We are slowly approaching that time again. Lent. The time of sacrifice, introspection, reflection, cleansing, and mercy. But for many of us the consistent word we may fear is pain. This coming part of the liturgical year may not sit comfortably with everyone, but it is necessary. Why?
Because we are sinners who are deeply loved by the Lord while living a cross-centred life. We know that there is hope and redemption if we seek it with all our heart.
Recently a terrible pain unexpectedly came upon me. It was intense. I enjoy good health, exercise, and fitness, so the struggle to move about as normal was deeply troubling to my spirit. The pain coloured everything – my work, interactions with others, prayer time, etc. I tried to analyse it, solve it, exercise it away, medicate it, and so on but it would still not go away.
At dusk one Friday as I was praying the Rosary – the Sorrowful Mysteries – I could really feel the pain. Uniting it with the Lord’s pain, I asked Him to take it. This time the pain did not ease. So I decided to try another approach during my meditation. I accepted it. The phrase, ‘to sit with the cross’ came to mind.
It was not just physical pain that I was enduring at the time, but mental anguish about a decision I had joyfully made initially, and which I had prayed about, which turned out to be wrong in the full reality of my experience. Disappointment was the word of the moment. An answered prayer, a miracle, or so I had thought, turned out to be a mistake – the old saying of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ was my truth. How did I end up in this situation after so much prayer? I wasn’t sure where God was leading me and still do not, but there is a reason for everything, even in the unwelcome twists and turns of life. This too, is pain.
There are times in our lives when uncertainty, risk, and bold moves lead us to dead ends. What we thought was a golden road ahead turns out to be a place filled with rubble and potholes. What was promised for us on paper feels like purgatory in reality. We then realise that we made a mistake and cannot find our way out. A physical and mental pain can come upon us out of the blue and we struggle with the reality of God’s love.
It is precisely during such times when the evil one sees our weakness and vulnerability, and whispers that there will never be peace for us. We may feel that God has abandoned us, so the voice of darkness tells us to “blame God” and turn to sin or other so-called comforts to ease our pain. We desperately want to be healed.
When we instead take the time to sit with Jesus carrying His cross, and remain with Jesus upon the cross, taking the time to be at these scenes rather than running away from them, we see our pain in His. We do not deny the truth of our suffering, but we embrace it. We cannot pretend that our pain is not there. We may not enjoy it, but we face it head on and find the strength to learn from it.
So I happened to be at the mystery of Jesus carrying His cross, and did just that. I looked at the picture of Jesus and the heavy wooden beams on His shoulders – His bloodied and scourged body taking the weight of the wood and our pains. His face was serene. How could that be? Was the artist who drew the picture in my little booklet sugarcoating the scene? No. Jesus accepted His pain because the strength of His love for us was His sole purpose. He embraced the pain for the sake of our salvation. Did you know that He had your face in mind?
And so I felt an easing of the pain – ever so small, but a relaxation nonetheless. The burden of having to solve the pain all by myself fell away a little. There is something in that. It means that letting go is the only answer. It is not an excuse to do nothing, but to release the idea that we have to control it all.
If we don’t run away from an unexpected suffering but calmly acknowledge it, sit with our pain and pray for God’s strength, then we can become more focused on finding out what God’s will is, and take some action. We look for wisdom through the experience to find an eventual healing or solution.
We often ask God why: “Why me? Why did this happen and why am I in pain?” But God cannot get through to us if we are all tied up in knots and yelling at Him hysterically! The true question we need to ask in peace is this: “Jesus, I have this pain. It is here with me. I blend it with yours on the cross. What do You want of me?” This does not mean that we don’t seek help from doctors, medication, a priest/spiritual help, ask for prayers, or other solutions. We do not want to deliberately seek out painful experiences or afflict pain on someone else either. But we instead need to bear the experience for a while if we have to, and try to learn something from it. That way, we take control of our own emotions and thoughts and turn the bad into a good.
So the next time you are in pain – be it physical, mental, spiritual, a situation or feeling of being stuck or in darkness, you need to face it. Sit with your pain in your soul and literally make the time to physically sit somewhere, perhaps in a dark room with a small candle while holding a Rosary or crucifix, and be silent with your pain. If you are able you can also go to adoration of the Holy Eucharist at a church and just sit with the exposed Eucharist in silence. You don’t have to say much, if at all, or beg or plead with God. Just calmly tell Him that you accept this situation, then ask for His mercy, clarity, truth, and direction.
All of this will not feel easy, but if you keep going back to Jesus He will help you – His love guarantees that something good will happen for you. Wait and see.