“That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
I was recently reminded of this line from the Litany of Humility, that challenging but oh-so-fruitful prayer. I’ve been comparing my own suffering as a mother with chronic pain to someone else’s suffering. It’s filled me with resentment, shame, and envy rather than inspiring me to improve my attitude toward suffering.
Today—on Good Friday!—Jesus corrected me gently, lovingly, and firmly.
A Little Way
I began this Lent with a commitment to reread St. Thérèse’s “Story of a Soul.” I first read Thérèse’s autobiography when I was 13 years old, the year I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), the year I started high school, and the year I was confirmed. It was a pivotal year for me, and reading “Story of a Soul” was a pivotal moment. I was just beginning to experience suffering in a way I never had before, and Thérèse introduced me to the idea that you could use suffering for others, that you could offer it to Jesus and he could use it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really know where to go from there, and I haven’t always followed this “little way” of suffering. I never left Catholicism, but I did wander off the path a bit in my 20s, and I definitely dropped out of the school of suffering that Jesus presents to us in the cross.
Learning to Suffer
Motherhood, however, has forced me to reenroll in this school, presenting me (as parenthood so often does!) with many lessons in suffering and challenges in doing it well. From pregnancy to postpartum anxiety and lack of sleep, those early days certainly had their share of suffering. But more recently, my fibromyalgia has, once again, given me the opportunity to learn what it really means to “offer it up.”
I don’t always do it well. There have been moments of railing against God, of pridefully asking “Why me?” (as if Christ himself didn’t suffer so much worse). There have been moments of envy, of resentment. There have been moments where I have been more like the despairing Judas than the loving Jesus.
This morning, I was struggling again with comparison—that sneaky temptation. Suddenly, I heard a voice:
That is the suffering I am calling her to. This is the suffering I am calling you to.
It’s not about what someone else is doing on her path to sanctification. It’s about what God is calling me to. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerers have been; how gloriously different are the saints.” God calls us each to a cross that he made specifically for us, designed specifically for our unique soul. He knows the sins we are tempted to. He knows the gifts that he gave us. No other cross will do; I must carry the one he gave me.
A priest recently told me in Confession, “Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. So, he would only allow this suffering if he knew something good would come from it.”
Jesus didn’t suffer and die on the cross for nothing. He did it to save us, to show us how much he loved us. Similarly, he doesn’t ask us to carry our cross for nothing. He gives us the cross that he knows, with his grace, will get us to Heaven to be with him.
I just have to pick it up.