“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.'” (Mt. 16:24).
“Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Pet. 4:12)
I’ve been meditating on these two scriptures a lot lately. The first was part of Sunday’s Gospel reading at Mass. The second has stuck in my head ever since I heard a pastor friend of mine quote it in a sermon he put on tape for me once. I think we’ve all heard the first passage so many times we tend to forget it–or ignore it because it promises pain. I think most of us secretly believe we’ll be exempted from the requirement of carrying our crosses. I know I did. “How could God ask me to endure anything difficult or painful? I love Him so much! Yes, sir, we’re just boppin’ along, me and Jesus,” I thought. Not consciously, of course; but pride and self-satisfaction, like most human sins and the other wiles of the Evil One can be insidious things.
Then, along came, more or less at the same time:
- my Dad’s death from cancer
- my own fairly serious health problems–a bladder infection that could have killed me, resulting in a week in the hospital including three days in ICU
- a catheter that looks like it’ll be a fairly permanent part of my wardrobe
- the failure of a relationship that was very precious to me, and on which I’d pinned a lot of hopes.
- the death of John Paul II. It was almost too much to bear. I’d just lost my earthly father. Now I’d lost a spiritual father too.
- A fairly complete mental and emotional breakdown because of all the foregoing. I checked myself into a mental hospital for a week of rest and therapy.
By then, as per the second quotation, I was not only surprised, I was outraged. Something strange was definitely happening to me! How could God allow these terrible things to happen to me? For a long time God and I weren’t on speaking terms. I doubted the goodness and even the existence of God.
Slowly, ever so slowly, however, things began to improve. I went through a series of steps to recovery, just like I’d gone through a series of steps to crisis:
- I began praying the Rosary again, comforted by the ritual and familiar prayers and decided that yes, maybe there was somebody on the other end listening
- Benedict XVI was elected Pope. Life went on for the Church. Maybe it could for me too.
- My doctor approved some changes that make it easier for me to deal with the catheter myself, and I got some outside help where needed. Life no longer seemed like the crushing burden it once did.
- I heard a gospel song in which the singer praises God for bringing him through adversity and recognized myself: “I’ve had my share of trouble but I’m still here.”
- I saw the kindness of people from my church, realized that their faith in Christ made that goodness possible, and decided that was still something I wanted to be part of.
- I reread the book of Job with its important lessons:
Important lessons from the Book of Job
- We cannot worship God because of what we expect to get from Him if we do.
- God is a lot bigger and a lot more mysterious than human beings give him credit for. Job accuses God of being unjust. Job’s three friends think they can explain God to Job. God’s reply to both of them is essentially, “You just don’t understand.”
- Because God is so much more than human beings, a relationship between God and human beings is NOT a relationship between equals.
- Suffering is a mystery and not necessarily an indicator of our own sin or God’s displeasure with us.
- Even when we suffer and God seems unjust, it seems God would rather have us cry out to Him with all our questions and complaints than piously and falsely murmuring about God’s will.
- We should worship God only because he is God, the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the universe.