Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

M. Regina Cram

"Suffering shapes our souls. It’s like fire: it molds our souls to what God wants us to be.” – Tierney Cram, age 17

The young priest stood before the assembled mourners, calm but anguished. “Why did my cousin have to die?” he said quietly. “That’s what people keep asking me. Why did she have to die? God could have saved her. Why didn’t he?”

He looked at the mourners for a long moment.

“I don’t know,” he admitted honestly. “I don’t know why God does what he does. But I do know that we have hope. And I know that God is with us through it all.”

In 1977, Philip Yancey wrote the classic book Where is God When it Hurts? In it, he tells the story of a young woman who is struck with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Friends try to cheer her up but only add to her misery by telling her that it was God’s will or that God never gives us more than we can handle. Mother Teresa’s answer to that platitude was, “I wish God didn’t trust me so much.”

We want to make sense of suffering. We want to blame someone or attribute it to God’s plan, but sometimes suffering just is. Where is God during all this? Where is God when it hurts?

Some basics we all suffer:

The fact is that we do suffer. Some sufferings are almost unbearable – poverty, abuse, chronic pain, loneliness and mental illness. God does not send these afflictions, but neither does God exempt us. Jesus led a perfect life and yet he suffered horribly. He experienced terrible anguish when his friends abandoned him, and excruciating pain as he was tortured and crucified.

Although we often feel alone when we suffer, God understands because he has been there himself – weak, helpless, abandoned and in pain. In the book Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes, “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering. For our Lord suffered. And I have come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering.”

Where is God when it hurts? Sometimes God meets us through others

When people are in any sort of pain, it can be enormously helpful to be in the company of others who have walked the same path. That’s why, for example, newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are contacted by breast cancer survivors who offer help for the difficult journey. Such companionship makes us feel not so alone, and it gives us hope.

Where is God? Sometimes he meets us through the sacraments.

During a prolonged dark period in my life a few years ago, I found enormous solace in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Many days, it was all I had to cling to. I also found great strength in the sacrament of reconciliation. The power of that sacrament is amazing, showering the penitent with healing and grace.

Where is God? Sometimes God’s just sitting with us, silently.

When my world was at its darkest and I was deeply depressed, I wrote to a friend, “I teeter on the edge of an empty chasm that slowly engulfs me, and as I cry for help, I descend too far into the chasm for anyone to hear my cries. And yet I feel God’s presence in the pitch darkness. I feel his warm breath and the beat of his Sacred Heart as I collapse in his arms, weeping. He holds me, because I am too weak to stand alone.”

Yancey put it another way. “When we have nothing else to lean on, not even ourselves, he is still there.”

Where is God when we hurt?

Why is life so hard? Why are women widowed too soon? Why is there job loss and alcoholism and childhood leukemia?

I don’t know.

But I know that God is a gentle parent who grieves with us when we’re in pain, just as you grieve when your child or grandchild is in pain.

When our youngest child was small, she split open her forehead on the raised hearth. She screamed in pain and fear as blood spurted. My husband scooped her up and cuddled with her on his lap while I cared for the wound and made arrangements for stitches. She was not even 2 years old and yet she quieted down almost immediately in her daddy’s arms. Her head still hurt but she was no longer afraid because she knew she was safe. And all the while, her daddy wept because his child was in pain.

That’s how it is with our heavenly Father. We are always safe in his arms, even when we hurt. And I suspect that God weeps with us.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.