A man is standing over a hospital bed, looking down at his wife who is being anointed by a priest. The whole nightmare began just three days ago when Mary collapsed on the living room floor. Then, it seemed she would rally while she was in intensive care, and then another, and more severe stroke, and now this. The priest dutifully says the prayers, and anoints Mary’s forehead and hands. The ceremony is over in a few minutes.
As the priest is leaving the room, the husband walks with him into the hallway. With assurances of prayers for his wife, the priest makes to leave. And Jim touches the priest’s arm and says, with tears in his eyes,”Why, Father? Why did this have to happen to my wife? She’s a good person—-she’s the faithful one. Now me, that’s a different story. Why not me instead of her?” The priest says, “Try not to look at this that way. God is not punishing your wife in this experience.” Jim nodded and walked back into the room. It didn’t seem that he was all that convinced of what the priest was saying.
We have to deal with suffering. Whether it’s happening to me or someone we love. And we can think the same way as this man in the story: Why is God doing this to me, or to my wife, or to my child? When we suffer, it doesn’t mean that we are being punished by God, as if we could have prevented it by acting differently. We all know that bad things can happen to good people, but it does not mean that God is seeking vengeance or that our guilt somehow has control over outcomes.
What we are asked to do in the challenging moments of our life—-or in the crises of our life—-is try and see things the way God wants us to see them. Thomas Merton said this to the monks he was instructing, and I think it applies to all persons who are struggling: “When you have a crisis in your life, God is teaching you something.” So, after the crisis has past, reflect on, maybe even write down, what it was that God was trying to teach you.
As risky as it may seem, we are asked time and time again to surrender to God. This surrendering can actually be the first step toward healing. Baptism makes us a child of God. We are changed from that very moment, and a promise is made to us that we will never walk alone, that God will be with us in good times and in bad times. Through Baptism “we are given the gift of new life from God who is love”.
Father Walter Ciszek, the famous Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Russia by the Communists for many years, wrote this in one of his powerful books: “The greatest grace God can give a man is to send him a trial that he cannot bear with his own powers—-and then sustain him with his grace so he may endure to the end and be saved.”
So, when life sends us trials that we cannot bear with our own powers, don’t turn down the path of anger and resentment, or grief and depression. Ask the Lord to help you see what is really happening, and make use of the opportunity given you to grow, perhaps, in a new way. Allow the Lord to sustain you with his grace so that you can endure and be saved!