In the middle of Lent, I received an email from a new reader I’ll call Jill. Jill shared with me her years of darkness in her personal and spiritual life. My heart went out to her. I wanted to do something for her, more than just writing an encouraging answer. So I thought about it and prayed about it. Then I had an insight.
Here, in part, is how I replied:
“I explore these questions [about God and suffering] a lot in my book. I will give you a brief version here. Rabbi Kushner, writing in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, said that we shouldn’t ask why when we suffer. Instead, we should ask, What now? How am I to react?
Finding meaning in our suffering
“Similarly, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way in the moment that it finds a meaning.” He found that in the concentration camp, those who were able to survive and be psychologically sound found a purpose in their suffering. For Frankl himself, that purpose was to rewrite the manuscript of his book on helping his psychiatric patients find meaning in life. The Nazis had destroyed his manuscript when he was stripped of his possessions at the camp. So over the years he rewrote the manuscript, partly in his head and partly on any strips of paper he could find. He had the will to survive so he could publish his work…
“My question for your situation then was, How can your suffering become purposeful? Some people would counsel you to offer up your suffering. But if you are unable to complete even small projects because your darkness has sapped all your energy, offering it up may just be beyond your strength. What then?
Are you too overwhelmed to “offer it up?”
“Well, I thought, I could pray and sacrifice for you. I could become a partner with you to relieve you of some of your suffering…
“But then I had an inspiration. Maybe it came from the Holy Spirit. For Lent, as you may know if you have read many of my blog posts yet, I have been trying not to complain about anything. Honestly, I haven’t done very well at it. I have resisted temptation sometimes, but only a small fraction of the time. What if I offered my struggle against temptation in this area for you? This seems to me to go a step beyond fasting or making other sacrifices, because my concern for you would be helping me to resist sin and grow in detachment. And this would make your suffering meaningful.
“Without your having to do anything more than you are doing right now, your suffering could be my inspiration to grow in virtue. With thoughts of your darkness before me, I would (I hope) be doubly motivated to work hard against temptation. And my triumph over sin would be your triumph.”
Both partners can benefit
I have been offering my struggle against complaining for Jill the past month. And guess what? The second half of Lent went much better than the first! As I suspected, offering it for another person’s relief from suffering gave me the extra motivation I needed. I thank Jill for the opportunity to partner with her in our striving towards God.
What about you? Do you have fear, depression, family problems, financial needs, or spiritual darkness that weighs you down? Does your situation seem hopeless? Would you be open to partnering with another reader to work on both your needs? Remember, you do not have to do anything other than allowing the other person to make sacrifices for you. Your suffering is already enough for you to bear.
And the rest of you, who are experiencing only the normal challenges of living for God. Would you be willing to offer your struggle against temptation for the good of a stranger? Would you be willing to have God apply to him or her all the merit of your success?
If you are in the first group, please comment below, with a brief description of your darkness. Then one of our other readers can reply, volunteering to partner with you. If your darkness is too personal to share here, send me an email at crossini4774 at comcast dot net, and I will share with another reader as much as you would like me to about your situation. If you wish to volunteer and not enough people comment that they’d like help, I will send you information from someone who emailed me privately. Or perhaps more people will gather courage to tell us about their needs when they see how many others are willing to help them.
Please spread the word about this project and encourage others to join us. I think this could be really powerful for changing both partners’ lives.