Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"He will give you the strength"

“A popular Catholic statement is often about ‘carrying one’s cross.’ We also say things like, ‘God never gives us more than we can bear.’ How do we reconcile these statements with the fact that Simon carried Jesus’ cross when he could not? I’m overwhelmed and can’t ‘carry’ one more thing…right now I’m feeling like my cross is more than I can bear.”

“I also cannot believe that God does not give us more than we can bear. People commit suicide. They lose their lives to addiction. There are so many broken people in the world who are beyond help. I have such people in my family. Maybe some return to the land of the living by the grace of God, but most do not. Sometimes religious beliefs sound like fairy tales to me.”

“When I hear homilists talk about God not giving us more than we can bear, it doesn’t make sense- if we believe that God doesn’t CAUSE our problems.”

These are recent comments made by some bloggers. I can see how the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear” can cause confusion. I know that some saints (Mother Teresa, e.g.) and theologians have used this phrase, while others don’t agree with the premise. It’s more of a cliché than a doctrine. Most people like hearing it; some don’t. A better phrase which we should all agree on might be, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.”

The fundamental point here is that God will give us the strength to bear suffering in this life. No matter who it is or what the situation, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.” I doubt that anyone here questions that part of the statement. If He didn’t give us abundant strength, then He wouldn’t be God. So, it’s the latter part that is the key: “if we only ask Him”. To the bloggers and for all of those to whom they are referring, I promise you that He will give you the strength you need to bear your sufferings….if only you ask Him.

God’s strength comes in abundance and in abundant ways. It often comes through other people – as it did for Jesus through Simon. I just experienced God’s strength through other people with my recent stomach virus. Fr. Mike and Marie in our office were huge helps for me, especially at moments where I was out of strength (some of it was brutal). Thanks be to God, I live and work in a home where faith and love is abundant. So, God’s strength is much more abundant through those who live and work here.

If faith and love are abundant in our lives and we are surrounded by people who have abundant faith and love, then we will experience God’s strength more abundantly in the midst of suffering. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”. God is with those who have invited Him in. The more that He is invited in, the more He dwells there. This means that His grace begins to branch out and grow in their lives; this is what the mustard seed parable speaks to. His grace comes in abundance and in different ways. It can certainly come in the form of strength amid suffering. For those who ask Him – either explicitly or implicitly – God does provide abundant strength to bear their sufferings.

The negative position (i.e., the opposite of what I write!) is often presented by bloggers on this site. The negative experience of the scenario I just presented would be that faith and love are absent in people’s lives and in those around them. This is what most often leads people to not have the strength to endure suffering, in my opinion. Apart from God, we don’t have the strength or endurance to handle suffering. On our own, we can’t do it. We weren’t made that way. We can’t carry our own cross (i.e., bear suffering on our own) for very long; even Jesus needed help. But, we need to ask Him for help. The only people are who beyond help are those who don’t ask for it. The quote below about suffering comes from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and speaks to this point – we need to ask God to help us. And, He will. I promise.

Finally, it seems ironic that the phrase “fairy tales” was used in a comment on suffering. Is there anything more real than suffering? Than the Cross? I understand the point, though, and offer my own: sometimes God’s love sounds like a fairy tale to me.

"Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down—he wants to kiss you—and he has both hands open wide—he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you. I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me—to stop kissing me." That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus—it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside…. Our total surrender will come today by surrendering even our sins so that we will be poor. "Unless you become a child you cannot come to me." You are too big, too heavy; you cannot be lifted up. We need humility to acknowledge our sin. The knowledge of our sin helps us to rise. "I will get up and go to my Father."
-Mother Theresa

"The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering”
- Pope Benedict XVI


At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading this post made me cry. I have to believe what you are saying is true.

I often wonder about bearing the weight of another’s cross, and maybe that’s why everything seems so hard. I carry it because I don’t trust that another will pick it up if I put it down. Having faith in God via having faith in others is scary. There’s a lot at stake, especially when these people in whom I would need to have faith are not abundant in faith and love.

I do keep asking, and will continue to do so. Thanks, Father.

Another funny word verification- "Fly God"

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm not understanding what you are saying here. "Having faith in God via having faith in others is scary." How do you have faith in God through other people? Other people can help you, they can hurt you, but ultimately, as I see it, they are not what lead you to faith in God. Your desire, your open heart is what gives you faith and trust in God.

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Having faith in God via having faith in others is scary."

I worded that strangely- I was trying to allude to how I behave in relationships as a measure of faith. I want to have an open heart, but I find myself (often) giving into the idea that I’m at man’s mercy rather than God’s and have acted accordingly. Not sure if that makes sense either.

My efforts have been to “let go and let God” in specific ways with certain people. I’m doing what I think I need to do, but it causes a lot of anxiety. Sometimes, maybe I confuse negative experiences (anxiety, fear, despair) with lack of faith, even though I think only a robot could go through some of my scenarios without experiencing those emotions. It’s all very confusing to me. Lately, I resemble a 3 yr old. You know when a young child is hurt and/or troubled and so badly wants to tell you about it in depth and detail, but instead stands before you and wails? That’s what my prayer requests have been lately- wailing. I hope that counts.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Katherine said...

The past few nights at the hospital have been brutal. Taking a very critical patient to CT scan I was praying Hail Mary's the whole way. We got him stable but I don't know if he'll live or not, the damage to one of his major arteries is extensive. Also, one of my coworkers died last week, and I think if I didn't put faith in God I would not have made it through these shifts.

