Archive for the ‘Suffering’ Category

Coping with Regret

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Regret is one of those things that seem to plague everyone’s life in one way or another. None of us is perfect. We have all screwed up at one point or another. Merriam-Webster defines “regret” in two ways. The first is “to mourn the loss or death of; to miss very much.” The second is “to be very sorry for .” When we think of regret, we probably identify more with the second definition. We look back at our lives and see the errors in judgment. In some cases, we knew we were making a wrong decision at the time and did it anyway. In others, we truly did make the best decision we could at the time; yet, hindsight has proven that we should have taken a different path. Yet, the first definition is also relevant. When we regret our past, we are also in mourning. We miss the road not taken, the chance to have made our lives better.

Scripture makes clear that we are not to spend our time looking behind us. Phillipians 3:13-14 states that “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” What matters in the final analysis where we end up; not the detours we took along the way. We need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize.

None of us can change one moment of our past. Yet, mourning that past can waste our present moment. We do have to live with the consequences of our past actions, and sometimes those consequences can seem very harsh. The only thing we can do, however, is try to make the best decisions we can in this instant. We can learn from our past errors. We also need to pray for God’s guidance and help. If we still feel remorse for past sins, we need to ask for God’s forgiveness. If we have done so, we need to then trust that we are forgiven. To believe that God can’t forgive us, that our sin is too great, is not to trust in God’s mercy and love. We need to also forgive ourselves and anyone else who may have contributed to our bad decisions. None of this is easy. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we have to do in life, but it is necessary. With God’s help, we need to let go of our hurts and our anger. Only then are we truly free to move forward.

One other important thing to remember is that there is nothing so bad that God can’t bring some good out of it. God always has a plan B. To stay mired in our regret is to not believe that God is all-powerful and that He wants what is best for us. It may take a different shape than what was originally intended, but there is good in our future. We just need to be open to it. When we are stuck in our past, we can’t be fully open to the blessings God has in store for us. We need to trust in God.

Her Darkest Hour

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Her Darkest Hour

Mary sits, holding her dead son as she once held him as an infant. She is in utter pain, suffering the deepest hurt a mother can experience. Yet, even in the darkness, the light is there. God is there – with Mary and with us when all seems lost. This is not the end of the story.

To purchase this painting, visit Ebay listing for “Her Darkest Hour

The Fourth Servant

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

In Bible Study this week, we were studying the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29). Before going away on a long journey, a master calls in three servants. To one he gives five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability. Much later, the master returns and asks for an accounting. The one with five has managed to accrue ten. The one with two now has four, but the one with only one had gone and buried his talent. Therefore, it didn’t grow and he only had one to give to his master upon his return. The master was very pleased with the first two servants who had utilized their gifts and made more. The third servant he treated with contempt: “You wicked, lazy servant!” The master then took that one talent from him and gave it to the one who had ten.

The point of this parable is pretty obvious. Even a child would tell you that it means we are supposed to use the gifts that God gives us. He will hold us accountable for what we do with them. It seems rather straightforward. Use our gifts well and they will multiply. Ignore them and they will stagnate. What happens when this doesn’t go according to plan, however?

As one of my friends pointed out, the story needs a fourth servant. The fourth servant is given his talents and he (or in our case, she) goes out and tries to do all she can with her talents. And she fails, repeatedly. Nothing multiplies. Every effort comes up short. In an economic comparison, she invests all she has in the stock market and the stock market has crashed. When the master returns, she has little to show for her efforts, except a bucketload of tears of frustration. As my friend said this. I nodded enthusiastically. Yes, this is where I fall in this parable. I imagine many other people feel this way as well.

Sometimes, life is so hard. We pray to do God’s will and try to do it, and yet we seem to come up empty. The conventional wisdom is that if you are failing, you aren’t doing what God wants you to do – that if you are doing God’s will, you will meet with success. But what if you believe you actually are doing what God wants you to do? Where do we fall in the parable? We are not the servant who buried his gifts. We tried all we could. Did the servants who doubled their talents actually struggle in the process? Did they fall down repeatedly before achieving success? Does the parable just not tell that side of the story? That thought gives me some hope.

