Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 3, 2008
Our suffering opens us to God’s light
A wife’s fervent prayer ignites a flame of love that seals a struggling couple’s marriage vows
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
My wife LaRee and I just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. Over those years, we have experienced great joys and great sorrows. Like many other couples, love has triumphed. When human love was susceptible to failure, divine love carried us.
One winter night in the early years of my multiple sclerosis, the physical, emotional, spiritual agony of yet another vicious attack reached its apex and threatened to tear down all we held dear — or so we thought.
LaRee and I felt so terrified, helpless and close to despair. We lay motionless in our bedroom under a mountain of blankets, staring up into the darkness, looking to understand rather than to see. Our eyes were full of tears. Neither of us dared speak for fear of weeping.
Our Father . . .
After a long silence, LaRee turned, hugged my spastic body and gathered the strength to whisper words our Lord gave us, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”.
I do not think I have ever loved her more than at that moment.
Although not openly said, LaRee reminded me that as sweet as our marital love has been, it is a pale metaphor for Christ’s love for us. She was appealing to God to reveal himself to us in our trial of affliction.
The 17th-century poet John Donne suffered from an illness that took him to the edge of death. Reflecting on his near-fatal ordeal, he later wrote: “No man hath affliction enough, that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.”
At the climax of our ordeal that winter night so long ago, LaRee knew that God must have been trying to spiritually mature and ripen us and make us fit for him and the kingdom of heaven. LaRee knew that God could reach through our pathetic helplessness, defeat and pain to teach us. All that was required on our parts was to remain teachable and resist anger or bitterness.
Nobody wants to suffer. Our Lord did not want to suffer.
Out of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, his cruel and undignified death on the cross, came the resurrection and a tidal wave of love, hope and creativity that transformed the Western world (not to mention the eternal salvation for billions of people.)
By offering my agony to Christ, desiring to be united with his suffering, I discovered I was moving closer to him. A transformation began to make me fit for God just as John Donne said 500 years ago and countless suffering Christians have experienced over the past 2,000 years.
To love God
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” And later he gave the assurance that “all things work for good for those who love God.”
In my anguish — at times too excruciating for words — Christ invited me into the truth of the cross. His redemptive suffering makes my suffering redemptive. The kingdom of God is built upon the redemptive power of divine love.
I have discovered that my protracted suffering has the ability to strip away all things extraneous in my life, leaving that which is essential. My suffering in union with Christ’s greater suffering has revealed a beautiful and heart-rending mystery. And once I caught a brief glimpse of that mystery, everything else became an irrelevance and a diversion. That mystery was the transcending light of Christ shining through my darkest night.
Although suffering remains, it is a mere distraction from the redemptive love and light of Jesus Christ.
Redemptive suffering is not unique to me. Many people throughout history have discovered it, including St. Francis of Assisi, John Milton, John Donne and millions of ordinary people.
For those who unite their sufferings with the Redeemer, inklings of the kingdom, illuminated by the light of Christ, begin to drive back their agony and darkness of suffering.
That terrible night more than 20 years ago when my wife held my rigid body racked by disease and prayed the Lord’s Prayer was a transformative moment for me.
It marked a mental and spiritual shift when I surrendered my will to God’s will that it might be done in my life on earth as well as in heaven. That is when I realized I was being invited to transcend my suffering and bask in the truth and warm light of Christ.
Give your pain to Christ. Let him unite your suffering with his suffering. Discover that he will bring light to your darkness and begin to transform you more to his likeness and mind.
That is the point of the Christian’s pilgrimage toward the Celestial City. The journey makes us fit for God through faith in his son Jesus Christ.
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