I ask everyone to please pray for these patients. We have some very sick people walking in our doors in these bad economic times, and due to lack of insurance, they are often coming in too late. Since anyone and everyone is game to be a patient at some point, I am praying for everyone. For good health (glad you feel better Father Greg!) and good faith.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 12:43 -

I thought of this from Matthew, after reading your post:

"But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Mt 6:7

"[Do not be like them.] Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Mt 6:8

The last sentence always appeals to me. I am not saying that prayer is not necessary, but everytime I read it I think of how awesome it is that God knows what we need without us even having to ask!

So, I think the "letting God" approach to life's anxieties is okay. The emotions are all part of being human. He hears your prayer through, and in spite of the wailing. ( I thought your comparison to a child was perfect, btw.) And I think it definitely counts.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another popular statement is "offer it up". Sometimes the pain seems too much to even discuss or think about. I wept when I read this blog. The person carrying this cross is really suffering or was suffering. I am praying for them.

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unrelated, but here's some levity and a groan:

Come summer, I'll be asking myself this question:
Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?


Let's hope the following is not true!
If pro is the opposite of con, is Congress the opposite of Progress?

At 10:51 AM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

At the end of rehearsals for the choir in which I sing, the director gives us a preview of the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. This week’s reading from Mark opens with:

“On leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. [Jesus] approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.”

I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the reading, because I was thinking about Simon’s mother-in-law. Poor woman, the moment she feels better there she is, waiting on the men hand and foot. (Can you tell my modern-day sensibilities are offended? And given the “humphs” I heard from some of the other altos I know I’m not the only one.) Come to think of it, the reading doesn’t say the MiL felt better. Just that the fever left her.

Most of us aren’t too quick to jump back into our usual activities after a bout of illness. The acute symptoms may have passed, but we still need time to recover. Being unable to sleep, unable to eat and unable to think of much other one’s discomforts – all just exhausting! I wonder whether it occurred to Simon Peter to suggest to his mother-in-law that she should rest.

Now that I’ve done my grumbling about Woman-as-Servant, I will try to consider this reading somewhat more charitably.

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

I saw the ad against Sarah Palin’s wildlife conservation program and was puzzled by what seemed outrageously hypocritical. I went to the group’s website- Eye on Palin. They are in an uproar over Alaska’s conservation methods which employ the aerial shooting of wolves. On their behalf, a celebrity spokesman said the following, “I am outraged by Sarah Palin's promotion of this cruel, unscientific and senseless practice which has no place in modern America, because she is apparently determined to continue and expand this horrific program, I am grateful that Defenders will aggressively fight to stop her." The site notes that 878 wolves have been killed since 2003.

Are they kidding? Cruel, and senseless? No place in modern America? 878 wolves?

How many babies were killed today?!!

If their beliefs are so strongly felt, shouldn’t these people, like Palin, support life? But this spokesman is staunchly pro-choice. She called the leader of NARAL the “Barbara Streisand” of the pro-choice movement and has said that her experience in helping young women (via her work with Planned Parenthood) gain access to abortion shaped her views. So, let me get it right- it’s okay to kill millions of innocent babies but we should be up in arms about 878 wolves? It's an insult to anyone with half a brain, much less a heart.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger fran said...

Don't ge me started. : )

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Hey Cythia-

How many women with your modern sensibilities get any break from the "usual activities" during a bout of illness, much less time to recuperate? I've been living on sips of apple juice for two days in attempts to keep the queasie's from taking over- all the while making breakfast, lunch, and dinner, driving from basketball to ballet, and trying to make some sense of my 7th grader's adverb test! Meanwhile, my husband has the sniffles and has been home for two days. I chalk it up to be the stronger sex! Simon's Mil got up and served because she could- we women have the gender specific, "nothing keeps us down" gene. Woo hoo!

At 2:01 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...


Pssst, we're not supposed to let men know that! Now the secret's out! So much for getting out of doing laundry next time I'm under the weather.

At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

I wonder whether it occurred to Simon Peter to suggest to his mother-in-law that she should rest.

I can, with God's grace, believe that God loves us enough to become one of us, even mad enough in love to die for us.

I can believe that, under certain circumstances, the whole substance of bread and wine can be replaced by the whole substance of the Second Person of the Trinity, in Whom both Divine and human natures are united.

But a woman listening to her son-in-law about how to take care of house guests? I don't think so.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...


but surely she could guilt him into doing some of the work.


At 11:12 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

Okay- maybe not the most appropriate, but it made me chuckle-

Bible study group was talking about death and what each would do if they found out they only had four weeks remaining until their Judgment Day. One said, “I’d minister the Gospel to all those who haven’t yet accepted Jesus in the community.” Everyone agreed that that was, indeed, a great plan. Another said that he’d dedicate his remaining time to serving family and church with great conviction. They all agreed, that also was a fantastic choice. Yet another spoke up, “In those 4 weeks, I’d travel throughout the USA with my mother-in-law in my little Chevy Coupe and stay in a Hojo each night.” But no one understood why he would do that, until he explained, “because- it would be the longest four weeks of my life.”

Can you imagine the driving directions alone?!

p.s. I’m S-U-R-E that my husband would not express this sort of sentiment about MY mother. No- she’s close to a saint, as mother-in-laws go (as long he doesn’t tell her what to do either).


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