Learning to Suffer Well
As a married woman, my role is to function as the heart of our home. But how does one fulfill this responsibility in the midst of suffering?
As women, we are very attuned to the souls in our care, and therefore our suffering is not simply confined to our own experiences. If our spouse or our children hurt, we bear it in a very personal way.
There can be the burden of worry about the future, and what type of world our children and grandchildren will grow up in. We wonder if we have done or are doing enough to sufficiently prepare them to face the challenges ahead. It can be almost overwhelming, and dampen the joy that is ours to bring to the home… unless we have the proper disposition toward suffering.
Recently, I was reminded of an important lesson taught to me at the lake where Dennis and I have vacationed with our family for many years.
That summer morning, in the midst of a time of trial, I arose early to spend some quiet time in prayer out on the lake before anyone else was up. As I eased the canoe away from the dock, the morning mist was swirling above the water, catching the first rays of the sun like a dance of spirits. The stillness of the lake was exactly what I needed to listen to the One who could help quiet my troubled soul.
As I rested the oar and let the canoe simply drift, I trailed my hand in the water. Then I scooped a small amount of water up into my hand. Out of the warmth of the lake, it was chilly and hard to hold, most of it dripping over the edge of my hand and back into the lake.
In the stillness, I began to wonder if perhaps the Lord was teaching me a lesson about suffering, teaching me in a way that He knew I would understand.
Perhaps suffering was like my scooping out a handful of water from the lake. It was difficult and hard to hold when separated from the larger body to which it belonged.
Was that what I had been doing, perhaps? So I made my hand into a scoop and submerged it in the water. Now I was still holding water, but it was warm and much easier to hold.
Then I began to think about the lake. It certainly seemed as if this body of water was going nowhere, as still as it was. But I knew that if I were to paddle to the far side of the lake, quite a bit of water would be spilling over the dam. There was movement, a direction to this body of water, that I could not perceive in the middle of the lake.
And I wondered if this, too, was like suffering. My suffering, great or small, was meant to be a part of something bigger, something that I must trust had a larger purpose and direction which is often beyond our perception.
In his apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, on the Christian meaning of human suffering, St. John Paul II wrote,
Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person ‘completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. (no. 27)
Instead of feeling singled out when suffering comes, as it surely will, I can feel that I am contributing to a larger purpose. To feel that my suffering is helping my family and others lends a meaning and purpose to the times of trial, and helps to overcome that which might seem futile. We tend to think we are doing something wrong when we are suffering, but often it is God’s invitation to help another, and it is ripe with Grace.
In striving to be all that God calls me to be as the heart of a home, I know that learning to suffer well is an important and ongoing lesson, which will assure that the joy in this home is solidly rooted in Him.