Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

Suffering is supposed to be a way in which we are pruned, or as a priest told me in Confession after my third miscarriage: “Suffering is where we are refined in the Divine furnace.” It is an extremely painful process, but one that reveals the glory of God within us while guiding us on the path to holiness. I will admit that I am still in the furnace with my recent loss. It is still too new. The numbness has set in and tears are constantly on the verge of escaping from my eyes. Hearing the cries or laughter of a baby will reduce me to sobs if I cannot steel myself in the moment. Even though I am suffering immensely, I now see how important it is to reach out to other people who have experienced miscarriage. It often takes our own personal experience of suffering in order to be able to serve others.

How can we use our suffering to serve others?

Find ways to reach out.

I am a writer. For reasons not entirely clear to me, God uses me to write words of consolation, and at times, admonition in a public setting. It is a mission that has taken me entirely by surprise. What are your gifts and how can you reach out to others? It can be difficult when we are suffering our own intense pain to reach out, but we need to do it in the service of others and for our own sake. Perhaps you are an artist, cook, woodworker, builder, photographer, caregiver, etc. and can use those gifts to serve others. It may be as simple as offering to design a logo for a cancer benefit or helping build a house for someone whose home was swept away in a flood. There are people within our parish communities who need a meal brought to them while they grieve, are sick, or suffering in other ways. The moms who made meals for me after my third miscarriage were a tremendous help to my family and me. We are mistaken in thinking that our gestures have to be grand. They do not. They just have to be born of charity, compassion, and humanity.

Be willing to be vulnerable.

It is an inclination, at least in the United States, to pretend that we are indestructible. We don’t cry publicly, we tell everyone we are “fine”, and we suffer silently in private. This flies in the face of the true understanding of the Mystical Body. When one member hurts, we all hurt. All human beings are tied to one another. We must be willing to be vulnerable with other people in our suffering. It was tremendously difficult for me to pour out my heart, pain, sorrow, and experience of my miscarriages in writing. I knew some people would understand and others would not, but the point was to reach those who suffered in that manner and to educate others on the pain associated with miscarriage. Our vulnerability will be rebuked at times, but that doesn’t change the necessity of it. The people God wants us to reach will be those who are touched and who understand. They too will share their vulnerability and their suffering.

Our burden is lessened when we share openly with other people. So many of us keep our pain to ourselves and it only comes to light when another person has the courage to share their sorrow. It took me having a miscarriage to discover that quite a few of my friends have also had recurrent miscarriages. They kept it to themselves until I shared my pain through vulnerability and openness. Now four miscarriages later, I am able to serve others through writing and the soon-to-be establishment of a miscarriage ministry in my community. It’s not easy, but it’s better than crying alone in my room. I do that too, but the burden lessens the more I share.

Pray for the suffering.

We need to devote serious energy to praying for the suffering. Prayer can become very difficult for people who are undergoing periods of intense agony whether physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. I can attest to this difficulty. I find prayer to be extremely difficult at the moment. I am relying on any habits I formed before I lost my baby as I walk through this dark period in my life. We need strength from the Mystical Body and prayer makes a huge difference in the lives of those who are grieving and suffering.

Every single person will experience suffering and grief at some point in their lives. This is a reality of our Fallen world. We can harness suffering into something good by serving others or we can turn inward and isolate ourselves. The former allows our pain to be transformed, while the latter only deepens our pain. We must be willing to open up about our own suffering while finding ways to give to others who are also in pain. God has given each of us gifts to be used in His service. It is a struggle to move outward when the pain is excruciating or numbing, but it is an important step in our own healing and the healing of others.  The Mystical Body suffers together and it heals together. Thank you for sharing your stories with me and for reaching out during this period of agony in my own life.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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