In the midst of suffering and heartache, it is hard to imagine that one will come out better on the other side. Suffering, like many things in life, has dichotomous power: power to enslave and power to liberate; the power to dispirit and the power to uplift; the power to harden and the power to soften; the power to destroy and the power to make new.
Yes, suffering, if we let it, can contort us into someone unrecognizable — someone hard, isolated and bitter. However, with Christ, suffering can rebuild us anew, purify us, and break our hearts open to the love of God and others. Sometimes on the road, we flirt with both, the good and the ugly, and I’ve found that’s okay. I’ve learned coping with heartache and suffering is a minute-by-minute, day-by-day endeavor with hills and valleys, breakthroughs and setbacks. Here are a few things that in the midst of great grief, kept my head above water and helped me day after day to come out on the other side, anew.
1. Pray and Move
After my daughter was diagnosed with severe spina bifida and possibly a genetic disorder at our 19-week ultrasound, I wondered how on earth I would make it to the end of the pregnancy and beyond. How could I be present to my children with a smiling face? How could I not simply drown in grief? Pray and move. My husband would say this to me, and honestly, it worked. I would be about to bubble over, all the fears and anxieties about to overflow and consume: “Amber, pray and move.” And that’s what I would do. I would say a prayer, “You can do all things…” and get moving. Do a project. Do laundry. Clean a closet. Pray and move.
2. One Day at a Time
This may be a hackneyed phrase, but even so, it brought me great comfort. The future held too much fear for me, so I demanded that I stay present. God is only giving me grace for today, and He is with me now, not in the past, and not in the future. “Give us, this day, our daily bread…” became an exercise: The Lord will give us all that we need to get through today, and I will try to get through it well. One day at a time.
3. Practice Surrender
I say “practice” because it’s easier said than done, and I had to practice saying, “Jesus, I trust in you.” “Jesus, I surrender this to you.” And many times, maybe most in the beginning, it felt half-hearted and untrue, but I continued to say it, continued to practice giving my suffering heart to God. And eventually the words felt truer and truer, and there was a peace and authenticity, even a gladness that came from this small offering of suffering I could give back to God. It felt like the most real thing I have ever done, a true gift, from my heart, one that I wanted to hold on to that wanted to twist and strangle my heart. I gave it to God, and He made it holy.
4. Don’t ask “Why?” Ask “What…?”
We can drown in the whys and never get the answers we seek, and that void of expectation of an answer we as humans are so accustomed too will fill with doubt and despair. Looking at our great God, how can we demand to know the workings of his Will or understand his great providence? Father Jacque Phillipe tells us, even amid our most valid and understandable questions, we have to have the courage to not ask our Lord “Why?” but ask Him “What?” Lord, what do you want from me in this moment? Then, the inward turns outward, and despair turns to love.
5. Turn to Our Lady of Sorrows
When my husband and I discussed beginning a daily devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, we wondered if we would be heaping grief upon grief, and we gave a half-hearted laugh, and a “Here goes nothing!” as we thought entering into our Lady’s sorrow just might push us over the edge. A few weeks in, we both marveled at the peace we each felt, that Our Lady had lifted the heaviness of our hearts. In uniting our sorrows to hers, she did not augment them, but helped us to carry them, and we felt it. Physically. What hasn’t Our Lady suffered? She is our mother; she wants to help us carry our burdens.
“When I see that the burden is beyond my strength,
I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run
like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say one word to Him:
“You can do all things.”
And then I keep silent, because I know that Jesus Himself will
intervene in the matter, and as for me, instead of tormenting
myself, I use that time to love Him.”