Last September, my husband and I went on a beach trip. It was the second time in our 11 years of marriage that we had gone on a trip alone that wasn’t a hospital stay. It was a few short weeks after I discovered I had miscarried our fifth baby, Bridget. I was still overcome with grief and my body was only beginning to slowly heal from the physical trauma. I felt as if I had collapsed beside Our Lord at the Ninth Station of the Cross, cleaving to the dust. The trip was to help with spiritual and emotional healing.
While we were driving the few hours it takes to get to the beach, my husband told me that I was caving inwards and it was destructive. He pointed out that there are people who need me, especially him and our daughter. He said that I needed to start moving outwards towards others again or I would end up in a really bad place with my grief.
He could see what I could not see in my agony. I had forgotten that suffering is not meant to become a disordered caving inward. We turn inward in grief to God through prayer—even if all we can muster is a cry for help—but we cannot push other people away in the process. I was pushing him and others away without realizing it. He was right.
Taking Care of One Another
We are constantly told by our culture that we have to take care of ourselves. This is true in the proper sense. If we do not take care of ourselves, then we can’t take care of other people. But we are not supposed to put ourselves first. When we do, things become disordered within our soul. It is in times of suffering that this becomes a greater danger and we forget to serve the people around us. It becomes dark, and we focus too much on our own affliction.
I have done this multiple times throughout my life and it always ends disastrously.
I have learned that God heals us in our grief in the measure we reach out to others in their needs and suffering. It is one of the beautiful ways that Christ reaches into our brokenness as the Mystical Body. When we open our arms wide—in our crucifixion united with Him—we can open ourselves up to others who are suffering around us. He is able to bind our wounds, and the wounds of others, through our willingness to love in our grief.
Suffering becomes the means by which love enters into the world:
In the messianic program of Christ, which is at the same time the program of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole human civilization into a ‘civilization of love.’… At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris 30
Reaching out towards others helps us escape the tendency to falsely believe that our suffering is worse or greater than the next person’s. This leads to egotism and self-pity. I’ve made this mistake numerous times. We all suffer differently and there are some people who suffer tremendously in this life for reasons known only by God. When we lose sight of this truth, we can fall into bitterness and lash out at those around us. We become a victim, not united to the Eternal Victim, but instead, a victim of sin and despair.
Suffering Like Jesus
My husband knew that I had lost sight of why God allows so much suffering in our lives, which is to teach us in our hardness of heart how to love as He loves. In my grief, I was failing to see the suffering in those around me. I was moving away from my husband, daughter, and other people in my life. I wanted to grasp at my suffering, rather than give it all to Christ on the Cross.
Suffering is allowed in our lives so that we can grow in love. It pierces us to such a depth that we sometimes do not think we will survive. The agony of losing five unborn children is something that is impossible for me to fully describe in words. In the mystery of God’s great plan for my salvation and those around me, that pain has taught me how to love more and in ways I never thought possible.
Through my suffering, I have come to see the pain and brokenness of others, so that I can walk with them. I have experienced abandonment and rejection in my suffering, so that by God’s grace I can stand fast with those who suffer, especially those who are alone. Through my suffering, Christ has given me the courage to walk into the crosses of others and to greatly desire to do so. Through my suffering, God has unleashed within me a supernatural love for others that I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise.
It is also teaching me the deeply difficult lesson of forgiveness, which is where we truly learn to love as Christ loves. To turn to those who abandon, reject, or betray us and fight the interior struggle necessary to forgive. All the Apostles except for St. John abandoned Him in His hour of need. We cannot expect our lives to be any different. Often in our deepest agonies, we find ourselves alone with Our Lady of Sorrows, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene at the Cross.
Love in the Crucifix
The Cross compels us to move outwards in love in our agonies. In order to see with the eyes of Christ, we must look beyond our own suffering to the afflictions that abound around us. When I lost our second baby, Marie-Therese, I was recovering from major blood loss and emergency surgery, but insisted on taking dinner to the homeless staying at our parish two days later. I needed them more than they needed me at that moment. In my grief, I wanted to give to someone who was also bearing the cross in a profound way. The crucified Christ in me met the crucified Christ in them. Tremendous graces are unleashed in powerful ways when we move towards others in love.
After my fourth miscarriage, Christ asked me to help a woman choose life instead of an abortion for her son. She was due at the exact same time I was. It was agony to walk with this woman who I gave all of my own baby items to while she talked names with me and showed me sonogram pictures. The grace of my sacrifice was used by God to help save that little boy’s life. By moving outwards from my grief, I could help this woman decide to turn away from abortion. The rewards are great when we are willing to move away from ourselves and the confines of our own pain in order to help others.
The instrument of our redemption is the Cross. It is through suffering that we are redeemed. We are also called to walk the Way of the Cross, to be crucified for others.
When we move outwards in love towards other people, our suffering is transformed. We move away from the narrow confines of our own ego and discover that the people around us who are suffering. It often takes our willingness to be vulnerable and share our suffering in order to open up another person who is silently suffering. They are given the courage to open up and share their pain. We are then able to help one another bear the burdens of this life, which is what we are called to as disciples.
He Will Heal Us Through Loving Others
Recently, Christ showed me what my husband was trying to remind me of on our trip. I was driving around town after daily Mass with my daughter. Recently, I started carrying blessing bags in my car filled with snacks, toiletries, and prayer cards designed by a priest-friend for the homeless in the area. I saw an older woman sitting in a wheelchair across the way who I would pass on my way back from running an errand.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I should have my daughter try to hand her a bag since she was in a wheelchair. I let the Spirit show me what to do. We ended up stopping right next to her, so I let my daughter hand her a bag. In that moment, I was flooded with the immense radiant love of the Holy Spirit that flowed out of me. I turned and looked this woman directly in the eyes with tremendous love. We exchanged a few short words and then I waited for the stoplight to change. As the light turned, I turned to look at her one more time and she looked back at me. It was an incredibly powerful moment.
As I drove away, filled with the light of the Spirit, I was set free from the remaining haze of my grief and was reminded that this is the person I want to be. The person who moves towards others in their suffering, not the one I have been these past few months, who has caved inward in fear and pain. I had forgotten in my grief who Christ was asking me to be. He has repeatedly made clear to me that He calls us to go into the crosses of others. We are called to be steadfast in His love for others.
If we have the courage, through a surrender to the Holy Spirit’s power working within us, we discover that He will heal us through loving others. It doesn’t mean we won’t still suffer, grieve, and cry out in our pain. It does mean that we will find His redemption in the Cross by sharing in it with others. We will love more deeply and courageously. He will use us to bind the wounds of others and they, in turn, without even knowing it, will bind ours.