Thursday, September 27, 2012

No scheme of man.

As the pregnancy hits the peak hormonal shift (I'm 8 weeks!), so comes the very worst of the first trimester sickies. After struggling with postpartum depression, I know I'm especially vulnerable to the mental anguish that physical suffering can bring. It's no different this time.

The past two days have been especially bad, and I'm often tempted to despair that I could ever suffer "well" (whatever that means--sounds too much like the fictional "good divorce"). After all, if I was truly good, wouldn't I suffer cheerfully, without feeling discouraged and depressed? But this is a lie. Didn't Christ himself beg for deliverance? I am certainly not greater than he!

St. Josemaria Escriva had some words of comfort yesterday: in The Forge, he says repeatedly that in suffering we will always feel that natural, fleshy discouragement (and, in the case of depression, it's literally fleshy!). The way to holiness is not an escape from these feelings. It is, he says, perseverance through suffering.

But how to "persevere"? What does that mean? It hardly seems like persevering could mean "just lie there in bed for 8 more weeks, and your body will work itself out of it." It couldn't mean "produce a baby in 7 months." I want a way to live through this, not just grit my teeth and bear it until it's over.

There is more to perseverance, because perseverance means that after all this I will be more than who I was before. I will be more His, more Him, and much less me. How can the sick persevere in decreasing that He may increase? It is quite simple: first, recollect my final end always, and second, pray for fidelity to way to attain that end.

Our final end is that eternal "weight of glory," that joy beyond all comparison. But I'm terribly forgetful. Every hour or so, I lose sight of heaven and just want to go for a run, a bike ride, all sorts of things I can't do right now... I need constant (okay, perpetual) reminders of heaven--an icon, a Bible verse from a friend, a crucifix, beauty. When I keep my eyes on the prize--that blessed Day, when every tear will be wiped away and all will be joy in Him--then even if my body rebels against its cross, my heart is free and at peace.

The second step--fidelity to the way-- is harder, in a way, but also very simple. We know the way and the truth in Christ, proposed faithfully by the Church: to love the Lord our God will all our hearts, minds, strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we find that very difficult (I do), there is help:

"We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal." (2Cor. 4.16-18)

The very sufferings that throw us into such confusion and despondency are "producing for us an eternal weight of glory"! All the distractions and lies that make that fidelity so difficult are evaporating in our suffering. The transitory and fleeting empires of social media, celebrity culture, the culture of death, and our own selfish grasping--they cannot even touch the promise that "our inner self is being renewed day by day." The more we die to them, the freer we are to love without condition.

Blessed are the poor, the meek, the suffering. They shall inherit. They shall see. They shall be satisfied.

That's a promise I'm willing to wait on.


mmumsie said...

Perhaps a bit of Julian is appropriate: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." How deeply she must have been at rest in the unutterable Presence... in the cloud of unknowing. You are truly in the midst of a dark cloud! I am praying with much love and desire.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes simply knowing that "This Too Shall Pass" is enough. Sometimes surviving is all you can do. I wish I was better at suffering as well, but I'm not.

caroline&phil said...

Dear Erika, thanks for the blog and your writing. Your labors of love bear much fruit, I can attest! Here's something beautiful from Caryll Housleander (if you haven't read her in awhile, you should!) - one of her letters to a friend on suffering:

"... About your question on suffering: I don't think you need to reproach yourself about your 'acceptance' of it. First of all, this is a matter of the will; naturally you could not possibly feel glad to suffer- if you could, it would not be suffering at all. I rather think that this fact is at the root of a lot of our worries and anxieties about suffering. We read a lot of stuff about the saints 'rejoicing in suffering,' and stupidly (though naturally) imagine from this that they actually enjoyed suffering! There are, of course, people who in a queer perverted way do enjoy suffering, but they are not saints!

The acceptance of the saints must, of course, be the same as Our Lord's acceptance of His Passion - something before which He shrank and of which He felt every faintest quiver. If anyone who had to suffer became insensitive and did not feel it, but instead felt a certain smugness in their own ability to suffer, it would be utterly useless - it would not really be suffering at all.

Very well, it's no use hoping to enjoy what we have to suffer, or even that we may have a feeling of accomplishment or some such thing: everything in human nature, if our suffering really is suffering, must smart and agonize under it, and we must confess with Our Lord that it is something wholly and absolutely against our will.

I am afraid in the first place the acceptance has to be a sheer act of the will. It is true, as you say, that I did suffer enough... to understand a little of what you feel, although I know I did not go through anything approaching your grief. I suppose we each have to take the measure of our capacity and no more, since more we can't take...

I'm afraid there is no short cut, and no hope of suffering without feeling it. The only thing to do, so far as I know, is to go on and on repeating this prayer, even if it seems to be a mechanical repetition - "Lord, into Thy hands" - and then say, 'I confide X, or myself' - and perhaps it can help to meditate on what you mean by 'into Thy hands' - hands of infinite tenderness, infinite love, absolute power..."

I'll be praying for you, Erika! God bless your whole family.