Catching barn cats, crating, and transporting them to the vet were calendar to-dos last week for annual examinations and vaccinations. Howling their laments, I drove all three of them to the one who knows better than I what they need to be as healthy as possible.
I felt bad about their fear and their anger. I kept telling them that leaving their comfort zone was temporary and for their own good. But they kept groaning, not understanding, not accepting, trying to escape.
My spirit was not the only part of me that felt bad. My whole body started a revolt. My eye rims became red and inflamed and black streams of mascara made me look especially attractive. My nose acted like it was trying to exorcise something demonic with repeated, violent sneezes, shaking me from head to toe. And I had no tissues, of course. Were the other human clients in the waiting room disgusted as they watched me using my sleeve to dry my nasal fluids? Utterly miserable, I considered allowing my angry cats to scratch out my eyes and bite off my nose.
So there we sat on the bench—all because I love these lowly, hissing creatures. Because I want what’s best for them, I sacrificed my comfort. And I suffered for them, with them.
I wondered . . .
How does a higher being explain to a lower being that their current miserable state is for their own good? Should I call it quits, drive them home, let them go, never take them to the vet again? How do humans get animals to understand it’s for love that we allow pain—the capturing, the poking, the prodding, the pulling—all while we hold, hoping they won’t escape and run away, resisting—even rejecting—what will help them grow and live the best life possible?
I can relate. I hate pain. I love comfort—emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually. I love familiar and status quo and laughter and joy and wonder and peace—excitement, adventure, drama.
But when anything causing pain is imposed on me, I can howl and growl and groan like a crated cat.
Because really, who LOVES pain imposed on us?
But what if we could view all that comes our way as growth opportunities—chances to learn—to come closer to God and others—to expand ourselves? Would that help?
I do believe.
In all my years of sitting with suffering, professionally and personally, I know that the human spirit can endure and even thrive when the sufferer has hope—when we can find meaning in our suffering.
Because we are meaning-makers, we humans.
But meaning alone is not all we need.
We need love—true love—the kind of love that will sit with us in our suffering and offer us compassion more than answers or fixes. Because sometimes we don’t have answers and sometimes there are no fixes, this side of heaven.
And what if we CAN stop another’s suffering? Is doing so truly loving?
And sometimes not.
Sometimes, what we think is loving is not loving at all. It’s enabling. It’s crippling. It’s enslaving.
Removing pain prematurely can actually prolong pain, making it chronic and long-term instead of acute and short-term. Removing pain prematurely is anti-Christ, anti-growth. Removing proper pain from another or running from our own can keep the soul small because pain is often a great growth motivator. So if we want to grow, we must learn to suffer well, allowing Christ to redeem even our pain, allowing pain to do its holy work—to cause the soul to grow toward God—to expand and become like Christ.
So when we discern, always through the wisdom of God, that some sort of pain is paying a holy visit, it is best not to rescue but to help the suffering hold on.
Suffering well is holy work. Helping another suffer well is holy sacrifice. Often, our flesh reacts violently—sneezing and itching and scratching—trying only to find some instant relief. But if we hold on, if we persevere, allowing pain to do its holy work of making us Christ-like, Easter comes.
Always, an Easter comes.
The dead come alive.
The weak become strong.
The fearful become courageous.
The proud become humble.
The indifferent become compassionate.
Life comes after every death for those who believe—who hold onto hope—who persevere with whatever cross we’re called to bear, keeping the eyes of our souls on resurrection day.
Oh, my Lord! Fashion me with your nail-pierced hands that any suffering I bear and help others bear be for Your holy purpose—to become like You in all ways. Help us endure the crucifixion of all ungodly desire that our souls might live a TRUE LIFE, a meaningful and abundant life that will help others hold hope in their own suffering. And thank you for loving us so much that you stay with us always, as you promised, through every bit of suffering that comes our way. What a holy hope we have in You, Jesus, the one who is able to redeem all for good, for the good of all.