“In your sufferings Christ is within you also experiencing those same sufferings." Photo by IV Horton on Unsplash

Charles Lewis: Looking to faith on the road of suffering

  • May 27, 2020

I am aware I write a lot about my pain. There is a good reason. Pain, specifically spinal pain, has been the dominant force in my life for nine years. It is what I wake up to every morning, it is what I carry around during the day and it is the last thing I feel before falling asleep … and it is what wakes me up through the night when pain is more acute.

If I could still go hiking in the Rockies or travel to Europe or pedal my bike I would reference those experiences. But those things are well in the past.

I had major surgery that lasted eight hours; I have tried every therapy known to mankind and every combination of drug. The question I hate the most is, “Have you tried this?”

After my surgery the pain was still there but tolerable with the right drugs. It would ramp up for a day or two and then settle down for weeks at a time. But now it is not settling down. What was extraordinary is normal.

Forget hiking  — walking around the block is now a major challenge. The aftermath of these walks is even worse pain and exhaustion, as I never imagined it. Despair was settling in — and despair is a mortal sin. I had simply become too exhausted to battle.

Yes, I am well aware I have it better than many who are sick. I remind myself of that every day or others remind me. I do not have the stresses of having to go to work or raising a family or dealing with financial burdens or simply paying rent.

Yet, each of us has to live his own life and mine has become more problematic ... perspective or no perspective.

As a Catholic, I know about how suffering can be holy and redemptive. The idea of “offering it up to Christ” was also something that helped me give meaning to my suffering when it first began.

Then I realized I no longer understood what offering it up meant. It was like forgetting how to walk or ride a bike. How could I lose something I thought I knew so well?
A friend, a priest at Madonna House, sent me this reminder of what it means to offer it up:

“In your sufferings Christ is within you also experiencing those same sufferings. To offer it up is to be aware of His presence and give Him your sufferings — which are also His — to use for the healing of the world. He knows best where to apply these healings. You also are consoling Christ in His sufferings,” he wrote.

So I began to reread those works that I relied on when all this began. St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter “On The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering” and C.S. Lewis’ The Problem Of Pain both helped me to understand why pain and evil exist given our God is good.

These books helped but I was still not there yet. I could envision offering it up as a concept, but my heart and gut were not feeling it.

Then I realized what was blocking me. It came to me during one of those sleepless nights when there is no escaping the truth.

First, I was thinking too much about the mechanics of offering it up. Where does the offer go exactly? And once offered up, what happens to it?

Again, sage advice from my friend at Madonna House:

“So do not to make this offering up too complicated. Christ is experiencing your sufferings with you. This should be a consolation for you. Then He will use your pains for the healing of people whom He knows most need graces at this time.”

It dawned on me that fully understanding God is not possible. That is where faith takes over. It covers the gaps.

Finally, I had to face that at the base of my problem was this: I was trying to offer up my suffering to someone who I did not really love or really know. I believe in Christ and all that we say about Him. But I had to confess, and am ashamed to say, at times He seemed more like a sketchy outline, not the man who saved us on the cross. He had become vague.

How that happened I do not know but I think taking things for granted was part of it. Forgetting the need for God in the good times was another part.

I will get back to Him. I am not there yet, but being on that road in itself is a comfort. Faith will get me there.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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