WHY is God letting me suffer in this way? Why are there so many obstacles to happiness and growing in holiness? Why does life have to be so painful? It feels as though I go from valley to valley (even though I know there are peaks in between). Why, God?
THE RIVER TURNS
Many major rivers run from mountain glaciers, and find their way through land to the sea or into a multitude of tributaries and lakes. This great volume of water doesn’t simply cut a straight line to its apparent goal; rather it winds and twists and bends taking a seemingly endless journey. On it’s way, it encounters numerous obstructions and barriers that would at once seem to prevent its further advance… but as each obstacle gives way to the waters, a new path is forged, and the river advances.
So it was with the Israelites when God led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the desert. Their journey to the Promised Land should have been a matter of days. Instead, it lasted forty years. Why does God seem to take the “long way”? Why didn’t He immediately lead the Israelites, in the midst of their praise and rejoicing over their deliverance from Pharaoh, into the land flowing with milk and honey?
Why, my Jesus, do you permit my victories and joys to fall into the hands of brigands who leave me battered and bruised by the roadside? Like the poor man in your parable, I am only out for a pleasant walk. I only desire peace and quiet and a simple existence. Who are these phantoms who descend upon me turning day into night, the fragrance of morning into the smoke of sorrow, and the once clear path into a mountain of troubles? My God, why do you seem so far away—you who were my traveling companion? Where have you gone? Why, when the Ocean seemed only beyond the horizon have you turned me back toward the dry and lonely desert?
THE RIVER OF LIFE
He who believes in me… ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:38)
Your heart is like a raw landscape, and the Holy Spirit, who is this River of Life, begins to flow from your Baptism, shaping and contouring your soul as He flows. For even though our sin is washed away, our souls are still subject to the weakness of the flesh, to the inclination toward the passions, “all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life…” (1 John 2:16).
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? (James 4:1)
This internal war is the consequence of that first “dam” built by Adam and Eve, that original obstruction which dealt a mortal blow to the ebb and tide of grace that flowed between man and His Creator. Until then, man and His God were in union the way a beach and the ocean mingle and overlap. But sin placed a mountainous landscape of distance between us and the holiness of God. Because we are made in God’s image, made with the gift of reason, conscience, and free will—faculties that hold the power to commit great evil and subject to deception—the wound is deep… so deep that God had to die in our flesh in order to begin the restoration of His beloved creation. In Jesus, we have found our healing and liberation.
Even though our salvation may be achieved in a single moment at Baptism, our sanctification is not (because we all end up sinning). The human soul is a vast mystery that not even man himself can conquer. Only God can. And so, the Holy Spirit has been sent as our Advocate, our Helper, to reconfigure and mold us back into the divine pattern in which we were created, a pattern that is, in a word, love. The Holy Spirit comes as a rushing River to re-make us in the image in which we were always intended to become.
But how many are the obstacles to love! How many barriers there are to self-giving and charity! And it is for this reason that we suffer. Not because God is doling out punishment for our every infraction, but through suffering, the love of self is whittled away by the powerful forces of the River of Life. The more the old self gives way to the new, the more we become ourselves—who we were truly created to be. The more we are ourselves, the more we are capable of union with God, capable of that joy and peace and love which is His essence. And this process is painful. It is a process that must, in fact, strip us completely of the old self so as to clothe us in the new.
It is hard to see this in the middle of a trial. It is difficult to perceive in the midst of temptation that what I am enduring, if I persevere, actually brings me closer and closer to the Infinite Ocean. At the time, all I see and feel is the terrible thrashing waves of doubt, the tempting drops into sin, the jagged rocks of lies and guilt. I feel as though I am randomly tossed about in the current of life that neither rewards the good nor punishes the bad, but is merely a chaotic unfolding of each moment until I die.
But the truth is, this mighty River is creating a landscape of beauty within. While all I may see in the moment are the tumbling rocks and fallen trees from the blows of these massive Waves, in truth, there is a wondrous thing occurring in my soul if I continue to remain in the process. (Yes, you may sin and fall and stumble constantly. But if you continually return to God with a sincere heart, you are remaining in the process!) The point is this: God created you to be beautiful, to be happy, to be holy. He is more interested in seeing your perfection than you and I because He knows how beautiful our souls can be! This, in fact, is a deep wound in God’s heart… God, yearning to see your soul nearer to His, thirsting for a time when you would love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, because then you will be fully human, then you will realize your greatest potential! But how far away this seems when I look in the mirror. And God knows this too. He knows how saddened I am when I stretch for Him… but seem to fall an infinity away from His arms.
Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move to come to you, for I know that by yourself you are unable to lift yourself to me. Child, do not run away from your Father; be willing to talk openly with your God of mercy who wants to speak words of pardon and lavish his graces on you. How dear your soul is to Me! I have inscribed your name upon My hand; you are engraved as a deep wound in My Heart. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, n. 1485
My beloved brother and sisters, there is one thing you must do. Even when you are completely devoid of virtue, even when you sta nd before God with empty hands and a stained heart like a beggar at the door of a soup kitchen… you must trust. Trust in God’s love and plan for you. I write these words with a certain holy fear in my heart. For I know that some souls will be too proud to trust, too proud to humble themselves like a little child and cry out to their God… and they will spend an eternity of anger and pride and hatred towards their Creator.
But now, this moment, the River is flowing in your soul as you read these words. The mountain of troubles around you may feel as though they are caving in, that the bend in the riverbed is too much for you, too painful, too lonely. But here you cannot see; you cannot see the great Forest of Graces that lay beyond this bend or the vast Meadows of Virtue that lay before you. There is only one way to this resurrection of the “new self”, and that is to continue along this path, in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, in a spirit of trust. It is the way of the Cross. There is no other way.
O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair, All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy. — n. 1486
I can feel God speaking these words as I write them, and if I could describe to you the absolute love in them, your fears would vanish like mist in flames! Do not be afraid! Don’t be afraid of this suffering, for not a drop of it has been allowed in your life without God’s permissive will. All is ordained to carve within you, and without, a soul that is beautiful, a soul that is alive, a soul that has the capacity to contain God.
What kind of Christian would you be if there were no pain in your life? Expect it, therefore, and welcome it, because pain is like a fire sent by God to cleanse your soul, your heart, and your mind. Because of it, you can cease to be self-centered, and go out to all your brothers and sisters. So when there is pain in your life, try to add the words, “Praise be to God for the pain!” —Servant of God, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Grace in Every Season
Give thanks in all circumstances because He has not abandoned you. (Where would He who is everywhere go?) But if He is with you, it is always in such a way that it does not infringe upon your will. Rather He waits, in a thirsting wait, for you to draw near to Him:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
And He will come again as a mighty, powerful, loving, patient, joyful, and merciful Living River to continue that work which He has already begun and will bring to completion by the day of the Lord.
My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, n. 1485
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side… (Psalm 23:4)