Seeking to understand the incomprehensible reason for the bitter sorrows that assail us, in need of consolation we flee to Thee, O Mother and Virgin.
—From an Akathist to The Joy of All Who Sorrow
Sorrow, it is such a heavy word. So many people I know suffer and carry many sorrowful burdens in their minds and hearts. Loneliness is universal (isn’t it ironic that none of us suffer from it alone?!), feelings of being unloved, unwanted, misunderstood. There are financial burdens, physical suffering, spiritual wounds. Some things we have done to ourselves and some burdens we are born with or simply come to us in life.
When I was younger I thought the people 10+ years older than me had their act together. The kinks in life, the emotional and spiritual growing pains were past. Now in my mid-thirties I can see that most adults are still very much the same wounded children we all have been. Looking through the lens of eternity, we are all just children in need of love, comfort and reassurance.
Feeling alone can make our trials even harder. Not allowing anyone else in, not letting anyone love us, keeping a guard up that filters every kindness sent our way by asking ‘what does this person want from me’, only makes the solitude we feel worse. It is true that many of us have forgotten how to be real friends, love that is truly unconditional or self-serving is hard to find, but our need to protect ourselves at all costs can also make us miss the gestures of genuine love given to us.
I know what it is like to feel like a failure in every aspect of life, to feel alone, to feel deep pain. I also know what it is like to feel the pain of others and carry it in my own heart. When we have suffered in life (as we all do) compassion can settle in us and blossom into a desire to relieve other’s pain through action and most especially through heartfelt prayer. If compassion doesn’t grow, more than likely bitterness, fear, and anger have probably taken hold of our hearts. Dwelling on such suffering and anguish could easily lead me to despair if not for the sorrow of my mother Mary also coming to mind; in her hope and joy is found.
Christianity does not protect us from sorrow. All we have to do is look at the lives of Christ Himself and His mother to understand that sorrow will accompany us all of our days. Darkness can cover our lives like a heavy, suffocating blanket on a beautiful night. Thankfully, only the smallest of candles is needed to break through the darkness.
I have spent countless hours thinking of the pain and suffering of Christ and His mother. I have been drawn to icons of Our Lady of Sorrows for many years and have thought of and spoken to her often. My second oldest daughter’s middle name is even Dolores (Spanish female name after Our Lady of Sorrows). Being a mother myself I have pondered and prayed about the life Mary lived; asking how she could ever endure the pain she did when seeing her innocent, beautiful son die because of the sins of all mankind.
I think of the happiness Mary must have had watching her son grow, play, and learn. Imagine what a joy Jesus would have been to His parents. However, it was a joy that was overshadowed with knowledge that this child had already been hunted and would be the rise and fall of many. The Prophet Simeon told the young mother a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:34-35). Often when I have watched my own child sleeping, or playing, I also think of the mess of a world they’ve been born into and wonder what sorrows await them as they grow. I have a drawing of Mary kneeling beside a toddler aged Jesus while he sleeps, the tears and look of grave concern on her face is probably an accurate sketch.
And isn’t that life for all of us? Inexpressible joy overshadowed by pain, the ultimate pain being eventual death. In the Akathist to The Joy of All Who Sorrow we sing the following to Mary,
“Every sweetness of life in this world partaketh of sorrow: glory endureth not, wealth passeth, beauty and health fade away, and friends and neighbors are taken away by death. Wherefore, sweeten our sorrows, Thou cause of every good thing, bestowing Thine incorruptible joy upon us that cry out to God: Alleluia!”
O most holy Virgin and Mother, hearing the prophecy of the righteous Simeon: A sword shall pierce through Thine own soul, Thou didst keep all these sayings in Thy heart, understanding that the joy of a mother’s heart over her children can be accompanied with much grief in this world. Wherefore, as one tried in everything and able to commiserate with a mother’s sorrows, we cry to Thee:
Rejoice, Thou that didst bear the Savior Christ, the Joy of the world!
Rejoice, Thou that deliverest the world from sorrows!
Rejoice, Thou that didst endure the blasphemies and slanders hurled at Thy Son!
Rejoice, Thou that didst suffer together with Him through His suffering!
Rejoice, consolation of the sorrows of mothers!…Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of Grace, Joy of all who sorrow!
In Mary we find refuge, in her we find hope and joy. She doesn’t walk with us through our sorrows, it is we who walk with her. She already stood at the cross. She has endured the death of her son. She has also seen Him risen and she has risen with Him as well. She not only gave birth to the source of all joy but she also knows the cross and resurrection cannot be separated in this life.
As I have dealt with my own crosses in life I have found the Theotokos to be my strength. She is not a distant figure who cannot relate to our lives. Her own life was filled with many sorrows. Through them she continued to do God’s will and even though we are the cause of her son’s death, she still loves us more than any other mother could.
Through meditating on Mary’s life I have learned that thankfully, we are more than the sorrows we carry. We are not defined by depression or any other disorder, addiction, our sexuality, the multiple sins and passions we battle, the deaths, losses, diseases and pains we suffer. These things no more define who we are than they defined Jesus Christ who suffered many things in a life that ended with Him bearing all the sins and pains of the world on the cross or His mother who suffered beside Him.
Joy that comes from sorrow. How deep, how rich that joy is. We all know something that is earned through devotion and hard work isn’t taken for granted and is treasured. The joy of the resurrection is what awaits us if we follow Mary’s example–carrying our crosses seeking to do God’s will and loving those who have caused our pain.
Through the different devotions to Mary suffering, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows celebrated September 15th on the Western calendar being one of them, we can find in our mother a source of consolation, joy, and hope. She always carries us to her son, she helps us as we carry our crosses, she rejoices with us in our triumphs. She is our hope because through her help she shows us the source of all hope and in her life we see sorrow fading away to eternal joy in heaven.
The most eloquent orators know not with what words to console the sorrowful; bud do Thou Thyself, O Lady, speak consolation to our hearts, dispersing the cloud of our sorrow and the gloom of despair with the rays of Thy Grace, that we may cry out to Thee:
Rejoice, Thou that hast made glad all Christians that have confidence in Thee!
Rejoice, joy and tranquility of the world!
—Akathist to The Joy of All Who Sorrow