Our parable isn’t done being written yet. Maybe God has some plan we just can’t see. Maybe our work, our talents, is bearing some fruit we are unaware of. Maybe we are right where we are supposed to be. All we can do is keep trying. If we are truly doing God’s will, then we are where we belong. I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s statement: “We are not called to be successful, only faithful.” We are the fourth servant. I have to believe the Master will reward us in the end.

Sometimes We Need to Forgive God

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I’m teaching Pre-K through 1st grade CCD this year for my parish. To say that it is a challenge for me would be the understatement of the year. I have fourteen students, most of whom are highly energetic little boys. After sitting through the Children’s Mass, the last thing these children want to do is sit through an hour and a half class. They don’t like to listen to stories, so I generally try to present the lesson of the week using crafts and games and activities. This week’s lesson was on forgiveness.

One of the crafts I had planned was a cross with five hearts – one in the middle and one on each of the four extending sections. On the center heart was written “Love is Forgiving.” The students could decorate the other four hearts any way that they wanted. My eight-year-old son had created the sample. On his he had used the other hearts to repeat the sentiment in the middle. Many of the students followed suit. One first grader, however, wrote “I am forgiving God” on his outside hearts.

On the spur of the moment, I was taken aback by his words. I told him “Well, God doesn’t need to be forgiven for anything because he doesn’t do anything wrong, but sometimes, it seems like we need to forgive him when we get mad when something goes wrong,” and continued on to the next student. I’ve spent the rest of the day, however, thinking about the idea of forgiving God.

What I told the young man was true. God certainly doesn’t need to be forgiven by us. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. God doesn’t make mistakes. From our limited perspective, though, we often see it differently. Natural disasters occur which wreak havoc. Young children suffer with illnesses no one should have to face. Loved ones die just when we need them most. The world is full of evil and pain and suffering and while God doesn’t want it to happen, He does allow it. It doesn’t make much sense. Some people even use such an argument to maintain that there is no God, or if one exists, He isn’t a personal God who cares about us. We believe differently, but it doesn’t make being hurt by God any more easy to take.

God knows best. We tell ourselves that there is a reason for the suffering. There is a greater purpose behind the pain that someday will be revealed to us. In the next world, all will make sense. But we live in the now. In this moment of our hurt and pain, we often blame God. We question God. We want to know why. We think we know better. In our anger, we need to forgive God – not because He needs it, but because we do.

Forgiveness is freeing for the one who offers it. Anger takes a great deal of mental energy and emotional energy to maintain. It can eat you up inside if you let it, pushing out all the joy and happiness and not allowing room for anything else. If one is angry at God, one ceases to see the good that He does in one’s life. Everything is seen through that filter of hurt and pain. It is a process, but we need to let go. I think it is important to note that my student wrote “I am forgiving God.” It is not a completed action. It is ongoing. We do need to accept that there will always be pain on this side of heaven. We also need to accept that there is a reason for it. Forgiving God can be part of the healing process and bring us into deeper relationship with Him. It is one more step in having complete trust in His will.

Book Review: One Life

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

One Life: Hope, Healing and Inspiration on the Path to Recovery from Eating Disorders

by Naomi Feigenbaum
Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009

When I had the opportunity to review “One Life: Hope, Healing and Inspiration on the Path to Recovery from Eating Disorders” by Naomi Feigenbaum, I did so with both interest and fear. I am a recovered anorexic myself. It’s been nearly twenty years but I can still remember the feelings associated with that period as if it were yesterday. From this vantage point, I was able to fully appreciate the struggle Naomi went through. She has written a powerful book detailing her experience of recovery at an inpatient treatment center. She has done so in a positive way, trying to help those who may follow in her footsteps. As she states, “It is my hope that the description of factors common to all eating disorders, as well as the skills I have learned to deal with them, will help other women gain the hope, courage, and confidence to give up their own eating disorders and to fully recover.”

The title of this book “One Life” comes from a statement that one of Naomi’s therapists makes, “You only have one life; don’t waste it on an eating disorder.” Each chapter in the book corresponds to one week of her treatment. Naomi begins each chapter with a skill for recovering anorexics to work on. She lists the skill, how to use this skill, and when to use it. The skills run the gamut from Being Honest to Using Your Voice to Reaching Out to Others and Relinquishing Control. These are useful skills for everyone to have.

