Thursday, January 6, 2011

Batter my heart, three-person'd God.

Writing has been light of late with the Christmas visits, some editing work, and a general reluctance to commit my thoughts to cyberspace. Since early September I've also been struggling with chronic back pain, which typing exacerbates. This post isn't supposed to be a call for pity (although if pity moves you to prayer, by all means, pray!), but rather some of the fragments of thoughts that come to me in the dark hours. The intention is simply to talk about life with physical pain, which is something that happens for all of us at some point along the way home.

1. Skeleton living. How busy I was! How full were my plans! There's nothing like a little twang in the lumbar to make you ask: Is this action really necessary? What will be the physical cost if I wash the floor? Push the stroller? Write a blog post? Even more importantly, what will be the cost if I do not pray? With physical pain and, I believe, psychological pain, we are forced (lots of passive verbs, here) to put first things first. In order for the suffering to change us for the good, we must stay very, very close to God, and make empty our lives of all the noise. On the days when I try to do too much, I not only hurt more at night but I also resent the pain more, pity myself more, and vent my frustrations on those I love more.

2. Dependence and disappointing. And, oh, how dependent we become. We have received so much help from our family and friends we only just met. I don't have a problem with receiving help anymore (thanks to all those hyper-emesis pregnancies), but I still dread disappointing the helpers. "Are you feeling better?" asks yet another dear friend after Mass. "Not really..." "Oh, dear." And I go home wondering whether it's my fault, if I'm just taking advantage of her, not trying hard enough to get better. This is a true mortification: if only it will detach me more from my desire to please, to be successful at everything I attempt. I think it will.

3. Children. The girls have been so good. I rarely worry about them, because the baby won't remember this time, and the older two have become such dear friends. Miriam is truly the little mother: Bella simply asks her to get snacks, pick her up when she's hurt, or just snuggle her on the couch in the late afternoons. I can see my inability to mother being a beautiful thing for them: Somehow, Miriam's and Bella's souls are being formed for a specific mission that I can only imagine.

4. A door through which to disappear. I find myself withdrawing more and more from everything: homeschooling groups, playdates, blogs, Facebook, even conversations at the table. We are called to become less, to decrease that Christ may increase in us. "Now I live, not I, but Christ in me." Pain--pain that you can't escape or control--is not what God made us for; but through it He can make us what we're meant to be. I'm only starting to glimpse how: Suffering is an opportunity to become little and small. Dependent. Passive before divine providence. A way to shed the worst parts of me and live for the "one thing necessary."

5. "The sick alone are living real life." Ugh. Caryll Houselander wrote that in a letter to a friend, and, the first time I read it, I made a face. It's so melodramatic. But I think she was getting at something true. First, we are all sick in one way or another (we just have to recognize our infirmity, which is the real trick). But second, physical suffering forces us to put our trust where it matters: all the human effort in the world is not going to touch our need. We look ahead. This is all shadow lands, as another famous writer put it: Real life is coming up fast.

6. Clouds of witnesses. And, wow. There's nothing like a little pain to make you acutely aware of how much pain there is in the world. Weeks in several doctors' offices, and I am seeing so many elderly (and young!) sitting and suffering. And then there are those far away--in Pakistan or Haiti or the Sudan, to name only three--who are also suffering physically and have to no help in sight. Then I know how very little my pain is. The need in the world is a huge and gaping abyss, which no human effort will ever fill. But we are not alone as we stretch out our arms to the Father: "Come, Lord Jesus."


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

Praying for you! And we do miss you at Bible Study. Pain may have a purpose as you so eloquently described, but I hope God releases you from it soon.

Melanie B said...

Erika, I'm saving this one because I know I'm going to need to re-read it in about two months when I find myself in pain and so dependent an helpless after the baby is born. My greatest fear is that yet again I will spend so much energy in resisting God's call to allow the experience to lead me to draw nearer to him. In the past the pain and dependence has only served to make me peevish and terribly self-centered. I fear that I once again I won't have the inner resources to rise above all that. Or rather, I will find myself relying on myself or pitying myself instead of clinging to Him and His cross.

Melanie B said...

Oh and that is one of my absolute favorite poems. Donne at his best.

Mom2Seven said...

Erika, you will be in my prayers. I have missed you! I may not comment often, but I always enjoy your posts. This was an excellent post... one I am sure to reread.

God bless you... I will offer my rosary for you. +JMJ+

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Thank you so much for this post. I too am dealing with chronic pain right now -- an issue with the veins in my right leg, which leaves me unable to walk a few evenings per week -- and I really needed to read this right now. Thank you!

LP said...

You are a powerhouse of philosophy at it's best, even (especially?) in great difficulty! I am astounded you are able to distill it all and share it - but SO grateful for the inspiration! You are winning great graces, for certain. Will pray for quick relief for you.

Betty Beguiles said...

Another beautiful post. This one will be printed out to return to again and again. You're often in my prayers, Erika. Thank you for your's such a blessing to me. :)

Judy@learningtoletgo said...

An excellent post! One of the things I ponder frequently is that in our society, suffering is seen as having no value, which is so untrue!

I run a blog for our parish Catholic book club, as well as a personal blog, and I want to ask if I may copy a few paragraphs of your post on reading modern fiction, and link to the rest. I believe it would be of real interest to the members of our club. If you would like to check out our book club, here we are: http://bookgetaway, Thanks for your consideration!