Are you suffering? Is this a difficult season in your life? Are you feeling unable to pray or in need of some extra support right now?
I would love to add your prayer requests to my journal, lift them up each morning, and bring them with me to adoration.
As we prepare to enter this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I am hoping to grow specifically in the area of intercessory prayer by setting aside dedicated times to pray for the intentions of others. So many times in my day, I am made aware of people in need of prayer, but it can be difficult to remember every one in the midst of the busy-ness of the day. I plan to have my journal handy to write them down and then lift them up in prayer during these times.
So if I can pray for you, please let me know. You can contact me using the contact form here if you have something specific that you do not want to share publicly, or you can just leave a comment below with a quick “count me in” and I will add your name to my list.
And if you’re able to pray for me, I’d be grateful if you could pray for the first grieving mothers’ retreat that I am planning for the spring. I have never done this before, and I often hear a little voice inside my head asking, “Who do you think you are?” But I firmly believe that this is something that the Holy Spirit has been prompting me to do, and even if it helps just one other woman, then it will have been worthwhile.
Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.
Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and asked, “Why could we not drive [the demon] out?”
He said to them, “Because of your lack of faith. Amen I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Prayer and faith are two challenging areas in the life of a Christian, but they can be especially difficult during times of suffering. Verses like the one above say that if we have faith – even in an amount as small as the grain of a mustard seed – we can do seemingly impossible things.
So when we are in the midst of a trial, we turn to God in prayer, asking for help. Sometimes, a sobbed “help” is all we can muster, but we hope that God hears the desperation in our hearts and will come to our aid. Sometimes that mustard seed is all we have.
But there are times when we ask, we beg, we plead, and our circumstances do not change. In the midst of our suffering, it can feel like our prayers are going unheard, or it can leave us wondering if perhaps our faith is just not enough for God to answer us.
Four days after she was born, our premature daughter needed to be airlifted to a higher-level NICU because she was having breathing difficulties. The doctor came to my hospital room to explain to me that for some reason that he could not understand, her carbon dioxide levels were reaching dangerously high levels and weren’t coming down. He told me that a helicopter would be there within the hour.
I called my husband, made my way down to the NICU, and sat by her isolette bedside in my wheelchair, crying the wordless prayers for help that by this point on our journey with this pregnancy had become so commonplace. As the helicopter landed outside, my husband arrived and quickly baptized our tiny daughter with a bottle of sterile water as we cried together and asked God to help her. One of the members of the medical team came to talk to us and spoke soberly, explaining that they would do all that was within their power to take good care of our baby girl, but that he did not feel completely confident that she could survive the seven-minute flight. As we watched them wheel her out, we clung to each other, tried to keep each other from unraveling, and realized like never before that all of this was completely in God’s hands.
But at the time, that realization alone did not comfort my aching heart. I wanted more.
In the weeks that followed, my husband drove us back and forth to the farther NICU until I was able to drive by myself. It was springtime in Pennsylvania and the weather changed rapidly between downpours and sunshine all week, every day held the perfect conditions to see a rainbow.
Only I didn’t see a single one.
I would find myself making little deals in my head with God in the car. “Okay,” I’d think. “If I see a rainbow, that means that Brigid is going to be fine.” And then I’d crane my neck all over looking for one, all the while reasoning with myself that seeing a rainbow or not does not determine her outcome. I’d feel ashamed of my silliness and realize that I was testing God and looking for a sign. I didn’t feel confident entrusting our daughter to God’s will and wanted reassurances that He was with us in our suffering. But God didn’t owe me a sign; He had already told me enough about Himself in his Word, and through the work of Christ for me to have faith in this situation, regardless of the weather.
The reality is that it’s not faith that our situation will turn out the way we hope that we are called to have. It wasn’t faith that our Brigid would live in which He was calling me to pray. If that were the case, my faith would be shattered, because six weeks later I watched her die.
Instead, it’s faith in God’s goodness. It’s faith in the fact that His ways are not our ways. That all things work together for the good of those who love Him. It’s faith that God is sovereign and trustworthy. Faith that He knows us and loves us and sees us. Faith that we’re still in the palm of His hand.
