (making it seem like they were at fault for being sick) but seemed to suggest that since I suffered a lot physically I could not also receive God's joy and peace. This woman was very gifted so her words hit me quite forcefully and made me wonder if I was doing something wrong in my walk with the Lord. I was very troubled by what she had said. Not so much the first sentence - I could agree that God doesn't WILL suffering but rather permits it and brings good out of it, but the second sentence really bothered me.

Why? Because I don't feel joy all the time. Sometimes I feel joy, sometimes sorrow. I certainly don't feel joyous when I read about tragedies and natural disasters, nor when my child is sick with the flu, feverish and coughing all night. These things sadden my heart.

After thinking about this woman's words for a while I eventually threw them out. I have yet to meet a person who has never suffered or is always joyous. Never. This includes Jesus and Mary. Both of them suffered immensely. Neither felt joy at Calvary.

The truth is - I'm not sure I would even want constant joy here on earth. Not as long as others are hurting. There will be time enough for that in heaven. While I am here I will weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. I spent many years chasing rainbows when I was young, trying to be "happy". Only to find that nothing made me happy for long. I realized later that happiness wasn't what I was searching for....I was searching for peace and this peace could only be found in one person:

Jesus...the Man of Sorrows. The God who suffered, not so that we would never suffer, but so that we might have eternal life with Him in heaven. I no longer seek "happiness"- I seek authenticity. And I no longer equate suffering with unhappiness. Some of the most pain-filled moments of my life have also been the most joyous - like the birth of my daughter. Death, too, often comes with much suffering, but just beyond this final agony is perfect peace and joy. It often occurs to me that suffering just might be the "door" to joy. Jesus sanctified suffering on the Cross and  by his suffering and death he opened the gates of heaven for us. He didn't do this through his joy - He did it through his agony. Crucifixion is brutal.

As for me, I have times of joy AND times of sorrow. My life is very real, not a dream. And I no longer chase rainbows ...

I chase He who created rainbows.

"We know  that all things work for good for those who
love God, who are called according to his purpose."    Romans 8:28

"What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
 or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:
'For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us."     Romans 8: 35-37


  1. My oh my. This really came from the heart, Mary. Truly well-said. Beautiful. Poignant.
    You said - "My life is real..." That is something that I have tried to be - real. When it hurts, it hurts. And I ask God for his help in my suffering. And I ask Him to bring something good out of it.
    And when I am happy, I am happy. And I give thanks to the Lord for my joy.
    For years I pretended. I do not want to pretend any more. I think God asks for authenticity, I think God asks for REAL.
    God bless! :)

  2. Jesus promised the ones who followed him not a life of ease and glory, but suffering. That's what Jesus promised. People who promise that following God will bring a lifetime of nothing but joy are misleading everyone else. In the words of Saint Augustine, "God Himself made no such promise."

    When that woman faces suffering (and at some point, she will, because life is that way) then what is going to sustain her? Will she revise her understanding of God, or will she walk away from Him entirely? People like that need our prayers if their faith is so weak that they have to lash out at other people. :-(

    Augustine's quote, more fully:
    Christians must imitate Christ’s sufferings, not set their hearts on pleasures. He who is weak will be strengthened when told: “Yes, expect the temptations of this world, but the Lord will deliver you from them all if your heart has not abandoned him."

    But what sort of shepherds are they who for fear of giving offense not only fail to prepare the sheep for the temptations that threaten, but even promise them worldly happiness? **God himself made no such promise to this world.** On the contrary, God foretold hardship upon hardship in this world until the end of time. And you want the Christian to be exempt from these troubles? Precisely because he is a Christian, he is destined to suffer more in this world.

  3. Colleen,
    Thank you for your comment. I'm another one who cannot pretend and I liked your words, "When it hurts, it hurts..." I try to be honest and straight with the Lord and I believe He appreciates this. Life isn't always pretty and filled with joy and I won't pretend that it is.

  4. Some fundamental questions come to mind:

    What does God wish for us here on earth?

