Thursday, May 19, 2011

Suffering and Joy

I was listening to The Comforter today on EWTN and it caught my attention when I heard this, St. Augustine said " There are no burdens too heavy for a loving heart."

How can we be joyful when we are suffering was a question Fr. Andrew asked.  Good question... because I know we're supposed to be joyful even amidst our suffering yet, to be honest it's a burden to do so.  I think back to times in my life when I suffered and a couple of instances come immediately to mind.  First, the illness and death of my mother whom I was very close too.  I did NOT feel joyful during this time and even resented God for taking her from me. 

I know, that's bad to admit here but it's true.

The second time I experienced real suffering was when my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) was in a horrible flare up, I was pregnant with my son, newly married, in debt, and dependent on my health insurance at work.  I went days where I physically couldn't lay down, get dressed, open the medicine cabinet door, let alone take the cap off the toothpaste, I couldn't get into my car, once I was able to get in, I couldn't reach to close the door...etc.  Every movement was excruciating pain.

Many of my joints flared up at the same time and I was MISERABLE.  No joy here in this suffering.  In fact, I was in despair and at the height of it, knowing I was pregnant, prayed to God to help me or end my life.  I never considered hurting myself or my baby but I wanted God to do SOMETHING! 

My OB doctor didn't want me to take anything and advised me to be on bed rest.  I practically shouted at her "I can't lay down!  My shoulders, neck and back feel like sharp knives are cutting into me."  Trying to sleep while sitting wasn't any better.  The only comfortable position was standing up but by then my knees and ankles hurt.

Finally, my prayer was answered and I was referred to a Rheumatologist who diagnosed me with RA.  She gave me a prescription for Prednisone and after 2 days of a very low dose, I was able to move freely again.

That was pure joy!  Both my RA and OB doctor assured me that the low dose wouldn't affect my baby and it didn't.  Thank God!

So, back to my original question of feeling joy while suffering?  I've done a very poor job at it... I admit it.  When the grief of my mother's illness was new and I when I was in the beginning stages of RA, I was a dutiful Christian and offered up my pain and suffering.  When my mother died and when I was in a full flare up, I failed miserably at offering up this suffering.  I wanted it to stop.  I prayed, begged, pleaded, whined, yelled...etc.  You get the picture.

Fr. Andrew went on to say in order to experience joy while suffering, one could have done so if the motive was love.  If I meant to give glory and praise to God or if I wanted to obtain graces.  Another motive was the reward of eternal life or my own sanctification.  So, did I not love God enough? 

When the going got tough, I failed horribly and my motive was not love, it was desperation.

Here are some verses he offered to reflect on suffering and joy:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refines by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1: 6-9

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined then you are illegitimate children and not true sons ... God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."  Hebrews 12: 7-11


  1. That is a tough one. Just this week I decided to thank God for my migraines. But to be joyful? I am not resentful but am resigned that this is where God as me. But, truthfully I cannot say I am joyful! Need to work on that!

  2. Oh Noreen! Can I ever relate to your post here! Unless someone has suffered from chronic pain for many years I'm not sure they can understand how difficult it is to bear it with joy day after day. I suffered from a disease called Myasthenia Gravis until I was healed last year by a priest with a healing gift. Weird but true, he's quite famous in this area - Father Ralph DiOreo. In some people this disease only affects the face, in others the entire body, too. I was one of the unlucky ones who suffered this neuromuscular disease throughout my entire body - it even affected my lungs and bladder. Unlike you, my pain level lightened during my pregnancy but afterward it became unbearable again. Crying out to God is not wrong - I did this too. Even Jesus cried out to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane asking Him to take this cup away. We are only human and the Lord certainly understands what we go through. I did the best I could and I'm sure you did too. I had good days when I offered my pain up with joy and bad days where I failed miserably - but I tried and it sounds like you do too :)
    Do you know Colleen at Thoughts on Grace? She has RA too and goes through terrible flareups at times. She gets some kind of infusion regularly (it takes a few hours) and it helps her immensely. I will keep you in my prayers. God bless!

  3. I am so sorry to hear of your health problems Noreen. I so admire your courage in admitting exactly how you feel. It helps others open up and share their feelings too.

    There were certainly times when I begged God to take away my pain when I was grieving for Thomas. Some days, I felt I couldn't take any more and I didn't want to suffer any longer. I guess it's a bit like crawling into the arms of a parent and wanting them to put things right, being too weak to do anything myself. God always got me upright again so I could plod on.

    But continual pain like yours? I don't know how I would have coped.

    I was reading in Fr D'Elbee's book "I Believe in Love", how we can offer God our weakness, our failure to accept suffering. We can benefit from the very weakness that we feel guilty about. Have you read this book, Noreen? I really love it. There is a wonderful chapter on the Cross.

    There have been so many interesting and helpful discussions on this blog where we have been able to share with one another. Thank you!

  4. Thank you again for your support my blogging friends!

    Shanda- migraines are tough. I've had them and if I don't take medicine within the first 15-20 minutes, I'm in serious pain. Plus, I get the kind where I lose my vision so driving is not an option. I always carry Advil with me just in case.

    Mary- I'm so happy you were healed from your illness! I've not heard of this medical condition and it sounds dreadful. Many women with RA go into remission when pregnant, yet mine flared horribly when I was pregnant which also happens to be when I was diagnosed.

    I have recently come across Colleen's blog and didn't know she has RA too. I used to go for the IV treatments for RA and they were not enjoyable at all. I'll have to chat with her. Thanks for letting me know.

    Sue- my RA is under control now and somewhat in remission. I've not been on medication for 2 1/2 years now and I sometimes wonder if instead of blessing me with another baby, God has healed me so I can be the mom He's called me to be for my son. I would definitely go through the pain though if He so chose to bless us with another baby.

    I've not heard of that book and will have to look into it.

    I've enjoyed sharing my stories, my desires and my views with you too Sue!

  5. Noreen,
    Here is my response to your comment on my blog.
    Right now I am trying to cut down on my prednisone and I am not feeling well so may have to go back up.
    I receive IV infusions of Remicade every 6 weeks. The frequency and dosage have changed from time to time but it seems to be helping me more than any other meds we have tried. I have been taking this for a few years now. Other meds stopped working after a short period of time.
    I have flares every once in a while - if I get overtired, or stressed or I try to cut down on my prednisone!! OR for whatever other reason that RA flares from time to time! But I have not had a "major" flare for a year or so.
    Everyday coping - I get tired easy. My joints all take turns hurting. I am sure you can relate.
    BTW - I was diagnosed after having a hysterectomy. I wonder if hormones have something to do with this.
    I find that joy in suffering comes when we find some kind of meaning to it. My suffering as an incest survivor has found meaning in trying to help others and in speaking out. I do not see any meaning in having RA right now. But instead of joy, I have found acceptance. I have learned to live with it, at least for the time being.
    I offer it up. I offer all my pain up, both emotional and physical. I know that Jesus knows what we suffer and is with us always. Sometimes I have to ask Him to carry my cross for a while and he does. God is good.
    Hope you are feeling well today. God bless!