Accepting the Ugliness of Suffering

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Be grateful for your trials, for they will become your greatest blessings.

This message has been on display on a maker board in the hallway of the parish which hosts our homeschool co-op.   I’ve had to look at for several weeks now.  We have little chats, me and the marker board.  I walk past it several times a day when we have co-op.  Here’s a peek into the evolution of our chats.

 

Sign:  Be grateful for your trials, for they will become your greatest blessings.
Me:  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s true.  We don’t know how things will work out in the end.

Sign:  Be grateful for your trials, for they will become your greatest blessings.
Me:  (dragging Moe back to where he’s supposed to be…through gritted teeth)  Thanks for the reminder.

Sign:  Be grateful for your trials, for they will become your greatest blessings.
Me:  Bite me.

You get the idea.  The more I see it, my hostility increases.

That marker board.  It’s just so smug.  Like the reason life is so hard is because I’m just not grateful enough.  Like the impending doom of the advanced degeneration of Cee’s hips is this big party with balloons and cake, if only I’d see it.

THERE IS NO CAKE!!!

Anyway.  So I’ve got issues that surface every time I pass that dumb sign.  Festering issues.

 

At our Good Friday service, the festering came to a head.  The priest talked about the “good” part of “Good Friday.”  How the suffering of Jesus led to our salvation.  How there is good in our trials as well, because they too can bring about blessings.

Wait a minute.  How is it that the priest said basically the same thing as the smug sign, and I found it inspiring instead of eye-roll inducing?

I have read quotes from the saint-iest saints.  They are, in fact, grateful for their sufferings.  They appreciate the solidarity of being able to share (however minuscule-y) in Christ’s suffering.  Perhaps someday I might get to that point.  That day is not today.

I don’t want to be grateful for the bad stuff that’s happening now.  The bad stuff hurts.  It’s hard.  However, I trust with my whole being that at some distant point in the future I will be able to look back and connect the dots.  That somehow this suffering is useful.

Maybe that’s it.  The priest didn’t gloss over the ugliness of Good Friday.  Can’t you imagine being there?  The blood.  The sweat.  The violence.  The priest wasn’t saying, “Be grateful for those soldiers scourging you, Jesus.  Thank them for their service to humanity.”  He was saying, “Trust that this suffering is part of a bigger picture.   Easter is coming.”  And He did.  Jesus endured for the sake of us.  We are the bigger picture.

The priest gave an example an alcoholic who uses his experience to help others recover.  That time of addiction isn’t “good,” but it’s good in that it becomes a force for positive change in other people.

Someone in the throws of alcoholism can’t really be grateful for the addiction in the moment, but he could trust that even his lowest, low rock bottom point could be used for the glory of God– if he is open to it.  If he is honest about where he is and where he is called to be.  Seeing the ugliness and wanting more– that’s part of the transformation.

The words of the homily had a chance to sink in as we waited for our turn to venerate the cross.  (On Good Friday, people approach the cross and offer some gesture of respect, usually of the bow/genuflect/kiss variety.  Even though it’s not *the* cross, it is a symbol of the way we are saved.)

As we approached the cross, I understood that today, for me, my genuflection was more.  It was an acceptance of my own cross.  Jesus took His cross.  I am taking mine.  As I knelt before the cross, I acknowledged the agony of Jesus, in all its ugliness.  And I acknowledged my own suffering, in all its ugliness.

I’m still not grateful for it.  I don’t really like it.  But I accept it.  In time I might even see the “good” of this challenging time.

As I watched a huge churchful of people wait for their turn, I had a sense that every single other person was being called to the same: to embrace their crosses–unseen and unknown to the rest of us– as they knelt down.  Each accepting the ugliness of suffering on the promise that someday it would become a blessing.

I left the service with a feeling of peace.  I am not being asked to ignore the pain of today at the thought of how awesome tomorrow might be.  My suffering is understood.  It is seen.  And although I can’t connect the dots, I trust that Someone else can.

 

When we go back to co-op after Easter, I might just get all up in that message board’s business.  I might do some passive aggressive editing.

Sometimes trials blossom into blessings.  Try to stick it out.  Maybe you’ll end up with a flower.  Or maybe you’ll die.  Whatev.

Too much?

Have faith that God turn even our biggest trials into blessings.

That might be better.  More “embroider on a pillow” worthy.  And less eye-roll-y.

The trials we face are messy.  Painful.  Ugly.  To dance around that reality because it makes us uncomfortable, denies us the opportunity to embrace our suffering and allow it to be used for a small “g” good Friday in our own lives.

 

And so, we wait.  We wait with the Marys and John at the foot of the cross.  Seeing the ugliness.  Surviving the pain.  And trusting that Easter really is just a few days away.

 

 


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9 Comments


  1. // Reply

    This is so, so good. You have such a gift for coming right to the heart of the matter. This really was what I needed to hear today. Thank you, friend.😘


  2. // Reply

    ❤️ Your blog has been a blessing to me. What a beautiful re-write of the marker board. What a perfect
    Holy Saturday reading. It goes perfectly with the book I am reading, One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp). God Bless you in this Easter season.


  3. // Reply

    This was so perfectly timed for me, seriously. You really do have a gift of being so honest, insightful, and funny all at the same time – if I haven’t said it before. Thanks Alicia. 🙂


  4. // Reply

    The title of your post really struck a chord with me as we are dealing with ailing family members, and it’s ugly and hard to accept. Your post made me pause to think on it instead of avoiding it like I’ve been doing. Reading your reflections and realizations that every one sitting next to you in church is bearing their own crosses is a reminder of our solidarity, even if we don’t vocalize the things we’re struggling with. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liz
    http://www.withwonderandwhimsy.com


  5. // Reply

    Indeed. That sounds like a sharp/sensible priest.

    Thanks for sharing this – and reminding me that maybe it’s time to revisit Saints, reality, and – in contrast – those syrupy-sweet old ‘Lives of the Saints’ books.

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