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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Leaning into Suffering: Part 4 Reflecting Back

This post is the last in a series about suffering. See the other posts here (one, two, three).

As I laid in the hospital bed, my warm baby in my arms, the different labors seemed to piece together, and I felt an overwhelming sense of how God was with me providing me with exactly what I needed for each unique context, rather than just each time getting easier and faster. Instead, a relatively fast and not too painful labor - my first. My fastest labor - when my husband wasn't there. A the doctor must not have checked very well when he said it wasn't time labor - the time I called out to God. A longer (but still short) labor - when I was comparatively stronger and had a sense of a greater purpose for suffering.

My first two labors helped to provide a context for confidence. In my third labor, I was calmer than ever but then called out as soon as it was not as smooth as I imagined it was. At the time I was arrogant, thinking the doctor didn't know what I knew - it. was. time. Now, it reminds me of Peter walking on water. The doctor wasn't just too tired or wasn't off with his estimation of my progress. It really wasn't time yet, but when I called out, God rescued me immediately (Matthew 14:22-33). He turned it's not time into it's time.

In my fourth, I was stronger and wanting to offer it up and trusting in Jesus that I would be able to handle however it unfolded. I drew comfort from the agony in the garden and the human feelings of Jesus. Yet, I was still looking forward to the relief. I was able to say, "For you Jesus," inspired by Blessed Chiara Badano, but I was definitely not able to say, "Give me more" like Saint Alphonsa. I recognized that I was willingly accepting the pain of something that had to happen - my baby couldn't just stay inside forever. I also knew that the suffering was working toward the joyful outcome of a new life.

I cannot say whether I would be strong enough to go through the pain if it was something that I could just say, "What was I thinking? This is too hard. I don't want to do this anymore." My thinking was more along the lines of wanting to unite the suffering that had to happen with Christ's while simultaneously being very grateful for the relief that would eventually come. Based on hearing the labor stories of others, I also know that I have been very blessed and fortunate with relatively quick and easy labors, so I am unsure of how well I would be able to tolerate a harder labor without medication to dull the pain.

Nonetheless, although there are many reasons to think the suffering was much less than that of others' and that I still have a lot more room to grow with willingly accepting suffering, I know that I have grown through the process of the delivery of my four girls. It has taught me a lot about how to get stronger with time. If I eventually go through another labor, part of my mental preparation process will be to hold back the sense of wanting to push as soon as it gets hard and requesting to do so. I want to be able to better accept the "not yet," knowing there is purpose behind the process.

My labors have provided a lens to reflect on how I want to accept and embrace the suffering that enters my life over time beyond the context of labors. It is especially vital for me to keep in mind with the unexpected, knowing it is easier for me to keep a positive mindset when it is something I am planning and preparing for with some idea of what to expect and time to reflect on how I want to respond before the onset of suffering. All of this closely links to what I envision as a worry-trust continuum. The more I can trust, rather than worry, the better able I am to offer up suffering and to willingly lean into suffering, rather than trying to run away.

As I recognize that I could sense the presence of God in a special way in my labors and as a sense of purpose emerges behind why each labor was perfect for my context at different points in my 20s and 30s, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.

I don't know whether I will ever be as strong as Blessed Chiara Badano offering up longer term suffering or as Saint Alphonsa asking for more suffering, but I trust that God has a plan for me and for my growth over time to live, love, and serve according to His will, and that He will strengthen me in order to say yes to that plan. I am grateful for the Blesseds and Saints of the Church providing such rich diversity in experiences and inspiration for how we can improve over time in our lives.

What are the experiences in your life when you saw events through a new lens or were able to recognize a strong presence of God? What have you learned because of those experiences? How do the experiences shape goals for future growth?

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