Pain, hope and joy

September 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loved Ones,
I have learned within the past month that hope and joy are a choice and I’m choosing for them daily. If I believe in the power of God to give me every good thing of which I have need, in spite of the adversity around me, then this realization should infuse me with hope and optimism. So when a coworker makes an unkind remark or any undesired thing happens, I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity for growth in holiness and wholeness, and another chance to display through my loving faithfulness to him or her, that there is a better way to live. All of us have an abundance of blessings in our lives that should fill us with hope and joy in the work that God is accomplishing in us each day.

I would like to thank a good friend of mine Beverly Wilson for her invaluable contribution to this blog. She recently sent me an email with a link to a website that has caused an important shift in my perspective on why I am here in Ghana and why I am undergoing the challenges and difficulties that I am. Some of you have taken notice of those challenges and I think may be dismayed or surprised that this be the case. It’s hard to discern God’s will through the events of our lives when we know that pain and difficulty are an inherent part of them. No one likes pain. I certainly do not. And sometimes one can look over the years of their life and feel that they have suffered quite enough of multiple types of pain, be it emotional, spiritual, psychological or physical. But it is precisely when we feel most alone or “on the cross”, that Jesus is closest to us. Some of the pain I have experienced since arriving here as been more intensely social than I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing to date. But I can also see now, that that pain is a teacher that is teaching me how to let go of childish desires such as wishing that everyone like me, or give me their stamp of approval. Or curing me of the vestiges of pseudo “Christian female values” like staying silent in lieu of correcting someone when they’re wrong, or not voicing an opinion because it may be unpopular.

My spiritual isolation as a practicing Western Christian amidst of a sea of apathetic Western agnostics hostile or indifferent to God, has produced in me a joyful, intense and lively claim on God’s love and goodness, and an unaplogetic faithfulness and more courageous witness, which my faith was heretofore lacking. Knowing that Jesus is a prized posession that everyone should have (what kind of God after all even allows Himself to dwell in a sinful human being?!), propels me forward to being a faithful witness in the face of rejection or social exclusion. Who will hear and believe if there is no one to proclaim? One cannot show in advance that they want to hear something of which they do not know exists, can they?

Yes, I am also learning the valuable difference between love and kindness and am praying for the courage and grace to practice true love with all I come into contact with, instead of the false love called kindness that often masquerades as real love, but instead is a tool that we use to obtain things according to our own selfish desires, or is a facade that we hide behind when we want to avoid showing real love for someone and do the consequent work that that love commitment entails. We as Christians are always to try to be kind to others, but more importantly, we are to love them. The latter of course entails a deeper commitment to one another and is more messy and can feel therefore at times less “good” i.e. less kind. Nevertheless, that is the task set before us and it is the grand way in which God wants us to live. Thus God will allow pain and suffering into our lives until we learn this lesson and then He will continue to allow more pain to purify us of our negative self-interested ways and our blindness. I have experienced numerous dark nights of the soul since my arrival in Ghana five months ago, but at the rate at which I’ve grown spiritually, I’d be a fool to wish them away.

As I read in my Magnificat prayer book: Life is never without its crosses, but there is a difference between taking up the cross and just being weighed down by it. If we take up the crosses in our life in union with Jesus Christ, he helps along the way. If we refuse his help, we are simply crushed under their weight. Or this by Saint Bernadette: “How much our Lord must love you, to afflict you so…” I have been saying for a couple months now that God must have great trust in me to believe that I can accomplish as much as He thinks I can. And I think about the lives of people who have experienced much greater suffering and isolation, and whose faith has made them radiant. And I marvel in yes, disbelief, because my limited mind can only conceive of so much… We did not gain such a treasure for the Church as Saint Augustine save through the faithful, fervent prayers and mighty faith grown over decades of adversity, of St. Monica. She did not look around in despair and give up hope at the rejection she experienced by her husband and son. No, rather she responded in determination, love and hope, and grew her faith into a weapon sharper than any two edged-sword.

Renewing the spirit of our mind entails learning lessons that change the way we think and perceive the troubles or problems that surround us. That can only happen in situations of everyday life where the rubber meets the road. If we see that God is reaching out His hand to us through our problems, then we can trust that He will carry us through them. Remember, that we are speaking of a God who gave His very life for you that you might live abundantly.

I recently attended two wonderful days of Eucharistic Adoration at my church here and I share here three points that were made in a homily that explain what I’ve been experiencing:

1) Have the vision to believe that anything can happen. Miracles are a reality. This means you must change the way you think. Either you believe in the power of God or you don’t.
2) Take action to pursue what God is calling you to do.
3) Watch him make things happen for you in ways you never thought possible. Why? Because His ways are not your ways. You’ve got to get out of your head and into His, and that is where active faith and trust come in. It is key, for faith is meant to be used. Otherwise it is is useless.

