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I Can Suffer

June 4, 2019


I changed my mind; I had to write this out and share.

I just had a remarkable conversation with a woman, whose identity I will not reveal, though she gave me permission to share her insight.

Her insight is simple, and so powerful in a way simplicity alone can be. However, most of its power cannot be written. She is powerful, and her life and witness are the reality, not the words. As I read what I wrote below, it betrays that reality. St. John of the Cross said that as we move closer to divine mystery, we must progressively shift our manner of expression from prose to poetry to stammering to silence. Maybe one day I will write a poem on her.

We were talking about her many life challenges. Many. This woman has walked through the dark valley. She also has a deep and—for lack of a better word—gritty faith in Jesus. She relates to him in prayer very naturally as she walks through her day, effusing, yelling, crying, begging or “laughing with” him. She’s not flowery or sweet in her language or temperament, and not particularly “nice,” as the word is used today. But she is, in my judgment, deeply sanctified. Divine fire has penetrated way down into the marrow of her bones.

Okay, so here’s the thing she said that really struck me. I will do my best to do it justice.

I’ve always struggled with trying to be like Jesus—you know, kind, gentle, forgiving, patient. I’m no Thérèse. Just about everything Jesus commands, I fail. Except maybe humility, by default.

But I can suffer. Life has given me that in spades. Yup, I suffer, maybe mostly simply by my being me. [we laughed]

So here’s the coolest thing. One day I had an epiphany, when I was feeling way down in the dumps, as I read a meditation from Magnificat. It said, “Christ has opened his suffering to man.” I had never heard that before. I don’t really know why, but those words leapt off the page and unlocked everything for me, untied all the knots. And I suddenly saw: This was my way in.

I told him, “That I can do, Jesus. There’s where I can imitate you.” You know? I thought, I can be intimate with him because he suffered everything I do, and made that a door into him. My door, his door, always open for free entry. Doesn’t that blow your mind?

So when I start to despair over whatever, which is every day, I run and hide there. In his Passion. It really sounds crazy, right? But I’m telling you with God as my witness, I never feel closer to him than when I suffer. Then there’s just no walls left. The walls fall and he just walks right in . . .

St. John Paul II said what she says in his exhortation on suffering, Salvifici doloris. And as I have known her long enough to see its truth alive in her, I can say she is what he says: “In one who suffers God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man’s weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self.”