Naomi is to be commended for her honesty and willingness to share. A powerful passage comes towards the end of the book when she finally realizes the reason for her eating disorder, “I was afraid of life. I was afraid of confrontation with others and not getting what I needed, so it was easier not to ask. It was difficult to cope in healthy ways and far easier to resort to attention-seeking behaviors and forcing others to take care of me. Life is full of challenges. It was easier to sink into non-existence, comforted by the familiarity of the eating disorder I had known for years.”

“One Life” should be required reading for anyone touched by an eating disorder. I would particularly recommend it for parents who have a child struggling with an eating disorder. It provides a valuable window to what is going on in the mind of someone struggling with this. Thank you, Naomi, for writing this book.

Staying Awake with Others

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

My eight-year-old son has been having many bad dreams lately. They often come just as he is drifting off to sleep. He will come out of his room and ask me to say the “bad dream protection prayer” again that we say each night and then sit outside his door for a little while. That simple act of my sitting there brings him comfort and eventually he does drift off into a peaceful sleep.

So many people are having a hard time right now. It seems that even in my own small circle of friends, everyone is hurting in one way or another. As one of my friends aptly phrased it, “everyone is under attack.” Unlike a child’s nightmares, these problems are not so easily solved. They might not be solvable at all. The hurts go deep. There is the pain of disease and failed relationships. There is economic pain and lost jobs. There is psychological and spiritual pain. I can fix absolutely none of these problems. Neither can any of my friends. We offer whatever assistance we can which is helpful, but this assistance is like putting a small bandage on a gaping wound. We pray and turn the problems over to God which is of utmost importance, but sometimes we still want to do more.

So, then, what can we do for others in their time of heartache and need? I’m reminded of Jesus suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I go over there to pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And he began to feel sadness and anguish. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me.’ . . . He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour?’”

Our Lord and Savior was in the midst of the greatest suffering of His life. He knew what was coming and was terrified. His humanity was at a breaking point. He knew his friends could do little to help him. He would have to face his future no matter what. The pain was not going away. Yet, the thing he desired most at that moment was to have his friends with him. It isn’t always easy to sit with someone in the midst of their pain. It isn’t easy to let the tears fall or listen to the anger and suffering, especially when we know we are powerless to help the cause. It is easy to get caught up in our own pain and feel that we don’t have the time to spend with another’s burden. Like the disciples, we may simply be tired and want to sleep. Yet, sometimes that simple act of sitting with someone and sharing in their pain can be a huge help. We may not be able to alleviate another’s suffering but we can help bear it. Like a small child who takes comfort in the simple presence of his mother, staying awake with another can be a huge help. May we all be there for each other during these difficult days.

Book Review: Your Personal Apostolate

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Your Personal Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God
by Michele Elena Bondi
Rochester, MI: Joseph Karl Publishing, 2009

“Your Personal Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God” is a small book that packs a big punch. Walking in the footsteps of St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Michele Elena Bondi explores what it means to “accept, return, and share God’s Love.”

Bondi is a mother, writer, and clinical psychologist. Her words are full of insight and wisdom. She combines words from scripture and the saints as well as reflections on her own personal (and sometimes painful) experience to offer testimony to the great Love of God. She acknowledges that all three aspects: accepting God’s love, returning God’s love, and sharing God’s love can be very challenging at times. At the conclusion of each chapter, she offers questions that can be used for personal reflection or in a group setting. This book would be a wonderful resource for a Bible Study or prayer group. I heartily recommend it.

Here are some powerful quotes from “Your Personal Apostolate” to offer some food for thought and personal reflection:

“How crucial it is to remember not to discard our faith when we need God the most! We must persevere and not abandon Him during trials, for He remains with us and He has important plans for us. . . We must remember that God knows and sees things that we do not.”

“The members of the Holy Family were obedient, though doing what God asked did not always make sense to them. They were obedient when the outcomes of their efforts were not guaranteed in advance.”