    Does He want us to go through life in pain, suffering, illness and anxieties?

    Is this life a kind of test, or preparation, before we are deemed worthy and fit enough to enter Heaven?

    Is our suffering some sort of payment, or recompense for what Jesus suffered for us? As if it were possible to repay His ultimate sacrifice?

    We are taught that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. There is nothing God needs from us - in the sense that He would be in some way deficient or lacking if we do not meet His needs.

    He loves us and asks us, or invites us, to love Him back in return and to love one another.

    That being said, if He loves us, it follows that He also wishes good things for us. He wants us to enjoy this life, not endure it. That's why He created so many things in this world for us to enjoy.

    Sure, He allows suffering and bad things to happen, for reasons best known to Himself. Perhpas He allows such things to happen to prompt us into action: to pray for His help, to Praise Him for being in control, to strengthen out Faith or to help others less fortunate than ourselves when we see them suffering.

    Whatever His reasons, we are to accept the suffering that comes our way as well as the good times and the joy. To accept both in good Faith and in trust that He knows what He's doing and allowing to happen.

    God bless.

  5. Jane,
    Thank you for the quote from St. Augustine. This is one that I've never heard before and it's a good one.
    The woman who made the comment about joy didn't say it to be mean, it was said quite gently which gave it even more impact. If she had said it in a nasty tone I wouldn't have thought twice about it. The very fact that she said it nicely is what made me think about it for a while and question myself and my own beliefs. At the end we agreed to disagree on the subject of suffering :)
    I was very hurt by her comment though. I can even say that it caused me spiritual harm to a degree and perhaps harmed a few other women who were there because some of them had physical problems too. This may sound funny but it made me feel a bit "unloved" by God. Temporarily, that is. Kind of like she was special to God and I was cursed in some way. This, in spite of the fact that I have experienced the Lord's love for me and should have known better. When someone is smiling and as healthy as a horse and you're sitting there filled with pain and listening to someone make such a comment about suffering it can have quite an impact.

    Thank you for your comment, Jane, it was filled with wisdom!

  6. Thank you for this post! I, too, had been chasing rainbows. The desire for happiness all the time is addictive. And suffering with Jesus is a noble thing. He will never leave us or abandon us, even when we are at our worst. Thanks again for this wisdom! Patience requires sacrifice, and sacrifice doesn't always feel pleasurable, but is worth the trouble.

  7. Victor,
    Yes, I agree He wants good things for us and I am thankful because He DOES shower us with good things. Still, I think there is more to suffering than we think. We are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and are intimately united with Him in ways we cannot even understand. As you say, He allows suffering - so therefore He must bring a lot of good out of it. God uses everything and nothing is wasted. Suffering is redemptive because Christ made it so by his own sufferings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and many of the saints, including St Paul, speak about this aspect of human suffering.
    Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I guess the best way to deal with suffering is by being practical:
    Alleviate suffering where and when you can and if you cannot, accept it gracefully knowing that God has a purpose for it and is with us in our sufferings.

  8. Thank you, Jade. Your comment is very insightful. Sacrifice isn't always pleasurable but what would happen if no one ever made sacrifices for one another? We would be so caught up in our own selfishness that total havoc would reign! I'm with you, it's definitely worth the trouble.

  9. Much food for thought here Mary. Now I have had my share of sorrow - I have buried my husband, son, parents, I have battled Breast Cancer my only daughter is by polar and yet I find joy each morning as I wake up. The first thing I say is a prayer for all the joy in my heart as my heart is filled with joy so I kind of understand what this lady was saying. Not a day goes by that I don't say my little prayer "hide me in your wounds" and this is when something I don't like to see or hear is happening. We do say the Sorrowful Mysteries as well as the joyful ones so there is a reason for our sorrow. I choose to be happy and appreciate the thankfulness in my heart. I think the difference is we have the free will to choose to see the good in any situation as even standing over my son's coffin I felt the joy of him now living with Jesus and no longer in pain. To me to feel otherwise would of been selfish. I believe there is joy in all things Mary and I don't pretend nor chase rainbows. We all have our crosses to carry, it is how we carry them that matters.....:-)Hugs

