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.