As you might imagine, I talk to a lot of people who have problems. Just this week I visited a patient at Saint Clare hospital who was very despondent about her poor health and her strained relationship with her family. She wasn’t angry at God but she couldn’t understand why he had “abandoned” her.
I also spoke with a lady this week who was out of work. She had had a good job but now she’s basically homeless, hoping that she might be able to move in with friends. She is mad at God.
These are a couple of extreme examples, but we all have personal problems from time to time. Some problems are worse than others. And we all react in different ways. In our second reading today, Saint Paul writes to Timothy and gives him, and us, some pretty good advice on handling problems. “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
I suppose you’ve heard the old saying, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” And we all know that “God never gives us more than we can handle.” That’s what Paul wrote to Timothy and it’s what I said to the two ladies I spoke to this week. But, when you’re in constant pain, or your family seems to hate you, or if you’re out of work with no place to go, words don’t always give you the comfort you need. Even Jesus asked His Father why He’d forsaken Him as He hung on the cross.
In fact, in today’s Gospel we hear God the Father speak of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.” Hopefully we do listen to Him and hopefully we also pay attention to what He didn’t say. Here’s what He didn’t say. He didn’t say that this life would be easy. He didn’t say that we’d never be sick. He didn’t say that everyone would always treat us well, even though He did tell us to treat others well. Like the song says, “He never promised us a rose garden.” In fact, He told us that to get to heaven we’d have to take up our cross and follow Him.
And so we do. But deep down we hope that He won’t ask too much of us. We all do it. I can suffer a little bit, but please God, don’t make me suffer too much. Please God, let me win the lottery. Please God, find me a job. Give me patience, Lord. Do it now! I’ll carry my cross, Lord, but could you please make it one of those balsa wood ones. Give the really heavy one to someone else.
But, what did Paul say? He said “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Aha! There it is! Don’t ask God to take away the hardship. Ask Him to give you strength. Or better yet, ask Him to help you get strong. There is a difference.
I’m a bicyclist. I enjoy riding but this has been a pretty rough winter. I didn’t ride nearly as much as I would have liked to and frankly, I hate riding a stationary bike. So, I’ve gotten a little soft. Where I was riding thirty to forty miles at a time last fall, now I’m struggling to ride twenty. I know I’m not going to jump from twenty miles to forty miles overnight. I’ll go from twenty to twenty-two. Then I’ll go from twenty-two to twenty-five. Slowly but surely, I’ll be back to riding long distances again.
I could get down on my knees and ask God to give me the strength to ride forty miles and then sit back and wait for it to happen. Maybe what I should do is to ride a little more each day until He gives me the strength I need. If I ride two or three times a week, it should take Him about a month to answer my prayer.
My point is that God does give us what we need but He doesn’t always give us what we want. Sometimes we have to do our part. We may have to do some work. We’re having stations of the cross here on Friday mornings at 11:00 during Lent. I’d love to see more people come. But I have to be honest with you. Coming once, or even coming for the rest of the Fridays of Lent isn’t going to get you into heaven. What it will do is strengthen your “spiritual muscles”. Like me riding my bike an extra two or three miles each time I ride to build up my endurance, regular, faithful devotions, no matter what form they take, build up your spiritual endurance.
We Catholics are fortunate to have so many different kinds of devotions. Whether it’s stations, or the rosary, or a daily devotion to a particular saint, each of them makes us spiritually stronger. And it’s that strength, that originates in our faith in God, that allows us to keep on going, even when the times are tough.
Remember, God exists outside of time. He doesn’t make things happen but He knows what’s going to happen. He knew what His Son was about to go through, just as surely as we know it. It was with that knowledge that He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was glorified through His suffering just as you and I are glorified in ours.
So, as we continue with our Lenten observance, maybe it would be a good idea to spend a few minutes every day considering just what we should pray for. Instead of praying for that balsa wood cross, maybe we should pray for the strength to carry whatever cross we have to bear. Remember that often our cross is of our own making. By living our lives according to the Gospel, maybe, just maybe, we can lighten our own cross; maybe even avoid it altogether.