A few weeks ago, I visited a very devout aunt of mine in the hospital. But I had forgotten what kind of person this woman is. I did not remember the degree of her rugged, enduring, piercing, and warm, Christ-like heart. Struggling with a system-wide infection to say nothing of other health challenges currently, she looked strong, vibrant, cheerful and peaceful. She was not bed-ridden. However, she was flat on her back, readying for a nap with a breathing mask on while I visited her. She beckoned for me to sit high up in her walker on its seat so she could better see me. She hurt. She was having a hard time breathing. The more I attempted to ask her about her own woes, the more she deflected and deferred to my current life situation, wondering about my own trials and crosses. I was the one that broke down.
My aunt squeezed my hand as I told her my troubles, the pains, the dead-ends. I wondered what was wrong with that picture as I sat, a healthy young man at the bedside of an older woman who was seriously ill, losing my composure utterly and completely while she consoled and encouraged me. I was embarrassed. My soul was laid bare. She promised to pray not one but perhaps even two rosaries for me. Later, I found out her intention was to pray one or two rosaries PER DAY for me, not simply on one occasion only. What generosity of spirit! The experience was like lightning. It was an encounter with Christ. It was an encounter with Christ’s Mother. I left strengthened, humbled, and really and truly in awe. I realized nothing was wrong with the picture. The strength of a mother of many decades, the strength of a woman deeply in love with Christ, of a woman who strove for years uncounted to be like Mary pervades her.
More Than We Can Handle?
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that amidst his own struggles the Lord said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) This power of Christ illuminates and suffuses those of great faith. I watched my aunt as she struggled so intensely from physical illness, yet remained a bulwark of strength and stability to anchor those around her, including myself in personal struggles, never more acutely than the event of a few weeks prior. This is a memory that I will hold onto and treasure for the rest of my life. God’s grace is always enough for us. When we hear that God’s grace is sufficient for us, we must in those situations let ourselves be reminded that we are often given greater trials and challenges than we can handle.
Though quite inversely, the adage is often stated that “God never gives us more than we can handle,” I have often been disturbed by this common quotation. For the Lord, in allowing the myriad of challenges and sufferings that this life brings, trials that are indeed more than any of us can bear on our own, allows us through such situations to come to an intimate encounter with his Passion and the mercy that flows out upon all sinners with open hearts to accept his graces. Can and does the Lord sometimes heal us and take away particular trials in our lives? Of course he does.
But whether we are troubled by tragedies and pain, or rejoicing in great blessings gifted us, we can always know that we are being shown in all circumstances the great love of Jesus for us who always and everywhere only wants what is best for us, a best for us culminating and focused upon our eternal salvation. So assuredly, all of us experience suffering, but never does any suffering come to us that God has not first allowed. This suffering becomes redemptive when we see in our pains, Christ’s Cross.
Grace for Strength Found in Pain
The very ability to recognize a deep, rich meaning to our pain is a great grace, and one that comes not when we are strong. It comes not through an attitude of “God will never give me more than I can handle” but in our realization that everything is grace, and that all experiences, joyful or sorrowful, are granted us that we might be purified and come to see who God is more and more clearly. By being responsive to the Lord’s grace and through the purification that suffering in our weakness brings, the clarity increases until at last, in the eternal day we see him in all of his merciful, everlasting strength face to face.
A wonderful fact about the grace of God in our weakness is that both directly and in the merciful deeds of others towards us, this blessed strength of the Almighty is shown us in this life. My aunt’s powerful Christian witness in the face of suffering, seemed a strength of Jesus consoling and uplifting not only her, but going forth from her to also bless me abundantly. I know of few other women quite like this one, mothering, with the more people than we realize until we are at last in the everlasting arms of our all-powerful, all-merciful Savior God.