“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus…a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
“The way you heal the world is to start with your own family.”
Quotes of St. Teresa of Calcutta
Most of us remember how tirelessly Mother Teresa worked with the dying. She was known as a “living saint”. How do we handle the stress and suffering in our own lives?
For the past several years, our family has been caring for our mother who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Each of us watched her suffer with the disease and suffered individually both from a sense of helplessness and from grief and sorrow. My sister and I cared for her day after day never knowing when the journey would come to an end. Other brothers and sisters helped when they could, knowing visits made it difficult for her to sleep. The last months were filled with stress and anxiety even with the help of hospice.
Questions about suffering and death were impossible to avoid. How could a loving and merciful God permit such suffering? If there is a God where was He?
I have been reflecting on the gifts given us by the Holy Spirit. I like to picture them as gifts under the Christmas tree. Christmas, after all, is when Jesus was born. God coming to earth to bring mankind salvation. He opened the door to heaven for us. The gifts of Faith, Hope and Love are in the Christmas presents under the tree.
Faith is the belief in something we cannot see. Similar to believing that the light switch will produce light even though we cannot see electricity.
Hope is what we receive when we have faith in everlasting life. We believe our spirit lives on in communion with the saints in heaven. What a party!
Love is the greatest commandment. Scripture tells us that without love we are a noisy gong. Jesus instructed us to love God with our whole hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves.
But what IS love? Love is caring more for the other person than yourself. When two people “fall in love”, they will do anything for each other. Over time, the only way we know if it is true love is if each person is willing to suffer for the other. Hopefully, both parties take turns and the person suffering is supported by the other. Suffering defines love!
If there was no suffering in the world, how would we prove our love? Sacrificial love is easy to understand when we think of our children. We would prefer to suffer ourselves than let them suffer. But holding them too tightly and overprotecting them also causes suffering. We must be willing to suffer from empty nest syndrome if our children are ever to be healthy adults. Marriages are supposed to be loving relationships, but too often either one or both person is unwilling to suffer and sacrifice to make it work. Suffering proves love!
Another gift found under the Christmas tree is the gift of grace. Grace is also known as the awareness of the presence (gift) of God in our lives. If we have the gift of grace we can see God in the face of the suffering. We can see God in creation. We can see God’s actions in everything around us.
Now that my mother is enjoying life again in heaven, I find myself asking more questions. How did we do it? How did our family bear with one another patiently over the past difficult years? How did we forgive each other when our patience failed us?
We did it with the grace of God. He was walking with each of us on this journey.
God is love. Love is defined by suffering.