Suffering And Conversion, by Heidi Indahl
“Suffering must serve for conversion….”
It was enough to make me lean forward and sit up a little straighter. Suffering must serve for conversion. Who’s conversion? What kind of suffering? Tell me more…
I was, in that moment, hiding in the adoration chapel behind the main church trying to write a talk on suffering and the Sacred Heart. It is one thing to talk about a singular event several times but this Lent someone had asked me to give the talk I gave a year ago- in a completely different set of circumstances- because she heard it was great. It was literally the 11th hour and I had no idea what I planned to say.
So much had changed. Nothing was the same. I couldn’t just stand up and give the same talk because the circumstances and examples from the first talk were not the same. I listened closer, pleading with Jesus to have Father repeat whatever he had said earlier….a little louder this time for those of us in the back. If it’s not too much to ask?
“Suffering must serve for conversion. What the heck JPII?” (There was a Newman Center Mass happening on the other side of the wall.) Ok. JPII. Now I had something to work with. Something to dig into. To convert something means to change it. So suffering is going to change something. In fact, according to JPII it must change something.
It is a bold claim, but I got behind it right away. Between pregnancy and infant loss and special needs parenting I have seen a lot of marriages fall apart. I know many people who have appeared to fall away from God.
But it goes the other way too. People who even seem to have an unimaginable peace in the midst of horrific circumstances. Suffering is going to change you. You won’t be the same, but will you be refined by the fire or consumed in it? (Spoiler alert- that’s what my talk ended up being about…being refined by suffering through being consumed by the flames of mercy inside the Sacred Heart.)
On a very intimate level, our suffering affects us. Our suffering also affects all of our relationships, including our vocation and relationship with God. Plus, we are affected by the suffering of those around us- particularly when that suffering belongs to our children and appears beyond our sense of reason.There are a lot of sufferings stirred up in the pot of humanity.
Suffering is not improved upon by getting better at suffering with a smile or offering our suffering up for others- although those are both acts that have made more than a few saints. Suffering, I’m starting to realize, is improved upon when we are better at submitting to the change part.
Asking, “How, Lord, would you like me to approach this situation?” As opposed to running to fix the “problem” or to get out of or through it as quickly as possible. Change is going to happen with or without us. For better or for worse. We can try to do it alone; or, we can embrace it in faith and community (particularly through our vocation). That’s where the real transformation of suffering takes place.
We go in one side of a difficult circumstance like being admitted to the hospital. We go in undiagnosed and without a plan. Just feeling the pain and knowing something isn’t right. We get poked and prodded and sometimes even a little beat up. We are stripped bare of things we used to take for granted.
Then one day the nurses and doctors decide we are ready to leave. Maybe with a new care plan or diagnosis. Maybe with some new medications or modifications, but life is now going to carry on. Then all of a sudden we are back in the world trying to make it make sense again with a bunch of new information. I know I can’t be the only person who wakes up days and weeks after my child’s hospitalization hearing alarm bells in my sleep and having to keep track of med changes in an app. All is not back to normal!
Jesus has trusted us with this specific suffering, our own and that of our child. Sometimes our community can surround and support us. Sometimes our community seems silent and we have to find community in Jesus and Mary. Some seasons we are blessed to do both.
A few years ago I came across another set of writings in an Endow study guide, this time from St. Catherine of Siena. She wrote this beautiful imagery of the cross as a walking staff and the wounded open side of Jesus as a resting place.
How many images do we have engrained in our brains of an aging and suffering Pope Saint John Paul the II literally leaning over on his papal crucifix almost like we aren’t sure who is holding who?
Learning to take the cross as a walking stick and the wounded open heart of Jesus as a resting place will literally transform the way that you suffer. And in transforming the way you suffer, hearts will be converted- yours and others. We can’t live in the shadow of the crucifixion without being changed. And praise God for saints such as JPII who have given us such an incredible example.
Pope Saint John Paul the Second, pray for us.
Note: Writing a reflection on a quote pulled out from another source out of context without citing the original is a dangerous business. If you’d like to read more about JPII and his doctrine on suffering you can find it easily online. He is vastly more eloquent than I am and my little blurb here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the treasures he has left the church when it comes to the dignity and value of human suffering.
Heidi is a country living Catholic mama from Southeast Minnesota. She and her husband homeschool and raise seven living children on 8 acres of grass and mud puddles (plus a house). You can read her blog atwww.workandplaydaybyday.com.