Monday, September 15, 2014

Finding Meaning in Suffering

This weekend has been difficult to say the least. I find myself a mix of numb and wanting to find meaning in all of this. It can't all just be endless, dark suffering. I already know what letting yourself go down that path does and I worked hard to get back from it the last time we had a miscarriage. I can't bring myself to accept this feeling for months on end right now. So I did what I always do and I try to search for meaning in suffering. I used to just go straight to the Book of Job. It's an easy read when you are pondering a pestilence in your life. Or rather, it's an easy target in the Bible. 

Lately, I haven't been going there though. I've been looking to the feast of the days that I suffer. Finding meaning in our faith has been more enriching than reading about the torture Job endured (again). And I'm learning more about myself and my relationship to the Holy Family in doing so, for what it's worth. It certainly isn't an easy effort. But I have found more meaning in it than just meditating on the rosary or praying a novena or reading a specific Scripture. Or maybe it's just that it feels like less of a selfish endeavor? I don't know.

That's actually one of the beautiful things about our faith - the diversity of the teachings. We have so many places to go to find God, don't we? Even in a moment like this, I find myself drawn to Him and wanting to understand where I fit in His plan. And no amount of 'fitting' means anything without understanding the origin of Christ's passion.

So a-feasting I went.You might want to go grab a cup of tea. This ain't gonna be a short read. Nor is it gonna to be fun. I guess a small part of whatever is left of me right now hopes you might also find some meaning in suffering and that the effort I put into trying to understand this will help you too. I had to at least try. So without further ado... here's what I came up with:

Feast of the Holy Cross

September 14th was the Feast of the Holy Cross. As Christians, we celebrate an instrument of death. We set aside a whole day just to celebrate the implement used to torture the Son of God. Maybe that seems strange, but given what I was doing yesterday…suffering my own body and the death of possibility…it makes perfect sense to me.

There is mystery in both infertility and the cross. Christ made His cross a source of life for the world though, and that is why we make time to celebrate it. There is nothing but the pain of death for us without the cross. We are the grain of the wood in the cross and it is very much a part of us in all that we do. So as much as I want to say that there is no meaning to be found in the void that infertility leaves in my life (and the pain that it so constantly brings), I know that all things are redeemed already. If we are all a part of the cross, that means God didn’t forget this pain. Not even this pain.
I am the cross and the cross is mine. When I was born, I became His through baptism. But even in that moment of cleansing, I was marked with the cross on my forehead. A symbol of death painted across the fresh, chrism-scented skin on a newborn baby…

And it doesn’t end there. I was taught how to greet the Lord every Sunday as a young child. You dip your fingers into the font outside the sanctuary and you cross yourself in the name of the Truine God. You literally reclaim your baptism with a symbol of the instrument of death by anointing yourself before you prepare to worship. And you repeat this as a preparation for every prayer you pray. Everywhere we go in our daily lives through the years of Christian Catholic life, we are putting on Christ through the cross in this motion. Do we always stop to think of why we do it though? Do we realize we are welcoming suffering with this act?

I can certainly say that I am not conscious of it 100% of the time. But I was conscious of it 100% of yesterday. I was helpless from the profound pain and truth that the cross represents. And as I sat there, feeling like all hope had been ripped from me and that all the power and strength and resolve in my weary soul had been crushed, I somehow became aware that the cross is not supposed to be a source of death to me. How can hope be dead, when Christ conquered the cross? How can there be no redemption from infertility when Christ rose from the dead so that I might live? How can I be dead inside when I’ve been redeemed by God?

In every way, it began to make me feel like the cross was my only protection from this sorrow that I felt. Do you remember the antiphon we sing at the moment of baptism? “You have put on Christ, in Him we have been baptized. Alleluia, Alleluia!”. I started to think of the cross as shining armor in that moment when for some reason this antiphon popped into my head – Christ’s redemption is literally something I could wear. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? (said the girl who has plenty of Catholic jewelry – not the least of which are crosses, medals, prayer beads…). I’m brilliant, y’all. You know, like a 5 year old who thinks they just invented something because it just occurred to them for the first time in earnest. Annnnyyyway.... Just like the priest so broadly signed a cross onto my forehead as a newborn, I started to understand the meaning in my own pathetic suffering. With that realization, I quickly make the sign of the cross and wept until I had no tears. And that took hours.

Speaking of gut wrenching sorrow…

Our Lady of Sorrows

How apropos is it that today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows?? Great, now I have to figure out how to connect (once again) to a mother figure and understand her pain at losing her child… while I mourn a child that I don’t have. JUST WHAT I WANTED TO DO TODAY after I’m left with the soreness in my abs (from weeping) of someone who did 1000 crunches yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that the Blessed Mother suffered intensely and grieved the brutal torture and death of her Son. And maybe it’s a good thing that I find myself basically incapable of connecting to anything but her suffering right now. Mary and I have a weird relationship. Suffering is the only thing that really helps me connect to her. It’s not for lack of praying, but it’s also a reason to keep praying. That’s where Mary and I are anyway.

