Updated: May 5, 2022
If I were to ask you, “Have you experienced suffering in your life?” I can only imagine the answer to that question would be a resounding, “Yes!” In fact, I too, would respond almost exhaustively, “Yes,” as suffering has been no stranger in my life. I am an abuse and rape survivor. Quite frequently, I find myself asking the Lord to relieve my soul of the burden from my trauma. Despite the begging, the pain and memory of my past can sneak up at a moment’s notice, and I am left feeling devastated, alone and in pain.
As time has progressed, I have been able to see where exactly our Lord was in the midst of my trauma: where I was not alone, and where He, so lovingly, held me in my pain and suffering. I am far enough away from the event, that at this point in my life, I frequently ask the Lord to help me understand how I can use this event to bring others closer to Him.
I was blessed with an opportunity to take a trip a few months back. Towards the end of my trip, I was alerted that my flight had been changed and moved to the following day. I was rather bothered by the inconvenience as I desired to have some time to rest at home before going back to work. The next day, I rather grumpily boarded my plane and felt blessed when the first aisle seat on the plane was open. I turned to the man sitting in the middle seat and excitedly asked if the seat was available. He was less then pleased.
I pulled out my Rosary and began to pray for a safe flight. I rattled off my Hail Marys silently, thanking the Lord for all I had felt and done over the past few days. Suddenly, the man turned to me and angrily asked me why I was praying. I took a deep breath, since I was already in a rather grumpy mood because of the flight delay, and turned to him making eye contact. In that moment, I knew that he understood why I was praying. He did not ask the question because of his curiosity, he asked because he was offended.
I opened my mouth and before I could respond, he blurted out, “I am an atheist, I don’t believe in God and I can tell you for a fact that He does not care about you.” I was stunned and quite honestly impressed with this man’s gumption. I smiled, put away my Rosary, and asked him one question, “How do you know? Please tell me.” I did not ask in a rude or smart way, but rather, in a way that showed I was genuinely curious. He sighed.
Over the course of an hour, he told me the story of his childhood rape and abuse. He explained how he was utterly alone, rejected by loved ones and often told he was a liar. He explained how no one believed him or tried to help him. He even claimed God had abandoned him in his pain. He would plead with the Lord to save him, and yet, he was left alone. Because of this, he left the Church. “I will never go back to any religion that believes in a God that fundamentally does not love.”
I teared up after he went silent. He looked at me with compassion and apologized for blurting out such evil. I shook my head and explained that I was not offended by what he had shared. I then told him my story. As I explained the intricacies of my past trauma, I watched his heart turn from stone to kindness. He listened intently as I explained how I understood his pain, and that he was no longer alone. For a moment, we sat in silence before he worked up the courage to ask, “So, Gabrielle, how can you believe in a God that left you in the moment that you needed Him most? How can you still pray?” His question was genuine and full of curiosity, since he had admitted that he lost faith in God entirely.
The truth is, people are tempted to believe that just by being good Christians we can make suffering go away. We imagine that God’s promise of blessing means that He will spare us of pain and trauma. But it does not work that way. Jesus made suffering a normal part of Christian life. He promised his disciples countless blessings in following Him, but explained they would experience suffering too. (Mark 10:29-30)
Suffering is a participation in the mystery of Christ and is the way we become like Him. Through suffering, we are given a way to participate in His Passion and experience the infinite depth of God’s love. Jesus is on a mission to heal us from our sin and brokenness, bring us life through the sacrifice of His body and the Sacraments He instituted. The Crucifix serves as a reminder that our suffering is not in vain and it gives our lives purpose— the purpose of becoming like Him. This is why Jesus clung to His cross. He wrapped his body around it tightly knowing that His Cross was the path to our Salvation.
When the man on the plane asked me, “So, Gabrielle, how can you believe in a God that left you in the moment that you needed Him most? How can you still pray?”, the answer was simple. Wherever my cross is, Jesus is. Even though I may not hear Jesus at the time, it does not mean that He is not walking along side of me, helping me bear the weight of my cross. At times, when I pray and I hear nothing, it is not because Jesus isn't talking to me, but because I struggle to quiet my soul enough during this period of suffering to hear Him. I am screaming too loud at how hard it is to carry my cross that I drown out Jesus’ gentle voice of encouragement. It is not until after my cross has been carried, that I look back and see all of the graces God sent to help me with my burden. I experience God’s love when I reflect on my past and surrender it to Him. I encouraged the man on the plane to reflect on this, and I encourage you, dear reader, to do the same.
As I continue to heal from my trauma, I am left with an image of Jesus that I would love to share with you. Often times, when I am hit with the memories of my past, I imagine clinging to Jesus’ Cross as He climbs up Mount Calvary. My cross and His become one, and together we pray as we walk. I encourage you to bind your suffering to Jesus and walk with Him in your pain. The temptation is to drop the Cross and leave Jesus to carry the weight on His own, but the grace that overwhelms you when you choose to walk with the Lord will change your life and bring you a joy and relief you couldn't experience unless you walked as Jesus did.