Fonticulus Fides

Friday, August 29, 2003

I am afraid of suffering.

I suppose most people are, especially here in the U.S., where we have it so easy. And where our culture is geared to making everything as painless as possible. So maybe it's no surprise that I don't want to suffer. I don't want my husband to suffer. I don't want my children to suffer. I don't want youto suffer.

When I read the words of Christ as He agonized in Gethsemane, I think He also dreaded suffering. In Mark 14:34, He tells Peter, James and John that His Soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." And then, moments later, He fell to the ground and prayed that if it was possible, God might take his task away from him. Verse 36, He cries out, "Abba," -- the affectionate name He used for our Father -- "Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me." And yet He was obedient and willing to take the path ordained for Him.

So, I don't think it is wrong to fear suffering. Nor do I think it's wrong to avoid suffering when we can, like driving safely, choosing not to participate in a dangerous activity, maintaining our personal health, and so forth.

But once we have been given the cup of suffering, we must take it and trust in God. I learned this lesson some years ago, when my husband and I were going through the two years of infertility we were subjected to before our son was conceived. During those hard months, I wrote the following poem (I'm no poet, by the way, so please don't get worked up about any lack of iambic pentameter or whatever).

The cup He hands me is bitter
Yet I must drink my fill
For life is my own no longer
I bow unto His will

I might groan and pray for rescue
I might weep till my tears are spent
But for His sake is my body broken
I, for His Glory, am rent.

I think about those difficult years often, whenever something happens in my life that conjures up that fear of suffering again. Like that phone call I got from my doctor on Wednesday. I have every reason to hope that the situation will resolve on its own and everything is going to be fine. But on Wednesday evening, I did have a short burst of fearful tears, because I don't want to suffer. And I don't want my baby to suffer. Natural emotions, when facing the unknown.

Just in the last 24 hours, I have learned of two particular women who really are faced with suffering, not just the unknown, like me. In a comment box below, Alicia, St. Blog's resident midwife, revealed that one of her patients has a confirmed diagnosis of Trisomy-18, a genetic disorder that leaves the baby unable to survive for long outside the womb. And, in an on-line expecting club I participate in, another woman recently had an ultrasound that revealed "severe birth defects." I don't have the details on her situation, so I don't know if it's the same condition or not.

Alicia's patient is continuing her pregnancy, despite pressure to terminate. The expecting club participant I spoke of has already scheduled an abortion.

Why do some people have the strength to go on, while others do not? I believe it is that fear of suffering again. The second woman, faced with a terrible situation that is completely out of her control, has chosen an option that very likely makes her feel like she has some sense of control after all. The let's-get-it-over-with thing, but oh, so misguided. Her baby's existence in her womb, here on earth, is the only thing she is shortening by this action. Her own suffering started the day she was told her ultrasound results, and it will never end. She may journey (emotionally) to a state of acceptance, but the fact that she is losing a much-wanted child will always be true. The only difference is that she is making a choice about when and how that child will die.

Alicia's patient must feel the same way I do, when I consider the possibility of such a diagnosis in my own child. I know I would be devastated by the news, and I would be so afraid of this child going through agony. But I could not, on top of that, also choose the day and method with which the child will die. The burden would already be too great to bear. I know that the only "good" time the baby would have would be within my womb. Once born, it's a different story. I'd want to extend the goodness as long as possible. I would want time to talk to the baby, to sing to the baby, to feel the growth and development through my skin.

And honestly, I would be praying so hard for the baby to be born alive and live at least long enough to be baptized. I know there's that whole limbo concept out there, but I would find the completed baptism so much more reassuring.

Well, all this to say...there are suffering people all around us, and those of us who can, can perhaps help shoulder the burden a bit. Alicia's patient needs our prayers for strength, for courage, for comfort. So does her baby. The woman from my on-line expecting club and her child likewise need prayers -- I don't know when the procedure will be done, but I pray for a miracle anyway, that she will change her mind and preserve her child's life as long as possible.

Nothing I face compares to what these women are going through. Please be generous with your prayers for their sake, and their children's sake.



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