As soon as I can get my hands on a copy of “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis I will be able to deepen my understanding of the role of pain as it relates to true love. In the meantime I share an excerpt from the link below (I had it properly indented rather than in quotes as it’s a several paragraphs, but don’t have time right now for such details). It is by Jacek Bacz and is an essay on Lewis’ thesis. Lewis is pretty readable so try to continue on if you get stuck cause this is good.

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0032.html

“Lewis is ready for his main argument. He starts with God Almighty. What is the meaning of God’s Omnipotence? Can he do whatever he pleases? Yes, except the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him but not nonsense: “Nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God.” Probing further into Divine Omnipotence, Lewis builds up a universe of his own: a universe in which free souls, or perhaps, as we might say today, persons, can communicate. In the process, he discovers that “not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature”; that a fixed nature of matter implies a possibility, though not a necessity, of evil and suffering, for “not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul”; that souls, if they are free, may take advantage of the fixed laws of nature to hurt one another; that a “corrective” intervention by God in the laws of nature, which would remove the possibility — or the effect — of such abuse, while clearly imaginable, would eventually lead to a wholly meaningless universe, in which nothing important depended on man’s choices. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself”. Thus, the universe as we know it might as well be a product of a wise and omnipotent Creator; it remains to be shown “how, perceiving a suffering world, and being assured, on quite different grounds, that God is good, we are to conceive that goodness and that suffering without a contradiction”. An exploration of God’s goodness might provide an answer.
God’s idea of goodness is almost certainly unlike ours; yet, God’s moral judgment must differ from ours “not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel” — or we could mean nothing by calling him good. Thus, where God means Love, we only mean Kindness, “the desire to see others than self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy”. We want “not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven”, a God “who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?'” (Let us note in passing how much this confusion between Love and Kindness is akin to our modern thinking: it sheds light on many present controversies, from assisted suicide to abortion to contraception.) But Love is not mere Kindness. “Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering”, while Love “would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes”.
The goodness of God means that we are true objects of his love, not of his disinterested concern for our welfare. This aspect of God’s love for man is greatly illuminated by the use of parallels from the Scripture. The reader is overwhelmed with the seducing beauty and grandeur of Lewis’s imagery, as he develops the four scriptural analogies to explain the relation between the Creator and his creature: love of an artist for his artifact, love of a man for a beast, a father’s love for a son, and a man’s love for a woman. Every time an analogy is explored we stand in awe before the love so intense and deep; and we wonder “why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes”; and we wish God loved us less. “You asked for a loving God: you have one. […] The consuming fire that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes”. We may wish for less love; but then we would dream an impossible dream. God is our only good. He gives “what he has, not what he has not; the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows — the only food that any possible universe ever can grow — then we must starve eternally.”
The awareness of a distinction between Love and Kindness and the recognition of what it means to be the object of God’s love make it easier to comprehend why Love is not incompatible with suffering. Because God loves us he will not rest until he sees us wholly lovable. From that perspective, the suffering of a creature in need of alteration is a mere corollary to God’s goodness. Yet, the problem is that the perception of man’s sinful condition, and hence of a real need for alteration — a thing obvious even to ancient pagans — has largely disappeared from the modern horizon, rendering the Christian call to repentance and conversion unintelligible. To talk to the modern man, Lewis insists, “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis — in itself a very bad news — before it can win the hearing for the cure.” He considers two modern developments that contributed to the rise of a belief in the original innocence: the reduction of all virtues to kindness (“nothing except kindness is really good”), and the effect of psychoanalysis on the public mind (“shame is dangerous and must be done away with”). “Kindness, he says, is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds”, for we can feel comfortably benevolent towards fellow men, as long as their good does not conflict with ours. He then considers in some detail the symptoms of man’s wretchedness and brings us, step by step, to an inescapable conclusion: “We are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.” And at once we perceive a contradiction.
When feeling disguises itself as thought, all nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a preamble [italics added] to the Mystery of the Cross. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a dive into the Mystery.”

I have some fun and adventurous trip reports to share with you soon from my travels but needed to share first the wonderful ways that God is working in my life. I have updated my Spiritual Writings page with the fruits of my labors over the past months and have also added a Quotes page, whereby I may share some of my favorite quotes with you!

Being a disciple entails more than just following. It requires obedience and trust. So let us follow Jesus as we said we would with a courageous love and joy, picking up our cross, and without turning back whenever the road gets too steep or the ride too bumpy. Remember the addage that God does not call the equipped but equips the called. Day by day I am living proof of that…

your sister soldier

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, No turning back

The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
No turning back, No turning back

Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
Though some forsake me still I will follow
No turning back, No turning back

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