St Francis Q&A

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"He will give you the strength"

“A popular Catholic statement is often about ‘carrying one’s cross.’ We also say things like, ‘God never gives us more than we can bear.’ How do we reconcile these statements with the fact that Simon carried Jesus’ cross when he could not? I’m overwhelmed and can’t ‘carry’ one more thing…right now I’m feeling like my cross is more than I can bear.”

“I also cannot believe that God does not give us more than we can bear. People commit suicide. They lose their lives to addiction. There are so many broken people in the world who are beyond help. I have such people in my family. Maybe some return to the land of the living by the grace of God, but most do not. Sometimes religious beliefs sound like fairy tales to me.”

“When I hear homilists talk about God not giving us more than we can bear, it doesn’t make sense- if we believe that God doesn’t CAUSE our problems.”

These are recent comments made by some bloggers. I can see how the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear” can cause confusion. I know that some saints (Mother Teresa, e.g.) and theologians have used this phrase, while others don’t agree with the premise. It’s more of a cliché than a doctrine. Most people like hearing it; some don’t. A better phrase which we should all agree on might be, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.”

The fundamental point here is that God will give us the strength to bear suffering in this life. No matter who it is or what the situation, “God will give us abundant strength to bear our sufferings if we only ask Him.” I doubt that anyone here questions that part of the statement. If He didn’t give us abundant strength, then He wouldn’t be God. So, it’s the latter part that is the key: “if we only ask Him”. To the bloggers and for all of those to whom they are referring, I promise you that He will give you the strength you need to bear your sufferings….if only you ask Him.

God’s strength comes in abundance and in abundant ways. It often comes through other people – as it did for Jesus through Simon. I just experienced God’s strength through other people with my recent stomach virus. Fr. Mike and Marie in our office were huge helps for me, especially at moments where I was out of strength (some of it was brutal). Thanks be to God, I live and work in a home where faith and love is abundant. So, God’s strength is much more abundant through those who live and work here.

If faith and love are abundant in our lives and we are surrounded by people who have abundant faith and love, then we will experience God’s strength more abundantly in the midst of suffering. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there”. God is with those who have invited Him in. The more that He is invited in, the more He dwells there. This means that His grace begins to branch out and grow in their lives; this is what the mustard seed parable speaks to. His grace comes in abundance and in different ways. It can certainly come in the form of strength amid suffering. For those who ask Him – either explicitly or implicitly – God does provide abundant strength to bear their sufferings.

The negative position (i.e., the opposite of what I write!) is often presented by bloggers on this site. The negative experience of the scenario I just presented would be that faith and love are absent in people’s lives and in those around them. This is what most often leads people to not have the strength to endure suffering, in my opinion. Apart from God, we don’t have the strength or endurance to handle suffering. On our own, we can’t do it. We weren’t made that way. We can’t carry our own cross (i.e., bear suffering on our own) for very long; even Jesus needed help. But, we need to ask Him for help. The only people are who beyond help are those who don’t ask for it. The quote below about suffering comes from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and speaks to this point – we need to ask God to help us. And, He will. I promise.

Finally, it seems ironic that the phrase “fairy tales” was used in a comment on suffering. Is there anything more real than suffering? Than the Cross? I understand the point, though, and offer my own: sometimes God’s love sounds like a fairy tale to me.

Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down—he wants to kiss you—and he has both hands open wide—he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you. I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me—to stop kissing me." That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus—it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside…. Our total surrender will come today by surrendering even our sins so that we will be poor. "Unless you become a child you cannot come to me." You are too big, too heavy; you cannot be lifted up. We need humility to acknowledge our sin. The knowledge of our sin helps us to rise. "I will get up and go to my Father."
-Mother Theresa

"The cross reminds us that there is no true love without suffering”
- Pope Benedict XVI


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