  10. Bernie,
    Thanks for your thoughts on this issue. One of the problems I had with the woman's words was that I didn't choose to have an illness, it just happened. So when she said "God doesn't want us to suffer. You can have the suffering, I prefer to live in the Lord's joy" it made it sound like those who have an illness cannot experience his joy also, which is just not true. It isn't an either/or situation. God loves me the same sick or well. Having experienced both sickness and health I know this to be true.

    I understand what you are saying in your comment - suffering does not negate joy.
    And I know you don't pretend or chase rainbows, you are a very authentic person :) Hugs to you too, Bernie!

  11. Oh Mary of course you didn't choose illness, I never thought that for a moment. You are right it is not an either/or situation, I guess I was trying to put my feet in the other lady's shoes. I felt her heart for a moment, I know yours my friend, it is warm and wonderful and belongs to the Lord....:-)Hugs

  12. Mary the way you get in touch with your feelings and be able to relay them to us is awe inspiring. Such a powerful post dear one. Thank you for sharing on such a touching subject that exudes an array of emotions. Blessings as always.

  13. This is wonderful Mary. I love the line about the rainbows as well. You are so right and the fact that you suffer with others shows what a loving and compassionate heart you have. 'Be perfect (compassionate) as your Heavenly Father is perfect.' I'm glad that you dismissed the comment, I think that your thoughts are 'right on'.

  14. Bernie,
    Thank you for your kind comment :)

  15. JBR,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, JBR :) I think blogging and writing help me sort through my emotions to a degree. I can tell by reading your posts that this is helpful to you, also. You are in my thoughts and prayers, my friend!

  16. Andie,
    I always wondered what that scripture meant! Thank you!

  17. I totally agree with your post. Suffering is the door to joy. Another thought - it is no accident that in our beautiful prayer, "Hail, Holy Queen", we have the phrase "this vale of tears." And Jesus said that if we don't take up our cross and follow Him, we can't be His disciple. We are afflicted with the results of original sin so we will suffer. The woman's comment made me wonder, what suffering is she in denial of in her life?

  18. Good point about original sin - none of us have escaped this. To be honest, I still don't know what exactly she meant by her words. Even after my healing, I still suffer regularly (lol)! I mean, really now, who doesn't? I do know that one can be suffering and still have joy because joy is from the Lord. Her comment makes it sound as if you can only have one or the other.

  19. Such good comments and I agree with so many of the things said. I wanted to point out that the Protestant John Calvin was the one who promoted the idea that God chooses some to be "blessed" and some not. So there is a ideology running through some Protestant thought that suffering is punishment or a sign that one is not chosen by God. There is also a belief by some that "name it and claim it" is the way to pray to God. (Prayer of Jabez, i.e.) These are not Catholic beliefs. Not even "charismatic" Catholic beliefs and you are correct in your discomfort that this woman is promoting an idea which is not in harmony with teachings of the Church and not really helpful or loving to others or to the woman herself. We are told to take up our cross, not reject it. Our suffering is both redemptive for ourselves and for the sake of the whole world when we unite our suffering with Christ's. How awesome is that?

  20. Mary,
    Thank you - you have brought up many good points here. This was at a women's intercessory prayer group at a Catholic Church that I got this remark on suffering and it somewhat surprised me because I didn't really think it fit in with Catholic teachings. Because it WAS a Catholic group I was a bit taken aback. As you say, it does not even fit in with charismatic Catholic beliefs. I was meeting with a Catholic Charismatic group at the same time and this view on suffering was not even suggested.
    I love the Catholic teachings on suffering. It makes one feel hopeful instead of hopeless and useful instead of useless. You are right, it IS awesome!

  21. I love how you say "I no longer seek 'happiness' - I seek authenticity"

    Amen! You are a beautiful soul.