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Damning Suffering | Catholic Life

Damning Suffering

Why is it that redemptive suffering is so very unnatural? Why is it that suffering, instead of causing us to be more open and sympathetic to others, instead seems to crush love and understanding before it can take root? Why is it that suffering seems to push us over the edge to hell?

I noted this a long time ago with my physical suffering. Aside from a grand total of one time in which it was mystically good, my physical suffering serves to quench this already smoldering wick. When I am in pain I can’t participate in liturgy, I don’t have enough energy to see the pain in others, and I care nothing for any supposed virtue associate with fasting. Pain is a spiritual hazard as much as it is a blessing.

I observe this same phenomena when it comes to emotional pain. For instance, I would think that people who have unfulfilled longings of spouses or children would have incredible empathy for homosexuals or women with “vocations of the unacceptable sort.” Based on the transformative and purifying nature of suffering, I would expect that those struggling with their own incomplete vocation would be beating down Rome’s door decrying the evil bias which prevents chaste homosexual men from ever being priests, no matter how perfect their lives.

But that isn’t the case. It seems the more one should understand, the more one is actually carried away by thinking that one’s own pain is the worst thing in the world.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand my own life and I really, really don’t understand it when I see seemingly pious Christians who are so consumed with themselves that they shrivel up into themselves rather than giving themselves to those whose suffering they could alleviate, if only they could see beyond their little painful world.

Lord have mercy, for we have sinned against you.

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9 Responses to “Damning Suffering”

  1. Claire 15. May, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    This is such a great post, I am sitting here coming up with nothing to say. It resonates, for sure. I will say that.

  2. Kathleen 15. May, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    I don’t know, Rae…what you say is definitely true sometimes, but I’ve also seen (and experienced) the opposite effect. In my own life, those raw times when we were going through infertility, when Julianna was on a ventilator near death–those were deeply spiritual times for me. And I remember doing a funeral for a teenager who died in a car crash, whose parents were devastated, and yet so faith-filled through the whole thing.

    I don’t know. I guess suffering affects different people in different ways. And possibly long-term suffering affects the same people differently from the crisis moment, too.

    • Rae 16. May, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

      I know there are some who experience the opposite, but it seems to me that that is a sort of supernatural holiness rather than the natural result of suffering.

      Also, the personal spiritual aspect of pain totally makes sense to me (and feels natural in my life as well–even in my selfishness there is a deep spiritual connection–it just isn’t what I think of as redemptive), as well as being able to love others more once one’s suffering is over. It is the people who are able to still see beyond themselves *during* their pain that astound me.

      Also, the few people whom I see living what you describe don’t live their pain publicly. The only women I know who struggle with infertility or singleness or the like and are giving rather than self-absorbed in their suffering are those who don’t dwell on it publicly (meaning that they don’t share lessons about the role of their personal pain at all). I don’t know what goes on in private, but I have not been privileged to encounter those who are able to publicly endure redemptive suffering. I don’t doubt that there are some people out there who can somehow balance living and sharing their pain with seeing beyond themselves, I just haven’t seen it.

      How were you able to do it?

      • Claire 17. May, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

        I don’t know if this is exactly what you mean, but I remember reading a comment once from a woman who was infertile and whose sister had her hands over-full with a half dozen or so young children. The first woman talked about her own struggles with anger and self-pity and then how she reached the conclusion that it was actually part of her vocation to help in the care of her young nieces and nephews and relieve some of her sister’s workload (rather than withdrawing for the sake of self-preservation because it was genuinely painful for her to be around babies). She hesitated to write that and share it in a context in which infertile women were sharing their stories of suffering.

        I remember the conversation because it really struck me how well she anticipated the response from other commenters; she knew that she would have to face the internet-wrath for even typing the words. Others would think she was preachy, or maybe they would refuse to believe that her emotional suffering compared with theirs, or whatever. I thought it was courageous.

        She said that she found that it was in being open to even more pain that she found strength to carry her own cross. The joy of being an aunt was what helping her through.

        • Rae 21. May, 2011 at 8:09 am #

          That is it exactly. I think that that sort of balance between both admitting and sharing pain, and yet loving others through it is incredibly rare. Maybe it isn’t really so rare, but I simply don’t encounter it. Or if I do encounter it, I don’t recognize what it is.

          Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Young Mom 15. May, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    I get what you are talking about somewhat. I haven’t gotten into detail on my own blog, but emotionally, my own intense empathy for the GLBT crowd comes from my own understanding of my own bisexuality and a close relative who is transgendered (and both of us have lived within the boundaries of the churches teaching, just to clarify)
    I think people can tend to hold onto their own pain and become defensive when no one seems to be empathic and they feel the need to be validated by others. When you are trying to get people recognize your pain and validate your experience, you just have a stronger need to hold on to the pain and shut people out.

    • Rae 16. May, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

      Your last sentence strikes me as so profoundly, sadly, true.

  4. Katarina 17. May, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    ” Pain is a spiritual hazard as much as it is a blessing.” Yes it is !

    A few years ago i experienced my own share of suffering and all the ” God will bring good out of this ” just seemed shallow when i was screaming out that i was in very real danger of losing my faith – so instead of praying that the suffering would go – i prayed that i would not lose my faith

    As for whether pain / suffering is best done in private or public – am not sure . I tried to hide my suffering from my dearest friends and drowned in it – i ended up anoxeric / bulimic . When i finally did open up about it – to a few close friends the burden was lighter

    • Rae 21. May, 2011 at 8:11 am #

      I don’t at all pretend to know what is actually best for processing pain. For me it is usually silence, until I get to the point of understanding. But I think that it is often dangerous to hold things in. Perhaps your method of sharing with some, but only close friends you could trust, is ideal.

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