The joy of a positive pregnancy test for someone battling infertility is phenomenal. I was blessed with this joy one sunny morning in July. Finally, it was my turn to grow my family. I was ready and I was excited (I was also terrified). I turned immediately to prayer and entrusted my pregnancy to St. Joseph. The sleepless nights were filled with excitement and anxiety, but I leaned on prayer and deep breathing, and carried on. I prayed for peace and had two moments where I felt filled with peace, comfort and assurance. I finally felt my efforts to grow closer to God had worked. My prayers were being answered, and I felt guided for perhaps the first time in my life. Life was good.
But then life became not good. I miscarried. I went through all the emotions in a matter of minutes but settled on feeling betrayed and abandoned by God and St. Joseph. I felt shattered. What I thought I knew was obviously wrong. I went through all the questions. Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why did I feel such peace and comfort? Did I do everything that I was supposed to? Tears of joy turned to tears of sorrow and agony. I have never thrown a crucifix before, but this seemed like a good time. It didn’t help, but it was an expression of my pain. I had been at this point in my life many times. Why had God brought me here again? I make every effort to be his good and faithful servant for what? For this?
This crossroads I was at should be familiar to the suffering soul. It is a crossroads that bifurcates on a road away from God and one that follows the way of the cross. Many of us (myself included) have chosen to go down the road that leads from God. We leave the crucifix on the ground and allow the sins and soothing traps of the world to comfort us. In the depths of my pain, I sure wanted to choose this road. I was tired of feeling abandoned and hurt by God.
Once I had wrestled with my emotions, I set off for the only place that I have ever found peace in this type of suffering: I went to confession. I poured my heart out and embarrassingly admitted to launching my crucifix across the room and that it was still on the floor. What had brought me to confession was despair. My doubts of and in God were loud, and I had been indulging in them, which left my soul suffocating in despair.
I did not feel better about my predicament after confession, but God’s grace had allowed me back on my spiritual feet. My cross was once again set on my shoulder, and I carried on. The weeks that followed were filled with more pain and struggles. But what I realized as I grieved my loss was that how I responded to this suffering was different than previously. It took me less time to reorient myself to the Lord. I was able to pray with my pain more easily. I could go through the motions until I could fully engage again. I also learned that it is not about how good of a Christian I am or how much or intensely that I pray. I had intellectually known this, but to experience it in this way solidified the message. From the ashes of my pain, new growth had taken place in my soul. God isn’t going to spare me from suffering in this life. I will no doubt feel abandoned by God again. But upon reflection, I could recognize the voice of Satan. I see where Satan laid traps for me, and in my pain, I sprung them.
Dear friends, the victory in suffering for most of us is not perfection, and praise God for that. The victory is recognizing that when Jesus fell the third time, he got back up. Suffering hurts. Feeling abandoned and betrayed by God is painful. But it is Satan who speaks in words of despair. It is Satan who encourages us to turn away from God. I have yet to figure out how not to feel abandoned by God in my times of suffering, but what ultimately matters is that I not allow my feelings to lead me away from the Sacraments and away from God. This is the challenge for us all. When we suffer, we are tempted to cling to the comforts of the world.
My prayer for all of you is that you choose to stand up for the third time when you stumble in carrying the cross. As we enter this winter season when the darkness is greater, let us remember that when Jesus fell the third time, he got up, and he will help us to do so as well if we will cling to him.