God wants us to rest in Him.
When everything around us is crumbling and falling apart, when the storm of suffering comes and destroys everything that we have come to lean on, when the rug of our security is pulled out from under us, when we feel like we are barely hanging on, tossed to and fro by the waves of life, we can still rest in Him, our firm foundation.
This is the peace that passes understanding, constant even in the midst of the chaos. It’s an internal peace that anchors us to God’s goodness and love.
He knows that following Him involves taking up our crosses, but He has gone before us and shown us how to do it. He reminds us that there is more to the story than we can see in the midst of our pain, but that He sees beyond and all the way to the end.
So if you are in the middle of a trial, if it feels that your prayers are falling on deaf ears and your faith is lacking, if you are not seeing the mountains move and wondering if you must not even be able to muster the mustard seed, consider the prayer of our Lord when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane:
He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”
He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup of suffering and death did not pass from Jesus, though it would have been possible for God to have redeemed us in a different manner. But this was not because Jesus did not pray with enough faith. Rather, Jesus entrusted himself to God’s will.
Sometimes, people pray and God does work a miracle. Illness is healed, relationships are restored, a way made where there is no way. Sometimes this is the will of God, and it can be hard to accept that His will for us may be different.
Our situation may not be noticeably altered as a result of our prayer, but some of our suffering may be alleviated when the mountain that is thrown into the sea is the mountain of all of our fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt. When we pray with faith that God is in control, this is the mountain that is movable.
Our Savior reminds us that the cross of suffering, entrusted to the will of God, brings redemption. This is how we are called to pray during difficult times.
Not our will, but Yours be done.
Edited 2/18 because somehow I omitted an entire paragraph.
Grief is a lonely process.
Because it is a difficult subject – one that others are uncomfortable talking or hearing about – the grief that surrounds the loss of a child can be especially isolating. It leaves us feeling as if we have been picked up and dropped onto another world – unable to interact with others the way we used to, unable to navigate our own overwhelming thoughts and emotions. We are strangers even to ourselves.
Add “social distancing” to the mix, and the isolating experience of grief becomes even more unbearable. During this unprecedented time of staying apart, women have continued to have stillbirths and miscarriages, many alone in hospitals because they were not allowed to have visitors. Infants and children have died, and parents have buried them without being surrounded by family and friends for support. I can not imagine a more difficult time to experience such a painful loss.
Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” The rejoicing part is easy, but connection and accompaniment in the midst of pain are some of the most healing and helpful things that we can offer to others who are suffering, even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable for us. Sadly, a fear of that discomfort leads many people to abandon those who are grieving, not knowing what to say or do, or to offer mere sympathy instead of helpful empathy.
Brené Brown says this so well in the following brief video comparing sympathy and empathy:
But what are some things we can do to make this connection with someone who is grieving when we need to keep our distance? How do we empathize and accompany our friends when we need to stay physically apart?
In addition to praying for comfort for their broken hearts, here are five practical things we can do to support our grieving friends during this unusual time.
Send a card, text, or email – and then follow up later. This may seem obvious. In the days immediately following the news of a loss, many people will send sympathy cards and messages to someone who is grieving. These are certainly welcome and comforting, but don’t always carry with them the feeling of connection. Even a sincere and kindhearted offer to let you know if they need anything will likely go unaccepted; they may not even know what they need. A follow up, however, goes a step further, especially when it’s done a few weeks later, when the influx of flowers and messages has subsided, the numbness begins to wear off, and the ache and loneliness settles in. In the follow up, offer emotional connection. Imagine what they might be feeling. Ask and be willing to listen to the answer to the question, “How are you doing?” no matter how difficult the answer may be to hear. Check in periodically to let them know that you’re praying for them and they’re on your heart and mind.
