Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Value of Suffering

My friend, Barb, was laid to rest yesterday, and her life celebrated by family and friends. As I thought on her recent long and painful death and the struggles of her daughter to lovingly care for her, I tried to make sense of its sudden end this past Friday.

As Barb’s personal struggles went from obtaining healing to accepting death, my prayer focus went from “My Jesus, I trust in You” to “Lord, have mercy.” And I think I noticed for the first time how often we respond during mass with “Have mercy on us,” for which I was substituting, “Have mercy on her.” But despite my daily prayers I couldn’t see God’s mercy, only Barb’s physical pains, and her daughter’s emotional ones.

Where was God in all this? Although I couldn’t see Him along the way, I can look back now and see His hand there. I think Barb’s daughter needed to go through this rejection of her mother by the medical system, rejection by those who say they care for the elderly, and indeed rejection by many of her friends and family --- she needed to feel alone and in despair, to appreciate God’s blessing and mercy in her mother’s sudden death at the end, but also to be able to look back and see that indeed He was with her all along the way. All her lonely efforts to find anyone who would help her care for her mother eventually resulted in her putting together a plan of care that all the experts said was impossible, and which at the end many said wouldn’t work. But I am confident that it would have.

God worked with Barb’s daughter to enable her to create a plan which would demonstrate her loving care of her mom --- and His. He wanted Barb’s daughter to use all the talents He gave her to accomplish what she prayed for. Her prayers (and mine) were for a peaceful death of her mom and she looked for God to do this, but first He had to teach her a lesson: He would do this thing she prayed for, not alone, but with her help. While she was waiting for God to act alone, He was waiting for her to act --- seemingly alone, but she was not. When she went out and used the talents He gave her He blessed her actions, and the solution she found for her mom’s continuing care, the one that everyone said was impossible, became possible. Through her, with her cooperation, I am confident He did indeed work a miracle.

But wait a minute. Even if we accept this as a miracle for Barb’s daughter, what about Barb who suffered through all this time? Was all her suffering because her daughter needed to be taught a lesson in God’s love? Could her daughter still ask with anxiety: “Did my stubbornness in failing to trust God cause my mom’s long painful death?” No, she cannot think such thoughts --- because God told her not to.

On Monday Barb’s daughter told me about “a dream” she had experienced. “You’re probably going to say I’m nuts or something, but: I felt that God was telling me that my mom was okay, and that He needed her in heaven to care for His little children.” No, I replied, I don’t think you are crazy, and that indeed I believed this may have been God’s way of assuring you that all was well.

But perhaps it was more …

For many years I have ended my day with a rosary. I’ve dedicated these prayers, praying for an end to abortion. In recent months, however, I have amended my prayer intentions, and instead prayed for God’s will (and mercy) to be done for Barb and her family. On Tuesday night at the adoration chapel I thought it was time to end my focus on Barb and again pray for those little lives cut off by abortion --- and then I remembered the dream of Barb’s daughter. It suddenly came to me: Perhaps Barb was watching over the same aborted children that I had long prayed for; my prayers for an end to abortion hadn’t stopped while I was praying for Barb, they had been answered.

Was Barb’s struggle for each gasp of breath at the end, only aided by that ventilator machine, and all her painful anxiety-filled days, were these permitted by God for the benefit of those little aborted ones, who were never allowed a single breath? Was Barb now uniquely situated to understand them and comfort them? Was this part of God’s plan for her suffering to have value, as (we believe) all suffering has value?

Where was God in all this? Perhaps Barb needed to suffer to fulfill God’s will for her, to further prepare her for not only His plans for her in this life, but even in the next. Even as the daughter’s work was fulfilling God’s plans, perhaps her mom’s suffering was also. God doesn’t always answer our prayers with miraculous healings or compassionate deaths, He most often answers our prayers, in His time and in His way, through the loving actions we take for one another. How often I heard Barb and her daughter speak of their love for one another, and they showed it --- and so did God. He showed His love for all of us, even the littlest and most forgotten.

God said to love our neighbor. He said to honor our father and mother. He said He would always be with us. I think the events of Barb’s suffering and death proved all His promises to be true.

We need not be anxious, even if we cannot see a good outcome, even if all seems dark in our lives. We need not cry out to Him: “Lord, where are You?” expecting Him to act in some miraculous way. First and foremost we need to trust in Him. We need to pray that He show us His will. We need to discern that will or to accept possible opportunities to love, to be charitable, or to have compassion with but a single mindset: “Lord, I don’t know if this is Your will, but I will try to do this, to take this opportunity before me to do as I believe You would, with love, with compassion, and with all the talents you gave me --- and, I trust, with Your blessing.”

If we live with that mindset, then whether we succeed in what we do, or indeed even if we or our loved ones live or die, we can be confident that when the tally is made at our life’s end He will say: “Enter good and faithful servant.”

And what more do we need out of this life to prove that we have lived it well?

Day is done, but love unfailing
Dwells ever here;

Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing,
Calms every fear.

Loving Father, none forsaking,
Take our hearts, of Love’s own making,
Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,
Be always near.

Dark descends, but Light unending
Shines through the night;
You are with us
, ever lending
New strength to sight;
One in love, Your truth confessing,
One in hope of heaven’s blessing,
May we see, in love’s possessing,
Love’s endless light!

Eyes will close, but You, unsleeping,
Watch by our side;
Death may come; in Love’s safe keeping
Still we abide
God of love, all evil quelling,
Sin forgiving, fear dispelling,
Stay with us, our hearts indwelling,
This eventide

-- Evening Prayer Hymn, text by James Quinn, S.J.


  1. This post is comforting to me. I'm so glad I took up prayer for Barb and her daughter, recommending them to God's Mercy, but especially asking for God's Will for Barb and her family. I included them in my Rosaries, but especially in the Divine Mercy chaplet.

    We'll never know on this side of heaven, just what God was working out. We can be confident that every pain, every tear and all the suffering was directed to the good of their souls and forseen from all eternity for their benefit.

    And now, I carry Barb in my prayers for swift purification. May she rest in peace. I dare to believe that God cleansed her this side of Heaven.
    I also pray that the God of all comfort will aid the family in coming to terms with all that has transpired.

  2. I had dinner last night with Barb's daughter. Tears still come easily to her eyes, and she still easily broaches the topic: "Did I ... ?" She would like some divine confirmation that she acted correctly, that she did enough, that she didn't cause bad. Wouldn't we all. Thoughts yesterday, hearing her last night, I posted a further iteration of our need to trust today. I pray she can open her heart to hear Him.

    I thank you for your prayers, Maryellen. You are a true friend.