A few nights ago, I went to bed with a Lyme fever and a sense of foreboding in my gut. I prayed that sleep would cure it, and hoped that I’d wake with renewed energy.
But, it was not to be. Instead, I felt worse — head pounding, body aching, panic rising.
It’s a weekday. I’m on my own. Why, O Lord? I can’t do this today.
Out of bed and shower before the sun is up. Feed the starving crowd. Change the baby. Break up the fighting, dry the toddler’s tears (and my own), rush out the door, and drop the big kids at school.
I held it together as long as I could. Then, in the parking lot, nursing the baby, listening to the 3-year-old beg for more snacks — I had my meltdown.
I love Facebook for many reasons, one of which is that it gives me the ability to communicate throughout the day with my people far and wide, without little ears hearing. And so I took my meltdown to Facebook messenger, and sobbed virtually (while keeping the real tears to a minimum) to a dear friend who lives 10 hours away.
I’m tired, I told her. I’m grieving. I’m struggling. I’m hurting.
Now let me tell you what she said, and what she didn’t, and why it was amazing.
She said, I get it.
She didn’t say, It will get better. It could be worse. God won’t give you more than you can handle.
She said, This life is so, so hard.
And that’s exactly what my heart needed to hear.
There’s something deeply and profoundly healing when pain and suffering are acknowledged for exactly what they are.
Yes, there may be others whose pain is greater than mine. Yes, there could almost always be some other fate that is objectively “worse” than what I am experiencing. Yes, the Lord will most assuredly walk with me, heart to heart and hand in hand, while I carry my cross.
And yet, there is still some pain and sorrow and suffering. They are part of my reality, here and now, for as long as God allows. Pretending that what I feel — physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally — isn’t real, or isn’t “all that bad,” does nothing to ease my suffering. It only adds to my burden by making me feel guilty for feeling bad in the first place!
There is definitely a time and place for hopeful words and positive outlooks. But I think it’s only after first acknowledging subjective suffering for what it is, without any attempt to diminish it or look at it with rose-colored glasses.
A humble insight came to me as I was praying the rosary recently.
As we meditate on the five mysteries, we enter into both the joys and sorrows of the lives of Christ and His blessed Mother. We embrace all the wonders and glories therein.
And when we look at Our Lord’s passion, we never seek to downplay the agonies He experienced in every level of His being. We don’t attempt to speak with positive platitudes. We see the Cross for what it truly is — utter oblation, intense pain, and the aching sorrow of the broken Sacred Heart.
The rosary is a prayer of profound hope, because we are saved by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. But it’s not a prayer of false hope. The Savior never promised us an easy, pain-free path to Heaven. He promised us that we would suffer with Him, so that we can share His eternal glory.
At the end of our rosary meditations, we pray one of my most favorite prayers in the Church’s great tradition, the Salve Regina (the Hail Holy Queen). I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of each and every word. It’s a prayer from the depths of the heart of humanity, broken humanity, together invoking our sweet Mother of Mercy:
Hail, Holy Queen! Hail, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears!”
This valley of tears.
Oh, friends, does this not bring you comfort? I may be wrong, but my heart sees this as a divine acknowledgement that life is hard. And it’s ok to say it. And it’s ok to mourn and weep and sigh.
There will be a glorious day when God will heal every wound. But until then, let us together remember that we are walking a valley of tears on our road to Heaven. There are times of much rejoicing; but there is also so much sorrow.
Weep with those who weep; mourn with those who mourn. That is the best way to love.