“The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.”1 Peter 5:10
“After you have suffered a little.”
Why do we have to suffer? Do we really seek suffering or welcome it? I know I don’t. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to believe that there is a joy that comes from allowing suffering in our lives.
We pray for the Lord to heal us, our friends, and our families. We rarely pray for the grace to endure, or ask for suffering that we may grow closer to the Lord in His suffering. However, the Lord has not promised us a life free of suffering. He can choose to allow our suffering to change us or we can beat our chests and ask the Lord why?
First, I would like to clarify an important misunderstanding. When God allows us to suffer, it is NOT because our faith is lacking. It is NOT because we do not have faith that God can alleviate our suffering or cure us if He Wills that. I have heard too many faith-filled people assert that if someone had only “trusted in God’s healing power” that they would not be suffering. This is simply not true.
It is God alone who allows or alleviates our suffering. We must remember that God desires our greatest good. He desires our eternal salvation. He sees the full picture. I must trust that if He allows me to suffer it is because He is refining me, and that “my present affliction will produce endurance, and endurance proven character” (Romans 5:3).
Over the past few months, my own personal battle with suffering had finally hit a wall. I had turned to the Lord stating, “I’m not sure how much longer I can do this.” My personal suffering had moved from physical pain to breaking me down mentally. I felt old. I started to hate my own body. It was failing me. Tasks that I had done for years because increasingly difficult.
Diagnosed with hip dysplasia over 8 years ago, I do not feel like a 43-year-old mom of five. In the past two years, I had moved from minor hip pain to a complete loss of cartilage, severe arthritis, and a pretty heavy limp. I tried hard to hide my chronic pain from those around me but it was getting harder and harder to hide the growing limitations that I was experiencing.
“Is this what you want from me, Lord? Is this all you have for me?” I was praying for some answers. After revisiting my orthopedic doctor, He once again rebuffed any notions of surgery, and encouraged me to continue with my anti-inflammatories. I felt compelled to get a second opinion. I reached out to my sister-in-law for a recommendation of a better surgeon in the city of Philadelphia. Within a few days, she had a name for me.
You can imagine my shock when the new doctor’s office confirmed that they could see me for a consultation on October 15th, the feast day of my favorite saint, St. Teresa of Avila. I knew I had made the right decision. Although others had prayed for me for a complete healing, I truly believed that what God wanted for me was to undergo this surgery. He assured me that the word “Courage” would be my word for this year.
At the consultation, I remember the surgeon speaking the words that I longed to hear. “I feel like I need to give you permission to be in pain. Your x-rays are tough…I can see the pain you are feeling. You really can’t do this for much longer, can you?”
The flood gates opened, and I was sitting in that office crying my heart out. He passed me a tissue, and just listened to me complain about how the other doctor wanted me to “grin and bear it for another 8 years.”
“I can’t make this decision for you but I can get you on the schedule in as quick as two months. You take some time and let me know.”
I knew that the suffering that I was enduring would not end. My arthritis pain would be replaced by surgical pain and recovery. However, I believed that this hip replacement would be the answer to my prayers. I was reassured by the beautiful prayer that hung on my bathroom mirror by St. Teresa of Avila:
“Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices.”
A hip replacement would require more than just my willingness to undergo surgery. It would require allowing other people to help me carry the burden of this suffering. The first conversation was with my husband, the person who would have to carry the biggest burden. He reassured me that it wasn’t selfish for me to want a better quality of life and that I had his full support. Although I spared no unpleasantry in our discussion, he willingly took on the full responsibility of caring for our five children, running all our errands and activities, completing housework, and helping me with my full recovery. His continual encouragement through my recovery was paramount. “I’m so proud of you. I know you are teaching the children to push themselves, to push their bodies to heal, and how to allow others to help you.”
Once I shared with close friends and family that I had decided to have the surgery, it was surprising how quickly my needs were assessed and people were beginning to assist where they could. A meal train for a month worth of dinners quickly circulated. Prayers and Masses were offered for my surgery, recovery, and my family. Friends stepped up to offer rides to activities like dance, theater, and homeschool co-op. Flowers and treats were delivered to our home as well. We felt truly covered and blessed by our friends. God was covering every detail.
Vulnerability can be one of the toughest aspects of any recovery. Regardless of whether we want it or not, others often see us at our physical worse. We may struggle with nausea, fatigue, or pain. I remember wondering how my children would handle watching me be in pain. Would I be putting them through too much emotionally? I remember when I first came home, pushing my walker in front of me, and my second youngest burst into tears hugging me. “I’m so sorry, mommy,” she said.