Bring them a meal or send a gift card to a restaurant. Grief is exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everyday decisions, like what to make for dinner, can feel overwhelming and utterly draining. Even if it’s weeks or months after their loss, they are still feeling that strain, and the opportunity to have a break from making that decision and going through the effort of cooking is welcome and appreciated. If you’re local, send them a message saying you’d like to bring them dinner one night the following week and ask them which night would be best. If you’re not local, look online to find out what restaurants are close to them. If there is a chain restaurant, you can purchase a gift card at the location near you and send it. If not, you can call a restaurant near them and ask them to mail a gift card to your friend’s address.
If they have other young children, send a few toys or activities for them to do. Children grieve, too, and caring for other children while grieving is incredibly difficult. They can be wonderful distractions from the pain and a reason to get out of bed, but at the same time they can make much needed self-care a challenge. Grieving parents need a little more space to process all of their painful and difficult feelings. Sending or dropping off some bubbles, sticker books, sidewalk chalk, play-doh or some other similar activities gives the children something new to occupy their time for a while, giving the grieving parents a bit of a break. It can also help uplift the children, who may be feeling the weight of grief in their home during what is a sad time for them, too.
Send a perennial plant that can be added to their garden. Fresh flower arrangements are so thoughtful, but eventually, they die and need to be discarded. Sending something that will bloom every year will be a precious sight for years to come. Consider a peony, a rose bush, a bleeding heart, or a pink or blue hydrangea. These beautiful flowers will be an annual reminder of your comfort during a difficult time. If they live in an apartment or don’t have a garden space, send a house plant in lieu of cut flowers.
Don’t give up – give. They may not take you up on an offer to chat right away. They may not return your text or email. They might not feel able to even verbalize what they’re feeling or the myriad ways their grief has permeated their lives. You might have already fumbled through your efforts to empathize with a bit of “silver lining” or “at least-ing,” as Brené Brown described in the video above, and need to circle back and apologize. But don’t give up on them. Don’t mistake their lack of response for a lack of desire to maintain the friendship. And don’t let your own discomfort with their pain stop you from checking in, letting them know you care. If they ask for space, respect that request. Eventually they might be ready to talk to you, and they’ll know that you’re trustworthy with their story if you have made the effort to stay present with them in whatever way they need. Even though these times are stressful and difficult for many of us, make sure you have a different support system in place for meeting your own needs. Understand that your friend won’t be capable of offering that kind of mutual support to you right now, even if your relationship has been give-and-take in the past. Eventually, the relationship might get back to that, but for now, only approach them in a position to give – comfort, empathy, a listening ear, compassion, support. That is not easy to do, but it’s selfless love.
Any of these suggestions can be useful to support someone who is grieving any loss at any time, but they are especially helpful right now because they can all be done from a distance. Once the threat of COVID-19 has subsided, it might be nice to offer to go out for coffee together, to babysit for them, or to spend time visiting together. Hugs, touch, and physical presence are so comforting and are built into the needs God has created in us, in good times and in bad.
Going forward, it will mean so much to them if you remember the anniversary of their child’s death. Add it to your phone’s calendar so that each year, you can send them a little message to let them know you’re remembering that day with them. Include their child’s name on a Christmas card or send them an ornament with the name on it so they will see it each year. Seeing their child’s name is so special.
There are so many little ways you can let your friend know that you are acknowledging their grief, and willing to walk this difficult and uncharted path alongside them. I hope that these few ideas help you to find that there are some practical things you can do, even from six feet – or six thousand miles – away.
If you know a mother who is grieving the loss of a child during this time, please consider sharing my upcoming retreat with them. It begins on July 13, 2020, and will be a special time to focus on their own grief and healing, accompanied by fellow grieving mothers who understand the unique aspects of this type of loss.
I’m giving away one FREE retreat package to my upcoming retreat!
The retreat package is valued at $50 and includes:
The giveaway is open to contiguous US residents only. It begins Thursday, June 18, 2020 and runs through Sunday, June 21, 2020. The winner will be announced on Monday, June 22 on Facebook and Instagram, and contacted via email for her mailing address.
For more information about the retreat, click here.
***THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED***
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He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
Nine years ago, with three young boys under the age of five at home, my husband and I learned that we were expecting twins. Halfway through the pregnancy, however, we learned that our identical twin daughters were affected by something called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and in the months that followed, despite bedrest, countless hospital visits, and doing everything in our power to save them, our twins died.
Fiona was stillborn, having died after an in utero surgery that we underwent to try to help them, and Brigid lived for 47 days in the NICU where she died from an infection she acquired from the ventilator. We buried them both, a few months apart, in the summer of 2011 amidst pain and grief that was so crushing that at times it felt like we couldn’t possibly go on, couldn’t draw another breath or get up to face one more day of sorrow.
Three days after our Brigid died, as I knelt for the consecration at church that Sunday, my mind was still trying to process what had happened. I thought about God as our Father and the giver of every good and perfect gift, who tells us that if we as parents know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will he give good gifts to us if we ask him. (Matt. 7:9)
And I wondered: What about this? How is this a good gift?
I had told our boys that just because Brigid died, it did not mean that God didn’t hear our daily prayers for her to grow big and strong and come home from the hospital to live with us. “Sometimes,” I told them, “God tells us no just like sometimes Mommy tells you no when you ask for things.” They accepted that explanation, but I wasn’t so sure I did.
We all tell our children no when there are things that they want that are not good for them, but as a mother, I tried to imagine the circumstances under which I could possibly tell my children no for something that would break their hearts as much as Brigid’s death had broken ours. Why would I tell them no for something that would ease their suffering or bring them joy? What would have been the harm in allowing us to bring our healthy daughter home to live with our family? Especially after we’d already lost her sister.
I racked my brain for an example, grappling with God for the insight I so desperately needed to make sense of our pain.
Suddenly, it came. It involved chocolate. And I realized that it has to do with perspective.
I pictured myself baking in my kitchen. I love to make special things for my family, and I imagined I was making an extra special dessert treat for the surprise birthday party of one of my children. Only I didn’t want to tell him what I was doing.
I could envision him coming into the kitchen where I was standing and asking if he could have a few of the chocolate chips that were on the counter. If I needed that particular number of chips for the dessert, I would tell him no.
Being a young child, he would be devastated. “Please, please?” he would plead, persistently.
“I’m so sorry you’re sad,” I’d tell him. “But no you can’t have those.”
He would fall to the floor crying and kicking and screaming, as children do, their world so wrapped up in their own wants that they can’t endure any denial of gratification. He might even wonder why I was being so unkind. But I would not change my answer. Instead, I’d lovingly pick him up, give him a hug, and tell him to go and let me work. He could not know it yet, but within a short time, I’ll have used the chocolate chips to create something extra special for his party, and I know that he will be so happy.
In this way, I could be a loving parent and yet be unmoved by his pleas.
And then I thought about how this example related to my perspective on our situation.
To a young child, my denying him the treat that he wanted was devastating. But as his mother, I knew I had a plan for it that was far better. I knew his tears would be short-lived, but that he’d appreciate the final product much more than the chips by themselves.
To him, the few hours until the party seemed like an eternity. But to me, it was just a brief wait that was worthwhile for the celebration that was to come.
The small chocolate chips would have been a treat for him, and they would have made him happy, but the special dessert would serve many more people and benefit him as well as others. He would appreciate the ending I had planned more than the one he thought seemed best.
In those moments as I was kneeling there in church, trying to understand the reason for our pain, God helped me to understand that, with his infinite knowledge, he sees our situation in much the same way that I, as a mother, see things in relation to my children.
Our wait to see Brigid and Fiona again is nothing more to a God who is beyond time than a little boy’s wait for his birthday celebration. But the celebrating will be so much greater when that time comes. (Rev. 19:6)
The pain of being denied our request feels profound and deep; our tears will flow for much longer than mere minutes. But to our Father, this is but a short-lived trial, a light and momentary affliction. (2 Cor. 4:17) And one day, he will wipe every tear from our eyes. (Rev. 21:4)
Our girls would have enriched and blessed our family had we been able to bring them home to live with us, but incorporated into his plan, they will have been used to affect many others. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Even you, right now, reading this.
