Sunday, November 4, 2007
I ended the “prayer of tears” (see below) that I wrote on my silent retreat with the phrase “willingness to remember.” For me willingness has to do not only with a willingness to call to mind the things that cause me sadness, but a willingness to stay with them long enough to see what I might learn from them. It has been my habit to avoid simply sitting and feeling something. I’d rather fill my head with all the reasons I should not be feeling it or the reasons I must be pathological for feeling it, or at the very least a detailed intellectual and poetic explanation of why I should be happy enough to not feel it any more. You get the picture.
But one of the things that has really stuck with me after the retreat this weekend is a comment made by my spiritual director. He said, “Until you embrace your own suffering, the suffering of Christ will mean nothing to you—nothing more than an intellectual exercise.” What does it mean to embrace my suffering? I have spent enough time with my sorrows to think that I have embraced them. But the fact is, while they are very familiar to me, I am still embarrassed by them. I bite back tears even when there’s no good reason I shouldn’t share them with the person I am sitting with. Does embracing my suffering mean, in part, that I stop trying to push the part of me full of tears back out into the snow like an unruly aunt who keeps showing up drunk at family holidays?
I don’t think embracing suffering means that I spend my time wallowing endlessly in sadness. For me, at least, it means a willingness to go to those places where there are no answers and let my tears speak. It means embracing all of the ways I am broken, failing, and flawed. It means recognizing the limits of my own humanity. I do not know what will happen if I even come close to understanding what it means to embrace my suffering, or what I will discover about God in the depths of it. For now, let me find courage to simply stay with the prayer that I am willing to find out. I am willing …