I carried a particular cross in my life for several years. I cried many tears over this cross. I raged at this cross. I despaired at this cross. But at some point I tried to start learning what it meant to abandon myself to this cross.
Of course, I still prayed that it would be taken away, but in addition to that I started asking daily for patience, for wisdom, for courage, and for the grace to trust in God’s plan for me. I prayed that God would help me to carry this cross well.
Finally, I began to feel strongly that I needed to start seeing a spiritual director. On one of my first meetings with him, something extraordinary happened. I shared with him about this cross of mine. The good Father didn’t immediately speak to me. He sat back for a couple of minutes, eyes closed, and prayed. Finally, he opened his eyes and told me, “Erin, I think the Holy Spirit wants me to tell you that He is pleased with you.”
I can’t fully explain the intense spiritual consolation of that moment for me. I had tried so hard to take this cross to prayer, to trust God, to be brave, to be hopeful, to think rightly about my suffering. And to have the Lord affirm my heart like that was indescribable joy, relief, and encouragement all at once.
I had spent a lot of time fighting discouragement. I felt like I was some kind of spiritual wimp. The devil was very quick to remind me that I wasn’t running from an insane, incestuous, murderous father (like St. Dymphna), or enduring the unspeakable horror of Auschwitz (like St. Maximilian Kolbe), or fighting against a modern anti-Christian regime (like St. Miguel de la Mora). My problems were nothing new under the sun.
What an insidious, terrible lie straight from the pit of you-know-where.
Maybe my problems then and my problems now and all of the problems in your life really are nothing new under the sun. The point is that we all suffer, that there is meaning and purpose in that suffering through the Cross, and that suffering well is what makes a saint–not the extra-ordinariness of that suffering. Whatever suffering we go through in life is transformed into a kind of everyday martyrdom by our cooperating with His grace to freely choose to suffer well.
- A young couple gives birth unexpectedly to a special-needs child who has a rare disease with an uncertain prognosis. Their social lives come to a halt and their marriage is stretched to the breaking point with the stress of unending doctor’s visits, surgeries, ER visits and therapy appointments.
- A man must deal with a new management team at work which has created an increasingly toxic, stressful work environment.
- A wife and mother suffers deeply for years from her husband’s addiction to pornography and the conflicts that perpetuates in her marriage.
- A man comes home from a job that he hates to a growing family that depends solely on him. He desperately desires a career change, but has little wiggle room in his salary to start over somewhere else.
- A parent strives for years to love, support and pray for a wayward, selfish adult child who constantly makes poor choices.
- A married couple with several small children struggles to make it through one spouse’s demanding postgraduate program, by circumstance living far away from the support of family or strong community of friends.
- A man who owns his own business worries about finding enough work to sustain the company and pay his employees’ salaries. He struggles under the weight of his responsibilities to his employees and also to his family.
These are everyday people, everyday problems, everyday martyrdoms.
The devil wants us to believe that these kinds of problems are too ordinary to “count” as martyrdom. We have to consciously fight that lie by giving dignity to what God has permitted for us. We must believe that our particular suffering matters because it directly relates to our relationship with God. Without suffering, no matter how small in comparison to another, we would never have the opportunity that every saint in history has had: the opportunity to take up our cross, die to ourselves, trust in God, and persevere in hope that nothing is impossible with Him (Job 42:2).
We need to speak this truth to ourselves. And we need to remind our spouses, our friends, and our family members going through tough times that getting up each day and carrying their crosses well is downright heroic.
I pray that when I am face to face with God one day, He will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a little…come and share in the joy of your [Father]!” (Matthew 25:23).
I pray that I would hear again that He is pleased with me.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Copyright 2016 Erin Franco
Image by Erin Franco. All rights reserved.