Tuesday, November 07, 2006On Suffering
My old friend has been back to visit again... that fleeting and unexplained bout of sadness which seems to come and go on a whim. I don't think I'm unique in experiencing random shots of sorrow as a mother. But I really shy away from labeling it as the oft misunderstood "post-partum depression." I'm not a depressed individual. It's just that I get swallowed by something that I think is outside of myself, and who can explain it? Why do little remarks open a flood of tears? Why do I sometimes wake up with such a deep dread and reluctance to start my day? Why am I surrounded by a loving husband and great kids and I still feel painfully alone sometimes? God knows.
I think I'm able to talk candidly about this here for two reasons: One, although I personally know several of the readers of this blog, I almost never see them. This gives me a sense of anonymity and with it, the courage that comes with being just a name on your computer screen. Even if we have a wonderful supportive group of people surrounding us, it can be hard to live as an open book outside the status quo. It can feel like you have to maintain the cheerful attitude that is proper for a Catholic woman to have; we should welcome our trials right?! And so we try to repress our feelings and apologize for that sneaky tear that slipped past the dam holding its brothers back. Secondly, I can talk candidly about my sorrow because, with the help of a good friend, I think I've FINALLY put it in its proper perspective and so I feel comfortable digressing about it.
I think even good, strong Catholics can misunderstand the idea of "offering it up." We all know that grace results from suffering; hence trials are really a gift of love and trust from God. So we 'offer up' our pain for certain intentions and for the ultimate glory of Christ. I do this regularly, especially through my morning consecration. So am I supposed to abracadabra feel better?! This is where I think we can go wrong. Yes, it's important to try and be cheerful and maintain at least a tiny sense of saintly joy in suffering. But it's okay to feel sad and overwhelmed and even depressed sometimes. As long as you make the conscious effort to give your trials as a gift to God... the act is done. How you "feel" about it is actually pretty irrelevant. And this is precisely because ours is a God that is bigger than our finite and capricious emotions. Praise Him!!! We don't have to rely on "feeling happy" in order for sanctifying grace to be a reality! As Sia's husband Justin, once told me about Absolute Truth... it is what it is regardless of what we feel about it.
I used to berate myself for feeling depressed after I consecrated my day. As if my sadness negated my gift. But sadness and pulses of depression aren't negative things in our spirituality... despite a society that tries to "fix" these emotions. We must only be concerned about succombing to unhealthy thoughts of bitterness and self-pity during these times (check out this post for more on that). I feel so liberated now in realizing that my feelings are just feelings, powerful and important in human relationships, but oh so trivial in the spiritual reality that is underpinning our day!
So I can now be confident in making sense of my random sorrow. I don't need to know the cause of it. Maybe it's psychological or maybe it's the Evil One... I'm neither psychologist nor theologian so who knows? But at least I do know that I am doing what is important for me-- just a tiny, mud-crusted sheep in the corner of Christ's flock-- I am offering my pain up for Him. I'm not trying to fix it or understand it or fight the sadness. I accept it as my little cross and am honestly thankful that He trusts me enough to bear it. So don't be too alarmed if you happen to see my smile suddenly get dressed down to a brimming-eyed frown. Those are just feelings... and they are sometimes beyond me. God's grace is showering on me during those times and that is the reality that matters.
Ellie: Oak Harbor, WA