“Handing one’s life over to God completely is not always easy or comfortable. In fact, it can be downright frightening. However, it is crucial to our relationship with Him, to our sanctification, and to our life’s work.”

“God wants us to ask for healing and also embrace repentance and forgiveness so we can share in His great ministry of love. God is always ready and available to heal us, so ask God to mend the wounds you have acquired during your life.”

“Ordinary work is made extraordinary with the power of God’s love.”

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St. Dymphna – The Lily of Fire

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

St. Dymphna, sometimes known as “The Lily of Fire,” is the patroness of those suffering from nervous and mental disorders. Her story is rooted in legend and cannot be verified, but the general story is as follows. She was born in 7th century Ireland. By this time, Ireland was almost fully Christian, but her father Damon, a chieftain, was a pagan. Her mother was Christian, however, and raised her daughter in the faith, preparing her for baptism. At a young age, Dymphna decided to take a vow of chastity and consecrate her virginity to Jesus. Sadly, her mother passed away when Dymphna was only fourteen years old.

Her father was besieged with grief. His advisors suggested that he find a new wife to help ease his pain. He instructed them to find him a woman who would match his first wife in beauty and character. It is reported that they returned empty handed and told him that the only woman who came close was his own daughter. Somewhat deranged, he also decided that marrying Dymphna would mean the stabilization of his property. He proposed to his daughter who was duly horrified, but bought herself some time by asking for forty days to consider the proposal. During this time, she consulted with a priestly friend, Fr. Gerebran, who advised her to flee and offered to accompany her. They set off for Antwerp where they were warmly received.

Her father soon discovered her flight and set off after her. He discovered them in Belgium. He attempted to convince Dymphna to return with him and become his wife. She refused and Fr. Gerebran tried unsuccessfully to show him the wickedness of this idea. For his efforts, Damon had the elderly priest killed. Damon then once again turned his attention to Dymphna who remained resolute in her refusal. Her mentally ill father then pulled out his dagger and cut off his own daughter’s head.

Dymphna’s remains, as well as those of Fr. Gerebran, were originally placed in a cave. Several years later, they were moved to a small church where they began to be venerated. When that Church was destroyed by fire in 1489, a new magnificent “Church of St. Dymphna” was built and dedicated in 1532. Dymphna became famous as the patroness of those suffering from nervous disorders and mental illness. More and more patients were brought to her shrine and many miraculous cures were reported. Eventually the “Infirmary of St. Elizabeth,” run by the Sisters of St. Augustine, was later built in the area for the care of patients.

In addition to being the patroness of those with mental illness, Dymphna is also considered the patroness of incest victims, rape victims, psychiatrists and therapists. Her feast day is May 15th.

Prayer in Honor of St. Dymphna

Lord, our God, you graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness of those afflicted with mental, emotional, and nervous disorders. She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.

Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr, relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray. (Here mention those for whom you wish to pray).

We beg you, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf. Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings and resignation to your divine will. Please fill them with hope, and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.

We ask this through Christ our Lord who suffered agony in the garden. Amen.

The Thorn and The Hemorrhage

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

As I was reviewing this week’s scripture readings I came across quite a juxtaposition between the reading from the second letter to the Corinthians on Sunday (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) in which St. Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” and the Gospel of Matthew on Monday (Matthew 9:18-26) in which a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years reaches out to Jesus for healing.

In the first instance, St. Paul refers to an on-going trial in his life. He has begged the Lord “three times . . . that it might leave [him], but he has answered . . .‘My grace is enough for you.’” Basically, St. Paul has asked the Lord for help and the Lord has said, “No, this is something that you need to deal with. The suffering has a purpose. I am with you, but you need to endure and continue to be faithful.

In the second instance, the woman has suffered for twelve years. Not only has she suffered physically, but spiritually as well, for in the Jewish tradition she was ritually unclean. Yet, she summons every ounce of her courage and reaches out to Jesus, believing that if she just touches his cloak that she will be healed. What faith she demonstrates! And she is rewarded for that faith. “Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you.’”

