It’s easy to find myself wallowing. Despairing. Afraid for tomorrow.
Our oldest daughter is just a few days from her ninth birthday. She’s spent the previous eight with cake and presents, but only the previous four with a life-threatening diagnosis. This birthday will include all three.
(There’s quite the learning curve in shifting to baking with no sugar or white flour. I tried to accommodate the request for a “three layer chocolate cake with white frosting and pink decoration” as best I could for birthday #7. The next year we just went with cupcakes.)
Our daughter’s diagnosis elevated the usual parent fears and worries and anxiety to skyscraper levels. Drug side affects and effectiveness, mortality rates, and complications are never far from our minds.
Sometimes it’s easier just not to think about it. To pretend that it’s normal to administer a weekly shot and drive seven hours in a day to see a specialist. To fly across the country to see a special-er specialist. To wonder if the next flare will be the last…
It’s hard to function with that big plate of anxiety ever present on the table. So I shove it into a cupboard and do my best to pretend everything is okay. That way there are still clean clothes to wear and groceries in the fridge.
The whole cupboard shoving model works for a little while. At least until the next time I go to Mass.
See, I believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and that Mass isn’t just a social event. Sure, I can pray and talk to Jesus anywhere, anytime, but there’s something about being in the same room, the same physical space that makes the conversation so much more real.
It’s easy to skirt around an uncomfortable truth on the phone, but face to face? Much harder.
Face to face with Jesus at Mass, that heaping plate of worries can’t be hidden anymore. Sometimes just walking into the sanctuary is enough to set off the waterworks, because I have to confront all those feelings and fears. And the Church is there to help me digest them.
Our former priest once said, “Mass is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. While I want to focus on the first part, here’s further reading on the last half.)
Those words ring true for me. Mass is the only place my suffering is understood. Acknowledged. Welcomed. I am grateful that our Catholic faith doesn’t shy away from the topic of suffering. Mass is the only place I’ve been able to find any peace with our situation at all. The theme of suffering comes up over and over and over in the liturgical year.
Everywhere else in the world, suffering is taboo. “If you are suffering, you are better off dead. ” That’s the logical end to the ideas of assisted suicide and abortion for babies with potential medical issues. No wonder we’re seeing a huge increase in the general suicide rate in the United States. If your life isn’t perfect, the message is that you are better off dead.
Yikes. That’s not what I want my children to internalize.
A couple weeks ago at Mass, I was feeling particularly melancholy about our situation. For some reason, though, I saw things differently when I looked around the church. Instead of seeing people who looked much perkier than I felt, I saw their afflictions. The loss of a spouse. The loss of a child. Financial struggles. Family tensions. Cancer. Depression. Addiction. No family or individual was immune.
Turns out that I don’t have the market cornered on suffering. Ultimately, I am so glad that all those people found their way to Mass. I hope that they were able to dump their burdens on the altar, too, and leave with a renewed hope that they could get through the next week.
A well-known politician a few years ago famously said that religious people are weak-minded, and religion is just a crutch.
While I don’t agree with what he was trying to say, there is some truth in his words. My faith is the crutch that helps me remember to laugh when the lab results are bad. It’s the crutch that helps me find meaning out of situations that otherwise make no sense. It’s the crutch that gives me the strength to keep moving forward.
That politician was trying to be insulting by calling faith a “crutch.” But really it’s like trying to insult a woman by telling her she’s just like Audrey Hepburn. (Oh, do you mean her effortless beauty and grace? Or the way she oozed class and sophistication?) Why, yes, my faith is a crutch, thank-you-very-much. And you should try it, too.
We all suffer, but if our hearts are open, faith can bring comfort to even the bleakest situations. I’m happy to embrace that crutch of comfort.