Suffering is a part of every stage of your journey as husband and wife. As you begin to adjust to each other as newly-weds, each one has to die to oneself in order to reach out in love and understanding to the other. The more the differences in your cultural, social, religious and ethnic background, the greater is the flexibility required to adjust. As you become parents, there are many sufferings involved in pregnancy, child bearing and rearing children. Suffering is not only physical. Emotional, social and spiritual dimensions of suffering can often be more painful. They are part and parcel of our lives. But in marriage, you have a companion and help-mate to share your suffering by compassion, comfort, consolation, understanding, encouragement and togetherness. However, your sufferings increase, when either of you lacks sensitivity and the willingness to accompany your spouse in bad times, sickness and poverty. That is why the marriage vows do not speak of loving and respecting the other, only in good times, health and riches.
When you get married at a Nuptial Mass, your model is the divine bridegroom whose arms are stretched out on the cross, in unconditional loving and giving, so as to give life to his bride, the Church.. Jesus suffered to the point of death. A couple walks together through life until "death do them part". But even as they live each day, each one has to die to self, through willing sacrifice in order to be life-giving to spouse and children. This death to oneself has to be "freely accepted" and cannot be forced . When one loves, one freely accepts sacrifices involved in loving and sharing life with spouse and children.
Suffering helps us to understand our limitations. In marriage you are interdependent on your spouse and each one supplies what the other lacks. It is good to recognise and accept this and to be grateful to God for giving you someone to share your life. In giving, you receive. In loving, you are loved. In comforting, you are comforted. In understanding, you are understood. No one can be forced to give, to love, to comfort or to understand. Your love and commitment to each other prompt you to do so. Quite often it is not a feeling but a decision to love and to allow oneself to be loved.
Conversely, when you refuse to face suffering as part of your life, you try to escape or compensate without being involved with your spouse. You become a married single who uses the other as an object to serve your needs, without relationship. As a man lives, so shall he die. Death is inevitable for all of us. Suffering involves dying to oneself in order to be life giving to one's' spouse and children.
Dennis Billy in his book Into the Heart of Faith speaks of six reactions to suffering. At one time or another, all of us may experience them:
- Suffering as human
The Paralyzed are so afraid of suffering , that they are paralyzed by their fears. They shut themselves up in an airtight, risk-free environment in an attempt to ward off or delay the inevitable. They lock others out of their lives, for fear of being hurt. They ask little of God and hope He in turn will ask little of them.
The Overwhelmed succumb to suffering and give up easily. There is no attempt to cope with life's challenges. Blinded by pain, they see no meaning in suffering or in living. They lose the will to live.
The Stoics survive, but are not in touch with their feelings. They are cold in their relationships with others. They act indifferent to suffering. Leave me alone. I do not need help.
The Self-Blamers think they deserve to suffer for their sins. They often have a poor self-image. They may have been abused as children. They may see God as a punishing angry tyrant. They may be masochists.
The Projectors blame others for their suffering. They see ulterior motives in other's actions and suffer from a persecution complex. They fan the flames of familial, ethic, national and religious hatred.
Suffering as human. It is part of the mystery of life that is death and of death that is life. In living, we have to die many times and in many ways as we face challenges to human growth. Exercising the mind, body or heart calls for effort and self-discipline. In dying, we are born to eternal life. We have to let go of all we cling to and let the Lord and Giver of life, be our everything and our all.
Recently I spent nine days in a convent run by the Missionaries of Charity. They looked after fifty nine women, picked up from the street who had been abused, rejected or discarded by their families. There were also twenty one children who were emotionally or physically handicapped and left at bus stops or railway stations. The Sisters looked after them with love and devotion. Here was suffering and here was life-giving love.
Marriage is a school of suffering. It is also a school of self- giving love that shares life. "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future And life is worth the living, just because He lives" are the words Gladys Staines sang at the grave side, when her husband and two small sons were burned alive.
In every marriage, where the cross of Jesus is venerated, husbands and wives are reminded to love as he loves. "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25) In a covenant relationship, you are reminded of the blood of the new covenant, whereby you became God's people again and He became your Father. You continue to share in the death of Jesus everyday as you live out your vows to love one another each day.
Children learn from their parents that suffering is part of life. They learn to share, to sacrifice, to begin again, to struggle, to face hardships with courage and faith. We should not over protect our children and try to make life heaven on earth for them. If we love them, we will help them in turn to embrace the cross and be life-giving in love. Thirty three years ago, I met Joe and Louise Smith, a wealthy couple in Long Island, who took their seven children each year to visit struggling, poor people in the Appalachians. The children worked to earn money during the year, so that they had something to share with the unfortunate. How blessed are such children!!
Share Life. Share Love. Share Jesus.