So Our Lady of Sorrows. What are we celebrating? Yesterday was a celebration of an instrument of death – so I suppose today is a celebration of gut-wrenching agony. Times seven. Because that’s how the Bible rolls…

The Bible provides seven sorrows, to be specific. These are:

The dark prophecy of Simeon
The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt
The loss and discovery Jesus in the Temple
Mary meeting Jesus on His way to Calvary with the cross
Mary at the foot of Jesus on the cross during crucifixion
Mary holding Jesus after He was pierced by the lance and taken down from the cross
The burial of Jesus

It’s not just suffering Jesus’ death that this feast is celebrating. It’s so much more. It’s a veritable pain buffet that spans Jesus’ entire life. We’re reminded that motherhood *is* suffering in this feast day. And there are real examples that modern day mothers can certainly relate to in these seven examples (ask any parent who has lost a child in a store in the blink of an eye…).

But it has to be more than that. I have to believe that this is a day that highlights the essence of female suffering and that it is not about physical motherhood as much as it is about the nature of being a woman. Are we not meant to suffer? As I look up images of Our Lady of Sorrows, I notice that Mary’s heart is often depicted with swords piercing her heart. I can relate to that feeling right now. And yet I have no child in my arms. How can I relate to anything Mary suffered?

I’m also finding that in previous years, this feast was known as Our Lady of Compassion. And I think most of us know the Latin derivation for the word compassion is ‘cum’ and ‘patior’ (literally: to suffer with). So maybe I find not a mother to look at in Mary so much as I find someone to suffer with me. I don’t know. We’re not there yet. She’s the master of willing it to be done unto her according to God’s will – and I am most certainly not. I wish I could say I was, but who among us has reached that in their infertility journey – especially a couple years into it?

The one thing I do understand about Mary though…is that she joined in with the suffering. She knew it had to happen. She knew Christ would be taken from her beyond her own power, just as He was given to her. And she joined herself to that reality and suffered it with Jesus.

The only thing I can understand in this moment is that joining my suffering (the suffering that I feel in the utter emptiness and hopelessness of my own barren womb) to the suffering of Mary may be the only way that I can understand today’s feast. I'm mourning a lack of being able to suffer as a mother. And it kind of messes with my head to think of it that way right now.

I think it’s a more powerful statement to admit *I'm not there yet* on this topic as a Catholic than to pretend I have some bigger understanding of this than I do. Someone needs to hear that today and I don’t know who it is. All I know for certain is that Mary saw redemption win with her own eyes. She saw her own flesh and blood defeat death. And that inspires a kind of hope that is much, much bigger than the pains of my infertility. At least - it should.

Speaking of seeing redemption win…

Let Me See Redemption Win

Truth be told, when I returned from Switzerland and France in the beginning of September, already a week into the dreaded 2WW, I was overjoyed to learn that I had been crowned to be this month's Adopt-a-Blogger. We felt like it was a life preserver sent from above to help us when we needed it most. After all, it had taken all of our strength to find the courage to TTC this past cycle. Prayer and grace were what we needed to sustain us through the waiting.

I was starting to see and feel some very reliable pregnancy symptoms. I found myself thinking and hoping and praying that this was the month that IF died and I was prayed into pregnancy. And all of you, my generous friends and readers, joined me in prayer to that effect. The timing just seemed perfect. Everything seemed perfect. I was amazed that we had found the courage to TTC again after so many losses, so it was amazing to be feeling like such a huge and long-prayed-for-miracle might be coming to life all at once. DH was convinced this was it. And the symptoms kept coming. It all seemed too good to be true. 

And it was.

I'm drowning. And it's happening painfully and slowly and I can't even help myself out of it. It doesn't seem to matter how often I converse with God, or how often I meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, or how many novenas I pray, or how often I just sit in silence with Him...there are no answers being given. No directions being given on how to take a left turn away from this pain and emptiness. No encouragement on how to soldier through it. There's just this giant echoing silence. I'm worn. Even before the day begins.

Christ, I long to understand Your plan for my life. I want to understand the purpose of this suffering. And I find myself praying this week more that You would rob me of the deep longing to be a mother than anything else. If Your plan is to leave my arms empty and to never know the joy of children, then I wish you would just make that clear and take this from me. If you have already redeemed this intense suffering that I'm lost in, let me know the struggle ends. 

I know You can give me rest.
I know You can mend a heart that's frail and torn.
I know that all that's dead inside me can be reborn.
I'm just too weak and life won't let up.
I'm crying out with all I have left. My prayers are wearing thin.
I've lost my will to fight.
I'm worn.

Every single lyric in this song could have been sung by my own heart.


  1. I feel like I could have written much of this. Finding meaning in suffering is where it's at--it's where the saints direct us, it's the foundation of our faith. I'm not happy you're suffering, but I am glad the Holy Spirit led you to write this & dive into the feast days. Our catholic liturgy is so dynamic.

  2. Sometimes what helps me connect to Mary is thinking of each monthly loss as the loss of a dreamed for, hoped for, longed for child. Though I have never held that child, he (or she or both) is thought of and loved. I have a harder times on the days such as the Feast of the Holy Family, where they are held up as the perfect example of what a family should be (or days that focus more on her motherhood). Loss I can understand to some degree - joy is harder for me.

  3. I'm going to PM you a story that I am too embarrassed to tell anyone else! What you wrote here absolutely echoes what happened recently to me and how I'm feeling about it. I'm so with you, here.

  4. Amen to all of your thoughts here... the relating to the Holy Cross, connecting with Mary, all of it. I hope even *trying* to process your pain through a spiritual lens is helping you feel some comfort. Still praying for you!

  5. Oh! Wow...this is intense and so moving. Such insight into suffering...I wish I could take some of your burden from you. As I was reading, I was struck by how much God loves each of us, and especially you to give you the words to write this. You are in my prayers.