If you try to help a struggling butterfly emerge from the prison of his cocoon, his wings will be permanently deformed. As a butterfly struggles, fluid is forced into its wings so they stretch and open, allowing them to fly but butterflies are not the only creatures who must struggle before they have the ability to fly. God uses our difficult circumstances to transform us into saints so we are free to soar into the very heart of God.
If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint. (St. Ignatius Loyola)
In theory, dedicated disciples of Christ understand they cannot become saints by eating chocolates and watching mind-numbing movies all day long. Obviously, a self-indulgent lifestyle does not challenge us to grow spiritually. However, when we are hit by real hardship, most of us do not embrace this opportunity to grow with joy. Instead, we fight God by complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves.
There is a hilarious story about St. Teresa of Ávila which illustrates this human tendency to complain about the hardships in our lives. Apparently, as St. Teresa travelled to one of her convents, she fell off a horse while crossing a cold stream. The current was so strong, she lost her footing and was almost carried away. When Teresa complained about the constant trials in her life, the Lord replied, “Do not complain, daughter, for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.” Witty Teresa responded with her typical sense of humour, “Ah, Lord, it is also on that account that Thou hast so few!” In more modern English, she yelled at the Lord, If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.
I love this story. Every time I repeat it, I end up grinning because I can identify with Teresa.
Friends of Jesus
I was a convert when I married my husband and thought I lived a very devout, disciplined, holy life. My honest desire was to become a saint. Yet, unbeknownst to me, buried deep in my soul was a tendency to control everyone and everything, combined with a fear of really letting go and trusting in God.
So I did everything on my own, relying solely on myself, not on God, to get through every day. I think my mantra was, "Fine, I will do it on my own!" I was so afraid of letting go of control and just surrendering. It was like I was clinging to a cliff with my fingernails. I felt frozen and could not change. I am such a tough cookie, it took nine unplanned pregnancies, poverty, a depressed husband and unrelenting chores on a small family farm to finally bring me to my knees in exhaustion. I was shocked when I discovered I relied on my own strength and NOT on Jesus. God finally broke through my arrogance to show me I was not as holy as I thought I was by allowing me to suffer.
I have slowly learnt how to find meaning and hope by using difficulties to come closer to Christ. He never answers our desperate pleas for help right away but uses the "winepress", or I prefer to say the meat grinder, to expose areas in our lives which need healing. God is interested in creating saints who repeatedly die to self and rise in new life through Christ's power. He is not interested in spoiling His children or cushioning them from the realities of life.
We must often draw the comparison between time and eternity. This is the remedy of all our troubles. How small will the present moment appear when we enter that great ocean. (St. Elizebeth Ann Seton)
After years of complaining, my husband and I finally understand how to look at hardships through the lens of faith. God works in the lives of His friends to sanctify them through hardships. Our journey into the heart of the Father through the Son and Holy Spirit, within His Mystical Body, helps us sustain one another through all the hardships, pain and blows which often seem to rain down on us more heavily than we can bear. Yet when we cooperate with God, our hard times bring us to repentance, open our hearts to healing and bring us closer to our loving Father.
If you embrace all things in this life as coming from the hands of God, and even embrace death to fulfill His holy will, assuredly you will die a saint. (St. Alphonsus Liguor)
Life is messy, life is hard, and everyone suffers. Recently, one of my daughters, feeling overwhelmed by her circumstances, was feeling sorry for herself. In the space of a week, she ran into three people, all who appeared successful and problem free on the surface, only to discover each one was suffering deeply. She literally ran into one woman who was jogging through their affluent neighbourhood. This fashionable looking woman's husband was bed-ridden, her family had been forced to sell their home and live with her elderly parents, her teenage kids were acting up, and she was trying to run a home daycare so she could be physically available to her parents, her kids and her sickly husband.
Many would be willing to have afflictions provided that they not be inconvenienced by them. (St. Francis de Sales)
Suffering With Joy
People cannot avoid pain but only choose how to go through the difficulties which rain down on them. It is possible to live a hard life yet be filled with joy and peace. I am a joyful person, even though by society’s standards I should be miserable because Jesus has finally managed to show me how to be filled with joy as I journey into the heart of God.
If we only knew the precious treasure hidden in infirmities, we would receive them with the same joy with which we receive the greatest benefits, and we would bear them without ever complaining or showing signs of weariness. (St. Vincent de Paul)
Christian cognitive therapy is a wonderful tool to shake us out of our self-pity. Take a step back, count all your blessing, stay focused on receiving God's love, pray, and watch the mountains you face grow smaller. When I focus only on my problems, they grow larger and more difficult. I also discovered much of my anguish is self-inflicted because I try to steal God's job by trying to save myself and everyone else around me. The large weight of despair lifts off the moment I surrender my pain to Christ, asking Him to truly be my saviour in the nitty-gritty reality of daily life.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2: 24,25)
Saint Paul is an example of a man who lived in the joy of the Lord, even though by the world's standard's he should have been miserable and full of complaints. He was the most important apostle to the Gentiles, well-educated, and famous for founding churches all over the Roman Empire. In unity with the Holy Spirit, Paul discovered and articulated the new Mystical Theology of the Christian life. His letters were read and reread by the first Christians, the ultimate standard on how to live as a Christian. Yet, when he was over 60, he was not enjoying retirement but in a Roman prison, awaiting a trial which could result in his execution. Although he was in his own quarters, he was chained to a Roman guard 24 hours a day and suffered under unfair criticism by jealous Church leaders. He had endured another two years confined in Caesarea earlier never mind almost died after a shipwreck on his way to Rome.
Despite all these hardships, St. Paul was filled with joy because he did not demand comfort but had the grace to live in the Love of Christ, no matter if he was rich or poor, in prison or free. He realized God was using his circumstances to purify him.
Jesus suffered and died to save us. One day Christ will wipe every tear wiped from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). However, Jesus also promised us that if we are truly His disciples, we will suffer because it is the only way to bring us closer to God. If this is the only way Christ can transform me, one of His friends, into His loving Presence on Earth, I say, bring on the suffering.
Suffering teaches you to love. (St. Gemma Galgani)