This realization was like putting a bandage on a gaping wound. It didn’t take away the hurt, and it didn’t bring healing right away, but it did help me to trust God in the situation and to see how he could allow us to endure tremendous pain and still be a good and loving Father.
He helped me to understand his ways by relating them to my own ways. In doing so he reminded me that he loved me, and asked me to trust him.
Don’t we all need this sort of comfort from our Father in times of suffering?
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
Nine years ago today, I lay in a hospital bed in Philadelphia. I was 20 weeks pregnant with identical twin daughters who were suffering from a condition called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome and had just undergone an in utero surgery in an effort to save their lives.
That morning, the doctor came in to see how the babies were doing after the surgery. I watched his face fall as he looked at the monitor of the ultrasound machine. Immediately, I knew. Our smaller baby, the one who had been struggling the most because of the condition, our little Fiona Jane, had died.
It was part of our undoing, a pain that brought us to our knees. With it came the realization that our entire situation was, and always had been, in God’s hands. We were at His mercy. Though we had understood this in a vague way before this trial, it became very real to us when we had no other choice but to resign ourselves to His Divine Will.
Today, in the midst of worldwide uncertainty and anxiety about the coronavirus, people are afraid. Many are sick. The future is unknown. And I’m reminded once again of the difficult truth that joy comes by way of suffering.
Comfort versus joy
In a modern world that is dedicated to the pursuit of convenience and comfort, suffering presents a significant challenge. We desire to control every aspect of our lives, and in the Western World, with its abundance of information and relative security, we are indeed able to maintain an illusion of control in many things.
Should we encounter suffering, we are surrounded with tools and temptations to distract and numb ourselves from our pain (addictive screens, constant entertainment, shopping on demand, and abundant comfort food, for example) or to deny it and pretend everything is just fine, perhaps by presenting a polished image of ourselves to others through social media for an instant dose of approval.
But challenges, trials, and suffering are a part of life in this fallen world, and eventually, we all come face to face with them in a way that we can’t outrun. They destroy our illusion of control and can test our faith like nothing else.
God not only allows suffering, but He tells us it will happen (John 16:33), wants us to consider it a privilege (Philippians 1:29) and even says to count it all joy (James 1:2)! But it would be disordered masochism to actually take delight solely in pain and suffering. So suffering must hold some benefit for us, and joy must mean something beyond earthly comforts and fleeting pleasure.
Stripped of our sense of control and artificial comforts, we are forced to turn to the God of all comfort and offered the opportunity to trade earthly happiness for eternal joy.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.
– 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Earthly comforts are fleeting. God’s comfort is eternal and comes to us by way of suffering. Sometimes we forget this, but difficult times serve to remind us.
We read in Jeremiah, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord…They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream. It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green. In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7,8)
Heat comes. There are years of drought. Our consolations may dry up and be blown away like chaff in the wind. We may feel pain, worry, and uncertainty. But if our trust is in the Lord, we do not need to fear. Our roots reach deep – to the source of our life and our hope. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
I used to think “resignation” had a negative connotation, akin to quitting or giving up. But then I learned that there is something so freeing about giving up running from pain and trying to control everything around me. Resignation to God’s Will means placing all of our greatest hopes and deepest fears into the hands of the One who not only knows the future, but who loves us and works all things together for our good. We can endure pain when it leads to something good. Just ask any laboring mother.
Resignation to the Divine Will is a daily battle and the ultimate fiat. It is saying with our Blessed Mother, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” It is the offering of ourselves as a living sacrifice, to be used according to God’s purpose. And in the economy of heaven – where the first are last and the last are first – it is this dying to ourselves and relinquishing of control that brings us to eternal glory.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5
In my case, weeping tarried a long time. It still tarries today. We lost not only our Fiona, but would go on to lose her twin sister as well. The depth of our pain was enormous. But in hindsight I can see that God used that time of suffering to strengthen my faith in Him and to give me an eternal joy that is not easily shaken by circumstances.
