Don't Settle With Suffering

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A few weeks ago, the small staff I work with had a retreat day. We settled down into the comfortable, homey living room in the house we were using. I was looking forward to hanging out with my co-workers, some quiet time in the chapel, and especially the chai latte in my hand. We got a break from office work, and I was prepared to relax. 

Our priest leader had been given the freedom to talk about whatever he thought was best. He sat down to lead an opening prayer, then looked at us and said, “This is a healing retreat.” 

CRAP. I felt like I’d been promised a trip to the movies and then forced into the dentist’s office to get my teeth pulled. I frantically wondered if I could pretend to be sick and get excused for the rest of the day. A healing retreat? Why in the world do I need a healing retreat? I’m a perfectly functional Catholic adult. (At least that’s what I told myself). Feeling very uncomfortable and bit caged, I sat there and listened. 

The day was not easy. Within minutes of the first talk, 20 different things that I need healing in burst into my head that I had not even thought of. I started squirming uncomfortably in my seat, spent half the day trying not to cry, and finally failed towards the end. But by the end of the day, I was convinced that a healing retreat was what I had needed the most. The main message of the day: Christs wants to heal you.

Why was I so uncomfortable with this idea? Aren’t suffering, brokenness, and sin part of being human after the fall? Aren’t we all supposed to accept suffering and carry our crosses? Was it selfish to ask God to take those things away?

I realize that I equate being wounded with undergoing suffering, when they are not the same thing. We train ourselves to accept suffering. It is right to accept what God gives us, unite our suffering with his, and trust Him even in the midst of it. However, this becomes problematic when we accept wounds as the end of the story. When we accept wounds as our identity we resign ourselves to also carry around those wounds and hurts forever. 

I had resigned myself to a life of spiritual, emotional, and even physical hurts. I had past experiences that had never been dealt with, relationships that had hurt me, and even ways that I needed to be healthy physically. But I’d just accepted that this was the way things were. It’s like having a broken leg and never going to the doctor, accepting that I’ll be hobbling around in terrible pain the rest of my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll find something to numb the pain. 

I have very rarely asked Christ for healing. Even at my most desperate moments, my prayer was for strength. For just enough endurance or holiness or comfort to last me the next day. For some reason, I didn’t think it was an option. Of the spiritual wounds that I realized I had during the retreat, the biggest one was a huge lie – the original lie told in the Garden of Eden. That God doesn’t want the best for you, that He’s holding out on you. That He’s got a “plan” for you but it’s not as good as His plan for everyone else.

 I pictured Jesus during his earthly life as he walked around healing people, and I saw myself sitting in the background, needing to be healed, but being completely forgotten or dismissed by him. I realized that I had this false idea of Jesus in my head, so I started asking Christ to show me who he is. Immediately I saw that Christ has been trying so hard to tell me who he is. Lately I had felt him tugging and pulling me to spend a few minutes reading Scripture, stop in the adoration chapel, or sing in the car on the way to work. I was almost afraid to acknowledge him because his love is so unlike anything else I know.

Christ chases me, desperately wanting me to draw close and see him for who he really is. To show me his heart, his great love for me, and his desire for my fullness and healing and abundant life. Jesus is healer. He sees every broken part of me and wants to heal that. Christ LONGS to heal us. He is good. He doesn’t want us to live a second rate life. There is NO area in our lives where he does not desire to heal. Nothing is exempt.

In this season of the Church, we celebrate God becoming man. And healing is an essential part of why he became man in the first place:

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who "loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins": "the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world", and "he was revealed to take away sins”:

Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?
— CCC 475, St. Gregory of Nyssa

 “The Word became flesh to make us partakers of the divine nature: ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’ ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’" (CCC 460, quotes of Saint Irrenaus and Saint Athanatius)

In the Gospels, Jesus was constantly healing. People would cry out to him, touch his clothes, and be lowered through roof tops. People would come to him begging for him to heal others. Jesus often commented on their great faith, such as the friends of the cripple (Luke 5: 17 – 26) and the centurion (Luke 7: 1 – 10). There’s something beautiful in how desperately they believed in his power to heal. The woman with a hemorrhage grabbed his cloak because she knew he would heal her. (Luke 8: 43 – 48.) Jesus was moved with pity and walked among them. He wanted to be close to them, and wanted them to run to him for healing. Christ made it clear that he was not simply a wonder worker, but that physical healing was a sign of his power to forgive sins, restore us, and make us like him. 

Why don’t we ask him as those people did? Why aren’t we desperately reaching for him? Instead we often sit back and think, “Accepting suffering is part of being a Christian. So I need to accept that I will never be healed.” This is a lie, one that is too common among Catholics. We are human and we still live in a fallen world, so not everything is going to be magically restored now. That’s why we long so much for heaven and for the return of Christ. But he wants that redemption to start now. Christ wants us to be fully ourselves, abundantly alive, whole and restored, bursting with life and mercy and beauty and goodness and joy. Have we asked for that? Do we ask for the healing he wants to give us?

Sometimes I don’t even know if I want healing. I’m so comfortable in some of these hurts that I’m afraid of not having them to hide behind anymore. It’s easier to numb myself with Netflix, constant music, activity, alcohol, and the sound of my own voice. To look at each my faults and wounds closely has been so daunting for me. 

One of the first steps towards healing is to let someone into this area. Often the areas we need the most healing in are the ones we can’t talk about - whether from our own sin, the hurts others have inflicted on us, or circumstances out of our control. Enlisting a friend, spiritual director, counselor, or even in some cases a doctor is essential. If you’ve been stuck with the same wound, addiction, or illness for years, it might be time to do something completely different than what you’ve done before and tell someone who will actually help you move forward. Otherwise the task can be too daunting. 

Another step is letting our Lord be healer. We are not the healer. We don’t have to do it on our own. He has already set up channels for us to receive his mercy and healing. The Sacraments of Healing (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick) are called that for a reason. Talk to your pastor or spiritual director about Anointing of the Sick. It can be very powerful, and can be used whenever there is a type of illness or injury, not only at death’s door. In the Eucharist, we are healed of our venial sins, and allow Christ’s healing to be poured into all areas of our lives. There’s also prayers of healing where we allow the Holy Spirit to work. Try praying for and with other people.

Healing doesn’t simply happen over the course of one day. But by the end of my retreat day, I was convinced that I needed it. I had a list of areas that needed it. I had some ideas through spiritual direction of how to go about healing. The most important thing I did that day was simply sitting with Christ in Adoration and him showing himself as my Healer. The prayer I have been praying every day since then are the words we say during the Sacrifice of the Mass, based on the words of the faithful centurion:

“Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

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Sarah Kuenzi lives in the great state of Oregon, where she works at a Catholic youth retreat center. She loves making wine, drinking wine, outdoor adventures, playing the piano, and hanging out with her crazy farming family. If you love Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, you’ll be friends right away.  Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @ kuenzinator

Sarah Kuenzi

SARAH KUENZI IS A CAMPUS MINISTER IN TOLEDO, OHIO. SHE LIKES LONG WALKS IN THE GRASS AND HAS A LAUGH THAT CAN REACH ACROSS THE ATLANTIC. HER CLOSEST FRIEND IS THE CATECHISM AND SHE LOVES A GOOD BEER. SHE HAS AN UNPRECEDENTED KNOWLEDGE OF ALL THINGS STAR WARS AND J.R.R. TOLKIEN AND WOULD LOVE TO TELL YOU ALL HER THEORIES OVER A BEER, OR TWO, OR THREE.