It's always been so, so easy for me to deal with the concept of suffering when I wasn't in the midst of it.
I remember having a conversation with my dad earlier this year, and I said, "I don't understand why some people are called to suffer so intensely, while others not so much. I know fair isn't equal, but I feel like I haven't been called to suffer as deeply as others and I wonder why."
Sure, I've dealt with awful things happening and my own share of hardships, but I had never experienced raw and severe suffering until six weeks ago when I woke up to a phone call that the police had found my dad, and that he wasn't alive.
In that moment, I felt like an entire piece of my personhood burst into this unimaginably horrific flame. It was overwhelming, and new to feel.
I had always wondered how the death of a family member or spouse would make me feel and what it would do to me. I especially had given it thought as I got engaged and married, because I constantly thought, this is the person that is going to stand by my side when I bury a parent. Am I okay with him being my person in that moment?
As God would have it, that moment came about thirty years too soon. Garrett was my person right by my side as we saw my dad's body again for the first time, and I watched him hug my twelve year old sister as she placed her note to her dad in the coffin. Garrett was the one who signed my little baby's ultrasound picture for Grandpa, and held my hand as I kissed my dad goodbye. The seemingly unimaginable thing that I had always wondered about became real, and I came out on the other side.
Although, in those crazy days that followed, I didn't have much time to process my emotions, having to being strong for my family and take care of business meant that I had to be reflective and grieve alongside that pressing tasks of the moment. I knew that I was wrestling with the why of what had happened, but I had no answers. The situation seemed so horrifically unfair to my mom and five younger siblings, who were suddenly thrown into a violent storm of grief and a true logistical nightmare. Everything seemed to be wrong all at once, and yet, laced in between those horrific moments, beautiful little signs began to gentle push their way in. The outpouring of support and love from literally everyone reminded me of the intense love that my father had lived out, and it made me have a profound turn from petty and selfish things like I have never experienced.
Suffering like that still doesn't "make sense" to me, but I can say with conviction that, in those moments, I have never felt more alive and more human. I knew that my heart was feeling real and raw things, because I felt it physically. I knew that unseen realities were truer and closer than I had realized, and that life was a precious, fragile thing that I couldn't afford to take for granted anymore. I think of the truth that gold is tested in fire, and I knew that I was in the midst of those flames. It stung, but in a way, it woke me up from a slumber of just...coasting. It was like a lightning bolt from another world that said...wake up.
Suffering is the cross, and it sucks. In my deepest pain, though, I think of Good Friday and all the intense feelings and grieving and shock that was no doubt tumbling all over creation. Death and suffering confound even the most brilliant theologians, and cause us to doubt God's love and plan for our lives at the scariest level, because we cannot rationalize it and we feel emptiness and misery even though we believe that God is all good.
As I have now sat for so many hours in front of the Eucharist though, I know that, in this suffering, I have stumbled right into the most intense paradox of divine love. It is only in and through suffering that we were redeemed on Good Friday, and it is in that same suffering that I am redeemed in my life. Mother Teresa says that suffering is a sign of His love, because you are so near to Him that He can kiss you from the cross. If I don't have the cross, I have no resurrectional hope and I have no driving force behind those daily words I believe.
When I picked out the readings for my dad's funeral, I knew I needed to hear the words from Revelation: "Behold, I make all things new." And I really do believe that He does. It's a conviction that I can't really describe or prove, but I feel it in my bones and soul that all of these deepest agonies will be made new.
And I believe that suffering, if we allow it, can forge even the most stale gold into a most painful new glory, which all works for our own good in the end.