On suffering well
Let’s just make one thing clear: I do not suffer well. There’s nothing like a bout with bronchitis and a canceled race to make that abundantly clear. But it’s also gotten me thinking, and my failures in virtue have been instrumental lessons.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself in the midst of my sickness, it’s that I love a good pity party. How tempting it is for me to revel in the attention of those who care, to enumerate my afflictions, to wallow in discomfort. And there’s nothing like a sleepless night to bring out the worst in me. But how good, too, for me to realize my limits, my shortcomings, and my weakness. The mild suffering I’ve been experiencing has reminded me that I am not God, that I am not in control, that I am all too far from the pinnacle of virtue I long to be.
My prideful failure has also caused me to recognize how very much I fancy myself strong and self-sufficient. Which I am—until suffering hits. There’s a beauty, I’ve learned, in letting myself be taken care of. In staying home from work at the kind urging of my boss and coworkers. In welcoming lovely guests bearing gifts of soup and company. In receiving daily texts from my mother with all her wisdom, encouragement, and care. It’s been a delightful (if slightly frustrating) reminder of the interdependence of humanity. I am, in fact, very needy—aren’t we all?
Now, I can’t admit to having been transformed by this spell of sickness—not for the better, at least. But it has revealed to me just how powerful the potential for transformation is in the throes of suffering. There was a day this week that I shuffled to the nearby adoration chapel, armed with tissues and a cloudy mind. I don’t want to be here, I told Jesus begrudgingly. But as I prayed my rosary, lulled by the familiar repetition and bitter about my inability to arrive at profound epiphanies in my sorry state, I leaned into that discomfort. And as I looked at Jesus in the cross, He leaned back.
Happily, as I begin to reenter the ranks of the healthy, I am realizing how that potential remains. The memory of my weakness, my dependence, my stirring heart is fresh. I pray that suffering would keep bringing me back to the cross, would draw me to the One who has undergone the ultimate suffering for my very soul. And maybe next time, I’ll be made new.