Father Richard describes two paths that suffering can take us down—a path that fills us with bitterness, resentment, and blame; or a path that softens our hearts to grow closer to God. For many of us, suffering is a cycle. We go back and forth, holding on and letting go, healing, hurting anew, and healing again.
When we are inside of great love and great suffering, we have a much stronger possibility of surrendering our ego controls and opening ourselves to the whole field of life. In great suffering, things happen against our will—which is what makes it suffering. Over time, we can learn to give up our defended state, because we seemingly have no choice. The situation is what it is, although we will invariably cycle through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and (hopefully) acceptance. The suffering might feel wrong, terminal, absurd, unjust, impossible, physically painful, or merely beyond our comfort zone. Can you see why we must have a proper attitude toward suffering? So many things, every day, leave us out of control—even if it is just a long stoplight. Remember, however, that if we do not transform our pain, we will surely transmit it to those around us and even to the next generation.
Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened, or perhaps because we feel as though we have nothing more to lose. Suffering often takes us to the very edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), even when we aren’t sure we believe in God! We must all pray for the grace of this second path of softening and opening. My opinion is that this is the very meaning of the phrase “deliver us from evil” in the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer). In this statement, we aren’t asking to avoid suffering. It is as if we are praying, “When big trials come, God, hold on to me, and don’t let me turn bitter or blaming”—which is an evil that leads to so many other evils.
Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, daily humiliations, or any form of limitation: all are gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul. These experiences give us a privileged window into the naked now, the present moment, because impossible contradictions are staring us in the face. Much-needed healing, forgiving what is, and “weeping over” and accepting one’s interior poverty and contradictions are often necessary experiences that invite a person into the contemplative mind. (Paul does this in a memorable way from the depths of Romans 7:14–15 to the heights of his mystical poetry in Romans 8.)
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009), 123, 124–125.
Explore Further. . .
Read James Finley on Jesus and suffering.
Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 2, Untitled 3, Untitled 9 (details), 2022, photographs, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: The hollow feeling when loved ones are no longer present, like holes in a log. The pain of a thorn piercing skin. This tree has suffered and witnessed suffering. We too have suffered and witness suffering.
Story from Our Community:
Back in 2011, I was off balance. I retreated to a small home; I had no idea what I was doing, I only knew I was lost. Slowly poetry began to pour out of me. A wise voice spoke to me and revealed a path forward—a new way to be. Through great suffering and turmoil, this gentle loving voice has brought me to a place of great peace and love for the oneness of all creation. —Karla D.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.