One for sorrow, two for joy.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Joy comes by way of sorrow, and the mercy of suffering, if we can learn not to run from it, not to fear it or numb it away, is that it strips us of our comfort, rearranges our priorities, and reminds us that this is not our permanent home.
I am still getting to know Mary.
Since I was Protestant for most of my life, Mary did not play a big role in my understanding of how God relates to us. She gave birth to Jesus, and then she really didn’t come into the picture very much after that, except for a few instances when she wanted to talk to Jesus and he seemed to dismiss her. The first time, at the wedding at Cana, Mary told Jesus that there was no more wine and he replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” (John 2:4) Later, the other gospels record a story of Jesus speaking with his disciples when his mother and relatives come and wish to speak with him. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Jesus replies. And stretching out his hands he indicates that his disciples and anyone who does the will of his heavenly Father are his true family. (Matthew 12:49)
We don’t learn too much more about Mary. She presented him to Simeon in the Temple. She lost him on the way back from Jerusalem. She did a lot of pondering things in her heart. She is in the background, mainly, meek and mild, observing and thinking about things.
At least, that was my experience of her.
In recent years, however, I can only describe my relationship with her as one in which she is making herself known to me.
I think, because I have had a difficult relationship with my own mother, I resisted the idea of relating to Mary as a mother. And, knowing that, she has been pursuing me slowly and gently.
I began 2019 with a consecration to Mary that I felt compelled to do even though I did not fully understand what that meant. My journal entry on January 1 reads:
I look forward to entrusting myself to her and knowing that she has my best interest – holiness, sanctification, and drawing closer to Jesus – at heart.
Throughout the year, she did not fail to meet me in many different ways, but I felt the greatest connection to her when I learned about her as Our Lady of Sorrows.
On September 15, I prepared a homeschool lesson for my children for her feast day and, as often happens, I learned right along with them about the seven sorrows she suffered as the mother of our Lord.
I finished the lesson, but felt a tugging inside to look into this devotion more, so later that week, I read about her apparitions to St. Bridget of Sweden. When I saw her appeal for pity, something resonated inside me:
“I look around at all who are on earth, to see if by chance there are any who pity Me, and meditate upon My Sorrows; and I find that there are very few.“
As a grieving mother myself, I read these words and identified with the feeling that for everyone else, the loss of my daughters and the terrible grief that I felt then and still live with every day, has passed. Sometimes I feel as though I’m the only one still grieving, the only one who remembers the trauma of their deaths.
But then the thought struck me, “Wait a minute! She has already seen Jesus raised! She has seen heaven. She knows the ending!”
How, I wondered, did she still need pity 1200 years later – and even today?
For you, the reason for this may seem obvious. But I am severely limited by my humanity. I needed more understanding, and so I asked for it.
And then it came.
She is not asking for pity for herself! She is asking for pity in order to make us aware of the cost of our sin. She wants us to recognize that our sinfulness cost Jesus tremendous suffering and, as a result, also caused her suffering as his mother. Her desire is for us not to take our sins lightly, but to recognize the price that was paid for them and to repent sincerely with true contrition.
And in this way, the pity she is asking for is for our own benefit.
If that were the only benefit, it would be an enormous one, but she went on to promise seven graces to those who spend time each day in meditation on her sorrows.
Since I learned about this, I have been meditating on the seven sorrows almost daily. It has been a helpful reminder to me of the effects of my sins and a motivation for sincere repentance.
I have been using this beautiful meditation on YouTube when I want to pray the full chaplet or rosary of the Seven Sorrows. But sometimes, if things are busy, I just spend a few minutes meditating on each sorrow to myself and praying a Hail Mary for each one.
I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. It only takes a few minutes each day to do it, and the awareness of the suffering that Our Lord and Mary endured for our sins and for love of us is a compelling motivation to pursue holiness and to keep eternity in our sights so that one day we might be united with them there forever.
The story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead has become one of my favorite parts of the Bible, revealing so much about the character of God and the heart of Jesus toward people who are suffering and grieving.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Don’t you love how John phrases this last section? Jesus loved these people, so when he heard that they were going through something difficult, he…stayed right where he was. He didn’t hurry to be with Mary and Martha. He didn’t rush back to heal Lazarus, or even heal him from afar, as he did with the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:13). He stayed where he was for a few more days.