Both St. Paul and the woman have faith. Both have problems that are causing them great pain and suffering. Yet, one is healed and one is told to keep on bearing the burden. What is the lesson for us in these two scripture readings? The first lesson is that we need to ask the Lord for help. What are the thorns in our own lives? We all have some – the nagging problems that won’t seem to go away no matter what we do. These problems may be physical difficulties, mental or emotional struggles, or a struggle with temptation and sin. These problems may even be issues we have with another person in our lives. Whatever the particular thorn might be, we need to bring it to the Lord in prayer. We need to humble ourselves and, emulating the woman’s courage and faith, believe that God will heal us.

But, what if He doesn’t? What if like St. Paul, He looks at our pain and difficulties, and tells us, “I’m sorry. My grace is with you, but this suffering is something that you need to go through. There is a lesson here for you, and you need to learn it.” What do we do then? I believe that the answer is that we keep praying. We can accept the answer and accept the suffering while continuing to bring it to God in prayer, asking for help and healing. I found it interesting that St. Paul had asked the Lord for help three times. I understand that St. Paul had a much closer communication channel with the Lord than I do, but I have found in my life that there are times when I have had to pray to God for years to finally get peace and resolution to an issue. Yes, God had a lesson for me to learn, and in hindsight, I can appreciate the need for the suffering. I believe that the continued prayer helped me have the grace to endure the suffering, helped me learn the lesson that I needed to learn, and helped the resolution finally occur, often in better ways than I could ever imagine. God knows what is best for us. We simply need to have courage and always ask for help.

The Holy Spirit Speaks Through the Darkness

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how the Holy Spirit can speak to us if only we are open to it. We might open a book and find just the passage we need to answer a question that has been bothering us or a friend might call at the monent when life is falling apart and offer the encouragement that is desperately needed. Somehow, God provides what we need when we need it. As a former spiritual director of mine was fond of saying, “There are no coincidences, only God-incidences.” I had an experience like that just this past week.

Wednesday morning, I had the strong feeling that I should go to morning Mass. It was 7:50 a.m. My local Church has an 8:15 mass. My children were occupied and my husband was home so I could go; I hadn’t eaten yet so I knew I could go to communion. There was nothing standing in my way, so I decided to heed the call and go. The first reading was from the book of Tobit (Tobit 3:1-11). It told the story of two people begging for death. The first was Tobit who had been blind for four years. He felt like a burden to his family. As Tobit states, “be pleased to take my life from me; so that I may be delivered from earth and become earth again. Better death than life for me, for I have endured groundless insult and am in deepest sorrow.” The second suffering soul was Sarah. She had been married seven times, yet each time her husband died before the marriage could be consummated. For this, she was taunted by her father’s serving girls. She decided that life was no longer worth living. She made the decision to hang herself, but then she thought better of it, knowing that such an action would only bring shame to her father. She decides, “I should do better not to hang myself, but to beg the Lord to let me die and not live to hear any more insults.” Ultimately, the Lord would take pity on both Tobit, who would eventually be healed of his blindness, and Sarah, who would be married to Tobias and live happily with him for many years.

The homily that morning focused on trusting in God even in our darkest hour, trusting that God has a plan that will come to fruition in God’s time, not ours. This was a message I desperately needed to hear. Yes, it is something that I am well aware of, but sometimes one does need a reminder. Both Tobit and Sarah had good reasons for feeling discouraged. As someone who has suffered from depression for over twenty years, discouragement often seems like my constant companion and darkness often prevails. I can be fine for a while, and then I will wake up one morning and feel like I was hit by a two by four during the night. It is like a dark curtain has fallen and life seems meaningless. Anyone who thinks that people choose to be depressed has never truly experienced depression. I have been in that place where I have begged for death more times than I care to admit. As a teenager, I was suicidal. Only my fear of hell kept me alive. As an adult, I have more perspective. I know the curtain will eventually lift, although sometimes it can take months. I have learned how to function in spite of my feelings so that even those closest to me are unaware of what I am going through. Only my faith carries me through until the light eventually comes again. Yes, I know what it is to suffer in the darkness and throw myself on God’s mercy. This message of trusting in God was one that I needed to be reminded of. I need to believe that God has a plan. The Holy Spirit reached out and spoke to me through the darkness. For that, I am incredibly grateful.