Thank God ahead of time

As I'm writing this, I'm hours away from departing for a two-week pilgrimage to France. And when this is scheduled to post, barring disaster, I'll be in Paris, having just returned from Lisieux, and departing for Lourdes the next day. I have no idea what to expect in this trip ahead, I only know that it will be exactly what I need. For that is what God always gives me.

An oft-quoted line from Bl. Solanus Casey, a Capuchin renowned for his humility and holiness, exhorts us to "thank God ahead of time." It's a beautiful piece of encouragement, one I've come back to again and again in recent weeks. And what a fruitful exercise it's been for me to practice this advance thanksgiving, to prove my trust in God's goodness in times of sorrow and joy alike. How good it is to thank God for what He will do.

Yet I recently discovered the larger context of this quote, one that took me quite by surprise: "We should thank God frequently for not only the blessings of the past and present, but thank Him ahead of time for whatever He foresees is pleasing to Him that we suffer."

Um, what? That's not the warm and fuzzy sentiment I've grown so fond of. I haven't made sense of it. It baffles me. I am totally on board with thanking God in advance for graces and consolations and joys, but suffering? Do I thank God for the tremendous suffering of grief from my dad's tragic death? Of trauma from a major life upheaval? Of compounded loss and rejection and heartbreak?


But what can I thank God for, in the midst of it all? The profoundest of consolation I've ever felt. The immense outpouring of love from hundreds of friends and strangers alike. That precious glimpse of that thinnest of veils between heaven and earth. The unity I experience with the suffering Christ, the One who perfectly, lovingly shoulders each and every one of my burdens right alongside me, who unceasingly brings new life from the agonizing finality of death.

These blessings of the past and present would not have come if it weren't for the suffering God has seen fit to allow, in His mysterious providence, in my life and my heart. In my murky vision of His recent working in my life, complete with twists and turns and shock, He allows me these piercing moments of clarity, when suddenly something makes sense, when the tumult becomes somehow bearable, when the crashing waves of the raging storm cease, even for a time.

I couldn't have possibly foreseen the good that has come from what has been so utterly horrible, in fact, the most torturous suffering of my life. But He did. He foresaw it, and He held me at every moment, reassuring me with His constant, often silent presence, that Yes, this too shall pass.

Thank God ahead of time. Bl. Solanus Casey, I still don't understand you. But I have seen, time and time again, that the suffering God allows continues to carve new depths in my easily breakable and ever-expanding heart, that it leads me to new heights of intimacy with Him, that it pries me open to the piercing love and mercy and tenderness of the heart of the Father in a way that all the joys and consolations and comforts of this world cannot possibly do.

And that's something for which I can thank God ahead of time every day of my life.




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