Why? Because he loved these friends. And “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Jesus knew just what he was doing and how this was going to end. He had a plan.
…and then [Jesus] told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”
So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
John 11:11-15, 17, 20-21
I can relate to the feelings behind Martha’s statement. Mary goes on to say the exact same thing to Jesus in verse 32.
Because our understanding of the way things work is limited by our humanity, it can be tempting to assume that God must have been absent when something painful happens. Maybe we didn’t pray in the right way or with enough faith. Perhaps he was distracted, preoccupied with more important matters and not paying attention to us. Maybe he just doesn’t care.
“Where were you?” is what I was tempted to think after our tiny daughter survived in utero surgery and heart surgery only to succumb to a bacterial infection. “How could you have let this happen?”
If I were the one writing this story, I might have had Jesus rushing back to comfort his friends and to heal their brother as soon as he heard the news that he was ill because he loved them so much. Whew! Good thing Jesus made it back here in time, no one had to suffer too much, and everything is going to be okay now. That was close!
This would have alleviated the suffering of some of the characters in the present, but would have resulted the eternal suffering of those people who might never have come to believe Jesus to be the Son of God had I been the author here.
But God is writing this story, and His ways are not our ways.
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”
But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” And…he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
John 11:33-40, 43 (emphasis mine)
Here it is – that briefest of verses (some translations omit even the word “and”) – that shows Jesus, fully God and fully man, entering into the pain of his friends. The Jews interpret Jesus’ tears as love, and rightly so, but it is so much more.
The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jesus wept or what it was that deeply troubled him. This eyewitness account only tells what happened. But by doing so, it also shows us so much about his tender heart.
Jesus does not rebuke Martha and Mary for their “if you had been here” reproaches. He just gently asks them if they believe that Lazarus will be raised.
He knew from the start that Lazarus was going to die. In fact, he stayed away longer to ensure this would happen before he arrived.
He knew that raising Lazarus from the dead was completely within his power and part of his plan.
And still he wept.
He was deeply troubled. And I can’t help but wonder about the reason behind it. Love played a big part, as the Jews said. Love for his friends, demonstrated by his entering into their sorrow with them, fully present in their pain.
But also perhaps sadness because death and suffering in this world was not part of the original plan.
Maybe he wept because he knew what was coming shortly after this – that by raising Lazarus from the dead, he would seal his own fate of death and burial in a tomb closed with a stone.
Whatever the reason, in this story we see a Jesus who is moved with compassion for those who are grieving. We see a Jesus who sometimes orchestrates suffering both for the good of those he loves – for love always wills the good of the other person, even if that good is difficult or isn’t obvious on this side of eternity – and for the glory of God. We see a Jesus who demonstrates that there is more to our suffering than meets the eye.
And while it may be tempting to think, “You raised Lazarus. Why couldn’t you perform a miracle in my situation, too?” we can be assured that this same Jesus has this same two-fold motivation when he allows our own suffering – our good and God’s glory.
We only need to believe this about him.
Eileen is passionate about walking alongside those who are suffering. She desires to acknowledge and accompany them in their pain while offering the gentle reminder that not only is God is present with us in our most difficult times, but the suffering itself can be a gift to us if we have an eternal perspective. A grieving mother herself, her heart is tender towards those who have lost children to miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or any other child loss, recognizing that this is a particularly difficult burden that many women bear.
Beginning in 2020, she will be holding healing retreats for grieving mothers that will include talks, small-group discussion, time for reflection, creative exercises, and the opportunity for praying the rosary and attending confession and Mass. These can also be customized to suit the special needs of your particular group.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the current COVID-19 limitations on large group gatherings, these retreats will begin in July of 2020 in an online format. Click here for more information.
Check the Speaking Information page for information about upcoming retreats.
If you are interested in hosting a retreat – for one day or a whole weekend – in your area, please contact Eileen using the contact form.