See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10
I don't know about you, but I have struggled a lot with the idea of redemptive suffering. Like most human beings, I am not a huge fan of suffering and I have spent a good part of my life avoiding it like the plague. Recently, however, it is beginning to make more and more sense. Suffering is a purification process. It roots out sin, mends relationships, and brings about change. I am not saying that God wills evil on us. Rather, God takes the suffering that comes our way and uses it for good.
To be quite honest, there have been times, including my recent miscarriage, when I have found it difficult to grasp the redemptive quality of my suffering. I tend to feel lost, forsaken, angry, and despair. Yeah, my default setting is not trust in the Lord with all of your heart. My husband usually has to remind me and push me to rely on God, especially in difficult situations. I tend to intellectually understand philosophical and theological truths much faster than my heart. In fact, I run the danger of having a deeply intellectual faith, but lacking the real relationship and substance of loving and receiving love from God.
Thankfully, Our Lord knows me better than myself and He has started to take that intellectual understanding and use it to teach my heart. In the past week I have met with two different priests to discuss my struggles and grief over the loss of another child. I have been open about my fear, pain, and exasperation at my recent experiences. Both have essentially said the same thing and that is that I must focus on the spiritual aspect of my suffering in order to understand the physical. I must put things in a theological context and above all I must be patient with myself.
If I look at my suffering as a cleansing process this is what I am beginning to see. I am a deeply selfish person and I have some very deeply imbedded sins and bad habits. Going to Confession bi-weekly for two years has taught me these things about myself. I am not trying to be self-depracating. I am merely pointing out some very difficult truths about myself. Some of these sins need to be cut out and I mean deep cuts. I am not saying that God is willing suffering on me. That would be counter to His very nature. He cannot will evil. Suffering is a part of the Fallen world. No, God is using these moments to purge me of some very serious defects.
I am not saying that any of this is easy to swallow. It has been easier for me this time around because I have finally come to understand that God is not willing bad on me. The Catholic Church does not teach that God is purposely causing suffering and evil on people. It has taken me a long time to understand this truth. I think that a little bit of certain types of American Protestantism have tainted me over the years. I can thank a recent Apologetics article I read just before my miscarriage for the clarification. Even with this understanding, I am still struggling.
Being Catholic is a joy and a burden. We understand the joy that comes with the Resurrection, but know that it is the Cross we must cling to in this life. That was always a theory for me until I had a family and began to understand loss. It has also become clear as I have gotten older and my hormone issues have created an even more anxious and distrustful me. I am starting to see that part of my Cross is going to be boughts with depression and anxiety. Coupled with very difficult pregnancies, both physically and mentally, we are now faced with the difficult decision about future children. While I must focus on healing right now, it is still in the back of my mind.
One of the other things that I have been thinking about is family size. Thanks to the contraceptive culture, there are factions within the Catholic community: those who choose contraception, which the Church teaches is a mortal sin when done in willful disobedience, then there are the NFPers, and finally, the you should always be open to life crowd. It has created some rather nasty and sinful divisions. I always thought that I would have a larger family with 4 or 5 kids. I did not get married until I was 29. I have never been big on NFP, but I know the basics. We have always stayed open to more children. For some reason only children have always made me deeply sad. When I stopped to visit our former parish priest on Sunday afternoon, I mentioned the concern that my daughter may be an only child and that it makes me sad. He agreed that only children are more lonely, but also cautioned that it may be God's will that I only have one child. Perhaps God will call us to adoption. He is right and I must work through that grief should no more children happen for us.
As Catholics we need to stop judging each other based on outside appearances. If a person in my parish or in another Catholic community did not know me well, they would not know that I have lost three babies. They would judge the one daughter they can see. I have judged people myself because of the high use of contraception among Catholics. However, it is not my place or anyone's place to judge or make baseless accusations. I don't mean that as in some superficial notion of tolerance. If we become knowledgeable of a family contracepting it would be the just and charitable course to try to educate on Church teaching and the option of NFP. That's what we try to do with our Sanctity of Life Committee. We bring educational tools out into the open and hope that families will learn and repent through the loving Sacrament of Confession.
This is on my heart and mind because I now realize that I may only be blessed with one daughter. After my discussion with our former priest on Sunday, I now know that we have a valid reason to postpone or avoid any future children: my health. My pregnancies are very rough. With this last one, I could barely function and my whole family suffered for it. After I had my daughter I had debilitating post-partum depression and both of my physical miscarriages (my first was my daughter's twin to make three) have left me hormonally all over the map. I already struggle with severe PMS each month (my husband is well on the path to sainthood). I am on a roller coaster ride right now and it is not the fun kind of roller coaster either.
My recent suffering and continued pain is making me more compassionate of others. Not every family is called to have a large family. Having a large family does not make a person more Catholic than another. Christ sanctifies us and leads us to sainthood on a wide variety of paths. There are six billion people on this planet and each person has a different path they are called to. My husband and I will discern our path together with the guidance of the priests we know. We have been blessed with three very holy priests over the last four years at our different parishes. I would recommend anyone who is struggling with these types of issues discuss it with your priest. It is important to make sure that you are living in line with Christ's teachings and priests have a wealth of knowledge that most of us laity lack.
This post is a conglomeration of the thougths floating around in my head right now. This suffering, while difficult, is being used for my own good. Like the Prophet Isaiah said above, the purification process is not easy. My Confessor reminded me of this fact. Strangely, it has made me find some comfort. Knowing that it is supposed to be difficult makes it easier for me to handle. It is also important that we Catholics come together to support one another. Yes, we are called to admonish sinners, but in a loving way. We cannot presuppose to know what a family has been through. We can cause deep pain for someone if we are not careful. There are countless families like mine who have experienced so much loss and there are others who desperately want children, but God has another path in mind for them. Some random thoughts from me for today.