The Initial Impact of Pain and Suffering
by Deacon Thomas Frankenfield
As always, I truly am thankful for all those who have generously shared their personal struggle with suffering. Without a doubt, suffering is an experience that we all have in common. As wide and varied as our stories may be, I think there are some common elements of experiences we all share. I will to look at what happens when we are initially confronted with bad news that starts the experience of hurting. What I write is not a clinical treatise but comes from the viewpoint of individual Catholic Christian Spirituality and how our personal relationship with our Triune God forms our behavior.
Bad news is something we are never fully prepared to handle well. When we first receive terrible news we often experience a myriad of emotions—many times within minutes or hours. In these cases, we start a day in a positive sense and suddenly everything is transformed with the revelation of the suffering.
Earlier this year my brother died. Changes to my day were significant. In fact, I can recall exactly where I was standing when I received the phone call. I see it so clearly in my memory that I can almost feel like I am there at this moment as I recall the event. I was driving to lunch with my wife. My spirits were high! And in a few seconds, I was in total shock; tears were flowing and my mind raced and feelings jumped through my system at jet fighter speed. The romantic lunch became a meal where my wife spent time ministering to my needs and listening to my variety of feelings.
Others talk about how major world events impact them in that same way. A few come to mind. For Americans it is where we were on September 11, 2001 or where you were when you heard about the Space Shuttle explosion and finally, for those of us with grey hair, where we were the day John Kennedy was assassinated.
From my experience, the emptiness almost causes a sourness to develop in my stomach. I become different in personality and mannerism. On September 11th, I walked around my office throughout the day saying, “I can’t believe this happened.” My co-workers told me that I repeated that phrase hundreds of times all through the day. For my part, I really don’t remember because I was in a trancelike state.
The initial communication of bad new usually calls us out of our daily environment and transports us to a different setting. We are often like strangers in a strange land. Think about your experiences in this area! For some, we learn a new language. When my wife had colon cancer, I learned the language of cancer. I had never used words like chemotherapy, benign or malignant with such significant meaning. The general vocabulary of life became the language of cancer.
A Call to Be Closer to the Lord
Because the stresses of the initial shock often strip away our sense of analysis; we are left with fundamental base reactions. In the area of relationship, it is a time to connect to those who unconditionally love us. The weight of the new pain leaves us vulnerable, thus the specialness of relationship is evident. In my personal stresses, I often run to the arms of my wife and she holds me close to her and allows me to express myself freely. When my brother died, she listened closely and allowed me to express the words of pain from the news. For me this is the closest model of God’s unconditional love that I can imagine.
The Lord of Good and Bad Times
When news hits and we are devastated, Jesus is there for each and every one of us. Yet, it is how we relate to Jesus today that helps us to be in a place to be loved when our world is turned upside down with the impact of pain and suffering. If we can not let go to God in the ordinary, we will also struggle in the extraordinary. The sudden stripping of the insulation of our emotions takes away our defenses.
Sadly, some do not develop a strong relationship in the good times and are faced with another struggle at the time of impact. Many in this situation call out, “Why me, God?” The answer to your next bout with pain and suffering is found in your ordinary relationship today. Nurturing a good relationship by saying “yes” to being loved by God is the crucial step. When the suddenness of pain hits, God will not be a stranger to you. He is waiting to hold us and hug us. He is there to listen to our problems. He will send his special messengers to comfort and hug us. God is there for you and me in good and bad times.
For Your Reflection
From a Ministry Perspective:
- In your ministry, who loves you unconditionally? Are you open to be loved? If not, what barriers exist to being unconditionally loved?
- Can you share the impact of devastating news with another person? To whom would you go to express this pain?
From a Family Perspective:
- In our Domestic Church as parent, sibling, widow or single, do I show unconditional love for family members who need support in the impact of terrifying news? If not, what barriers exist that keep that type of relationship from existing?
- Do we in our Domestic Church share our pain and suffering with each other? Are we models of Jesus' unconditional love?
I would love your feedback, thoughts, stories and ideas. Please email me.
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