There comes a time in everyone’s life when the old must die for the new to be reborn. The idea that something new rises from ashes is not an old one. A Phoenix, a bird that burns to ashes before it is reborn as a young, vital fledgling. Winter must be endured before Spring can bloom. With every death of our people, a young infant is born in his place. The Renaissance, meaning rebirth, came forth from the Dark Ages.
As a Catholic, I am painfully aware of the suffering that Lent brings. Not necessarily suffering for me, though sometimes fasting from meat on Fridays is a toughie. I mean the suffering that we remember every Good Friday, the suffering Jesus undertook to save his children and to show his love to all of us, not just to Catholics but to everyone.
The only way we can remember Good Friday, though also sorrowfully, with hope is to remember that merely days after, Jesus rose from the grave. Something must die for the new to be reborn. The old covenant passed and Jesus brought a new covenant of love and mercy.
But sometimes it is very difficult to look forward to the rebirth, to the renewal, the joy and happiness. Sometimes we are stuck for an incredibly long time in the death, the sorrow, the winter.
It is winter for me right now. I am struggling, and while I know that suffering is a good thing and brings about something new, suffering is never easy for anyone. And while I am reminding myself that there is a light at the end of this tunnel, it’s still dark where I am now.
The only thing getting me through this besides my mother and my cat is my faith. It’s time for me to use this darkness to seek the Light. This post is much more for my benefit than yours, but if any of you out there are struggling like I am, my prayers go out to you.
Together, then, let’s look at a few verses. James says “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In fact, much of the first few chapters of James is poignant to those enduring trials. We are promised in James that ‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” and I know God will make good on that promise. We are promised the ultimate reward, new life, after our death. Whether that be literal, with eternal life after we physically die, or that applies to a blessing and reward after we survive a struggle and still maintain our faith.
It is crucial that we look to God to save us when we suffer. Remember Peter? He walked on water by the grace of God. But when he took his eyes off of Christ and grew afraid at the crashing waves and pounding thunder, he began to sink and drown, crying out for salvation from his King. What else is crucial? Jesus saved him. He didn’t say “sorry, you made a mistake and now I’m done.” No, He recognized that Peter was terrified and recognized that Peter took his eyes away from Him, and saved him anyway, mercifully.
The Gospel reading the other day was the reading of the Prodigal Son. If you haven’t yet read or heard that story, it’s here. The lost son has been exulted and joyously welcomed back into his father’s house and arms. Even though his father saw all the trouble and sin his son got into when he left home, he welcomed him back – not just with a snobby forgiveness or a regretful “if only,” but with a celebration, a party! My priest gave an excellent homily on this reading, going into detail about how God always forgives. God knows we will sin, he knows exactly what we will do and when we do it, but he always forgives. The reading for that day also includes the woman who was caught in adultery, found in John chapter 8. I want to draw your attention to the last thing Jesus says to the woman. “I do not condemn you. Go leave your life of sin.” What an incredible thing to hear! Let us realize that best part is that Jesus does not say “If you leave your life of sin, I will not condemn you.” No, not so. He says He will not condemn us. Period. He does not condemn us! Then he says to sin no more. His mercy and forgiveness has no catches, no fine print, no loopholes. He will not condemn us. Period.
We condemn ourselves. We make it seem as if we are the worst people in the world, we rack our minds with guilt and sorrow and we’re positive that this time will be the last time we are forgiven, this time is one time too far. But no, not only does God forgive us every time, but he doesn’t hold it against us if we are repentant. If we are repentant, if we ask for forgiveness, we will receive forgiveness.
Obviously this doesn’t mean to do whatever we want because we will be forgiven anyway. That is the sin of presumption. God is not a tool we can use to rinse ourselves off after we get dirty. We cannot choose to sin knowing we will be forgiven. But when we fall to temptation, when we struggle with sin, and when we are truly sorry – that is when we receive forgiveness. God knows our hearts, he knows sincerity.
God’s arms are always open. He is waiting for us to lift our head from the water in which we’re drowning and call to Him for help. Yes, sometimes God places us in that water as a lesson, but He will always save and He will always redeem. Winter always becomes spring. Something new is always reborn from something dead.
See, Mother. I make all things new. A beautiful rearrangement of Revelations 21:5, “Behold I am making all things new!”
He makes all things new, with His death, His suffering, His struggle.
He will make all things new from our suffering and struggle, too.
When we are drowning, he will lift us up. When we are tired, he will give us rest. He will lay us down in green pastures. He will carry us when we can go no further. He is our rock, our foothold, our fortress. He is Wonder-Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
Tenth Avenue North, my favorite Christian band, composed a song that sums up too clearly my winter, my struggle. It’s titled Worn, and is an incredible testament to someone who casts all his cares on God. The video journal the lead singer, Mike, recorded about this song is also poignant, and may provide some clarity about the purpose of struggle. The album is titled “The Struggle,” so any song off of it besides this one is incredible to hear.
The lead Mike Donehey says “sometimes God redeems us from our struggles and sometimes He redeems us through them.” Wow. How important to remember that God may save us from our suffering, or He may be using this suffering for something greater.
As a Catholic, my mom is constantly telling me to “offer it up” and that “suffering is redemptive” whenever I complain or whine. And while these things can come across jokingly or even as trite sometimes, they are so critical to our survival in the face of trials and tribulations. Suffering is redemptive. Redemption wins. The struggle ends. We will be happy, forever. Forever!
We are the woman caught in adultery. We are the prodigal son. We are Peter, who constantly screwed up by denying Jesus and asking dumb questions and nearly drowning by not focusing on Jesus. Yet Jesus forgave the woman. The prodigal son was welcomed back with rejoicing. Peter is the rock of the Church Jesus built.
We have hope. Like the little bud or shoot that sprouts up amidst cold and stony soil, we have hope for salvation, for victory, for the end of our sorrows.
One song by Tenth Avenue North praises God for letting us struggle – the chorus being “hallelujah, we are free to struggle, we’re not struggling to be free.” Not free from struggle, but free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free, but we are free to use that struggle to bring about a good, a happiness, to bring about redemption.
Why should we be free from suffering when Christ himself gave up his life to redeem us? Truly, we should not ask God to free us from struggles, but to give us strength to cling to him through our suffering. Our suffering will be great.
But our reward will be great, as well.