Was I being realistic with the pain? Did I have the strength or grit to get through the next few weeks? When I met with my surgeon for my initial consultation, I remember him saying, “I have seen this so many times. The chronic pain that you are enduring now just seems overwhelming with no end in sight. Recovery will not be as difficult as you think. The physical pain of recovery will pass and you will wonder why you didn’t do this surgery before.”
Could that be true? I had become customed to chronic pain. However, I couldn’t believe that I would be up walking stairs the day after my surgery. Within three weeks, I was putting my walker aside for a cane. Pushing through my daily exercises, I was tackling side leg lifts and pulling my right knee up to my waist, two exercises I could never have done before.
I started to grow excited over the possibilities that seemed to be opening up. It’s interesting how motivated you can be when you see the progress that you didn’t know was possible. Almost six weeks post-op, and I can’t believe the lack of pain, and the range of motion that I now have. Barely needing my cane, my body is getting stronger and stronger every day.
In recovering, we often struggle with the lack of independence that we are used to. We have to rely on the assistance of others and their willingness to serve our needs. There were several times during my recovery when I struggled with frustration and limitations. True humility is recognizing our “littleness” before an awesome God. We recognize that in times when we have little to offer those around us, that God can teach us to appreciate all that we have. We can learn gratitude for those whose love supports us and a greater appreciation for those who have a servant’s heart.
There is a beauty found when we allow others to just “sit” with us during times of uncertainty and pain. As much as we may have physical needs when we are undergoing suffering, we may have emotional needs that others can help us with as well. I remember a few years ago, when I was going through a rough health issue with my husband, and I had so many friends and families trying to provide help. I was struggling with the numerous offers to help when I really just needed to try and process the news I had received.
A priest friend of mine felt the Lord urge him to call me.
“Hey Tam, I just finished my rosary and I felt the Lord ask me to call you. What’s going on?”
Tears falling, trying to find the words. He could hear me crying.
“What can I do?” he said.
I filled him in on the terrible news that I had received.
“What are you feeling?” He said.
“Well, I feel like I’m sitting in a life preserver in the vast ocean. I can’t see land (no hope of safety) but I am also not in a daunting, storm (real danger) either. People are asking me how they can help but there is really nothing people can do,” I said.
“Well…it sounds to me like you need to think of those people as grabbing life preservers and just wading with you. You need to give them permission to just be with you and see you through this.”
Yes. I needed to give people permission to do nothing but be with me during this rough time.
Sometimes the greatest “gift” that we can give people is the gift of our heart and our time. We can take a life preserver and tell them that their pain and suffering has merit. We can share the burden of suffering by being willing to be a listening ear and a comforting embrace. We can create a space for vulnerability within our friendships when we show our friends that their feelings are safe with us and their pain is welcome. We can let them know that their calls, visits, and text messages are not burdening us but allowing us to help.
We also don’t know how the Lord is allowing the grace that we have during our times of suffering to work in the lives of others. We can be used as an instrument to share Christ with others. People can be inspired by our willingness to suffer and our ability to share our love of our faith while we do.
When I was about to be sedated in the operating room, I turned to my surgeon and said, “Could I pray for this team before my surgery?” The surgeon agreed and I prayed, “Lord, please guide the hands of my surgeons. Oversee this whole procedure. Lord, thank you for this amazing team that will oversee my care.”
You can imagine my delight when the anesthesiologist whispered in my ear, “Thank you. We are Christians, too.” Of course, the Lord was surrounding me with people of faith to bring peace to my mind before I drifted off.
In these past five weeks of recovery, I have met some of the most joyful, thoughtful caregivers. When I was recovering in the hospital, I was sharing my life with one of my nurses. “Wow. It sounds like you are really a woman of faith. I’m gonna come back and chat with you.” She came back a few times that night and we shared more about our families.
“I put myself as your nurse in case you are here when I come back tomorrow night.” As she left, I could see the joy our conversation brought to her face. I kept thinking if I wasn’t having surgery, we would never have met. The Lord was still using me, even in my weakness, to give Him Glory.
Suffering is never easy but it can be a grace-filled opportunity to strengthen our character and grow in virtue. Scripture tells us that,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corin. 12:9
Through this time of recovery, the Lord has shown me that he can continue to restore and renew not only myself but those around me.