Twice today, I have read blog articles from Catholic women being honest about their intense suffering (here and here). (I don’t know if they want to be linked to this or not. Ultimately, I mean to say I liked these posts very much, so I hope they take it as a compliment!) Both articles came with disclaimers–one implicit, one explicit–about the possibility of scandalizing people by sharing their honest feelings.
As someone who’s been through a little bit of hell and back in my own life, I would like to tell those bloggers something: your honesty scandalizes no one.
What truly scandalizes is someone not sharing her honesty in her suffering.
What truly scandalizes is the woman who only writes about how happy her life is.
What truly scandalizes is the woman who thinks she’s being vulnerable by sharing only her least-painful sufferings.
What truly scandalizes is the woman whose advice to someone in pain is to simply hope in God, think positive, and offer it up for the poor souls in Purgatory, and everything will be okay.
For the reader who is honest with himself or herself about their feelings and who is going through genuine darkness, such writings only make them feel alone and as though they are failing as a Christian. For the person who is still quite immature in their faith, such writings give a very false and sinister idea of what a good Christian should be, and they will go on to perpetuate an evangelization of prosperity, not of Christ.
Intense suffering and the process of healing that suffering are necessary aspects of our human experience and of the road to becoming a saint (aka reaching our fullest human potential). Even though that suffering may seem ugly, I believe in a God who, by his own day-to-day suffering and his ultimate suffering on a cross, has redeemed our own pains and made them something beautiful. He has even redeemed the sinful parts of our suffering, such as envy, and can use that to give us something good, such as humility in seeing our sinfulness.
Suffering and healing also unite us with other human beings and with God in a way that is almost impossible to put into words. And no, I’m not talking about your Lenten fast. I’m talking about the suffering we don’t choose or regret having chosen: losing a loved one, being cheated on by your spouse, feeling at the end of your rope in your vocation, infertility, seeing your parents divorce, experiencing abuse, battling a mental illness or addiction, battling physical disease, or any number of other issues.
I have experienced that unity first-hand. When my brother committed suicide six years ago, I remember being able to finally understand why my best friend still grieved over her parents’ divorce several years after it happened. It only took weeks after my brother’s death for me to see how pain could exist that would take a very long time to heal completely, if ever. I also remember growing much closer to the friends I had outside of my Catholic bubble; in many ways, they were more sympathetic and empathetic to my suffering than some of the people in my church crowd, thanks to that Prosperity Gospel mentality. I remember being able to hear my friend’s testimony of coming out as gay to his father, and rather than feeling separated by our differing views on the homosexual lifestyle, I wanted to cry for his pain and his strength in the whole ordeal because my own suffering had softened my previously stoic heart.
It’s sad that I could not feel these things prior to my brother’s death, and it’s a testimony to how truly immature I was, but I’m grateful that I did not remain that way.
My brother’s suicide also brought me closer to God, despite feeling for a long time afterward that God was just being an absentee father and cynical puppeteer to my life. It might have taken some time, but I learned that true love means expecting nothing in return, even from God. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me in that dark night forever, but it was long enough for me to mature in my ability to love.
As Christians, we are called to love above all else. The kind of love God asks of us is not possible without suffering. In the words of Kahlil Gibran:
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
The Christian life is called to be an abundant one, and that means weeping all of our tears just as much as it means laughing all of our laughter. So dear friends, you can write about how what you’re feeling isn’t right or fair, but don’t you dare apologize or even offer a disclaimer for being honest about your sufferings. There is no scandal in it. Only truth.
And the truth–not the version of truth that we wish we had, but the real truth–is what sets us free.