A Christian's pain can be life-giving

By  Rebekah Bedard, Catholic Register Special
  • December 18, 2008
{mosimage}With the Dawn Rejoicing: A Christian Perspective on Pain and Suffering by Melannie Svoboda, SND (Novalis, 138 pages, softcover, $14.95).

Each of us has experienced pain in some way. We may have lost a loved one or seen a loved one suffer. Perhaps we have been injured or fallen sick. Or maybe we have struggled with uncertainty, broken relationships or disappointments. When such hardships come upon us we often find ourselves asking, “Why is this happening?” At times we may ask, “Why has God let this happen?” or “Where is God in all of this?”

Melannie Svoboda, SND, addresses these questions in With the Dawn Rejoicing by offering a Christian perspective on pain and suffering.

{sa 1585956996}Svoboda believes God speaks to us in a special way when we are in pain and she strives to help us hear God in such times. Recently diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare and painful disease of the autoimmune system, Svoboda writes from her own experience. She also draws on Scripture and the lives of the saints in her 36 reflections on various topics, including: “The mystery of pain,” “Befriending the imperfect,” “Pain as a wise-advisor,” “The suffering of Jesus,” “Suffering and the Eucharist” and “Praying the Psalms in troubled times.” Each chapter contains a quotation, a meditation, a prayer, a question for personal reflection and a suggested action. The book lends itself well to daily reflection, but is also powerful when read in one sitting.

With the Dawn Rejoicing provides the insight that although pain is not positive in itself, it can be life-giving. The story of Jesus lies at the heart of this insight.

Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Therefore, as we take up our own crosses, we can find comfort in knowing that Jesus is with us. Moreover, the suffering and death of Jesus led to the Resurrection. Thus, when we are in pain, we can find hope in knowing Christ is leading us to new life.

According to Svoboda, suffering can also help us to grow and develop a deeper love of God and neighbour. Pain can be a wise advisor. It can give us a sense of perspective by helping us to slow down and develop patience and humility. Pain can also help us embrace our imperfections — maybe even with a sense of humour. Moreover, suffering can help us recognize our need for others and their need for us. When those around us are in pain, we are called to listen and respond with compassion. In turn, our own suffering can help us open ourselves to the love and care of those around us.

Pain can also draw us into deeper relationship with God. Like Job, Jeremiah and the psalmists, we often cry out to God in the midst of our suffering. Through our laments, we can hear God’s voice and experience the mystery and love of God anew.

Reading With the Dawn Rejoicing is like speaking about the joys and sorrows of life with a wise friend. Svoboda’s book has the ability to speak movingly to anyone who has known pain.

Various elements of each chapter contribute. Quotations from thinkers as diverse as St. Catherine of Siena and Carl Jung are inspiring and thought-provoking. Moreover, Svoboda’s meditations on her own life lead us to reflect on personal experiences of pain. Questions and suggested actions at the end of each chapter impel us to reconsider our responses to our own suffering and the suffering of those around us.

With the Dawn Rejoicing is not the right book for someone who is seeking a systematic response to the question of innocent suffering. Although Svoboda raises the issue of theodicy (why does a good God allow evil?), she does not grapple with it in a thorough or sustained manner. Instead, she calls us to reflect on our experiences of pain and to view these experiences in a broader Christian framework — a framework that is both realistic and full of hope.

Svoboda leaves us reflecting on the paradox at the heart of Christianity — pain and death can lead to new life; the cross comes before the Resurrection. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

(Bedard is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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