When I Say I Understand Your Pain…


When I say I understand your pain…

I’m not saying that our pains are the same.

I’m not saying that your pain is less than mine.

I’m not trying to one-up or compare myself to you.

I’m not trying to be condescending or pitying.

What I *am* doing is trying to give you what I really, really wish people would give to me, and that’s love. I don’t want people to say they exactly understand my exact pain, but I want to hear that I’m not alone in being in pain. I want to know I’m not the only one who’s vulnerable and scared, not the only one who knows what it’s like to beg God for death and yet beg Him to let you live, that I’m not totally lost in the dark of suffering. I want to know that I’m still lovable and connectable even when I feel totally dark and scared and hurt.

Pain is isolating, precisely because it’s so unique to its victims. And that isolation can sometimes drive people to do awful things, so I try to not be alone with it by trying to make sure nobody else is alone in it. And ultimately, I want to point people to the one person who can understand exactly what pain we’re in, because He knows everything about us. Thankfully, He also understands what it means to suffer. I understand the state of pain, but Christ understands the exact particulars. So I’m not saying I’m just like you. I’m saying He’s just like us.

A lot of people think of the words “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24) as a scary abstraction. They find the idea of a cross terrifying, because crosses are rightly seen as instruments of torture and despair. Even Christ begged to be let out of His passion! Crosses are scary, and following Jesus means more than even just a crucifixion. It means being crucified even after intense suffering, like the icing on a particular awful cake. It means carrying a cross on a back that’s been torn apart by whips, with bruised knees and a broken nose and absolute exhaustion in body and soul, and then STILL being killed on it. Crosses seem so hopeless. But they still have a small hope in them, that after the way of the cross ends, there’s always a resurrection. We’re not called to not be afraid of our crosses, especially those of us whose crosses are more literal, because crosses will always be terrifying. We’re called to have hope, even in the middle of that fear, that the cross is what’s going to get us to heaven. It’s a scary road, but it’s the only one we can follow if we ever want to be happy.

I don’t want to understand your pain. I don’t want you to really understand mine. I want all of us to understand His, because He’s the only one who understands ours. And, if we can understand His, we understand that all pain eventually leads us to somewhere painless, if we follow Him on that road. My love is imperfect, and selfish, and weak. His is not. But if my pitiful love can get someone, anyone, to understand His a little better, then it isn’t totally useless.

I have a lot of thoughts about suffering, and those thoughts shouldn’t be discounted merely because I haven’t felt literally every kind of suffering the world has to offer. But my own experiences do give me the ability to speak about pain in general, and especially about the One who makes all pain worthwhile. No, I cannot claim to know exactly what you’re feeling or why, but I can offer to share what little hope I’ve found on my way of the cross. That’s what I’m saying.

(Note: This is going to be the first in a series in which I respond to three things I hear a lot. The first is that I can’t say I understand other people’s pain, the second is that I’m too happy to really be hurt, and the third is that people think they can’t talk about their problems around me because mine are so big. These all require answers so that I don’t hurt anyone, and nobody hurts me. So keep your eyes open for more!) 

Love to all!


The Man Who Taught Me To Pray

“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” -St. Theresa of Avila 

This is Bill.

He wears green in front of green things.

Bill was my youth minister for Life Teen all through High School. Bill is the stepfather of one of my best friends. Bill is the husband of the lovely lady who makes the best macaroni and cheese in creation. Bill drives a big truck, he can’t really sing (though he tries) and he always commands absolute respect by his mere presence in a room, though he never acts pompous or mean about his role as leader. He’s well-loved by just about everyone in the entire world. He’s a pretty awesome guy.

But the best thing about Bill is that Bill is also the person who taught me how to pray, without ever even meaning to.

I already knew what to pray, of course. I knew the basics, how to say a Hail Mary, how to ask God for what I wanted as my family sat together during morning and night prayers. To me, that was prayer- the scheduled, formalized, and phrases that I oft-repeated until they became almost meaningless, sure that that was how one talked to God. At Life Teen, all prayers followed a pretty regular outline of Hail Marys and St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle-s. Sometimes, someone would ask for a particular intention, and everyone would nod and say “amen,” and maybe shake the person’s hand afterward and promise their continued prayers. In that comfortable state of spiritual complacency, I felt that my prayer life was solid and didn’t need to improve any more at all.

Then came the Virtuous Reality Life Teen in March of 2012. I wrote an overview of it then, but the whole learning to pray bit was at the very end of the retreat, in the last two hours, so I really didn’t mention it. When we left the retreat center, I ended up in the truck with Bill and a few others. Since retreats are exhausting, the other teens pretty quickly fell asleep in the back. I had my headphones in and was dozing in the front seat when, in the space between two songs, I heard Bill quietly talking. I turned down the music, and heard him having a conversation. He spoke chattily, like he was just talking with an old friend. It was only when I heard him thanking the person for a green light that I realized he was praying- but praying like I had never heard anyone pray before. He spoke to God like he knew Him; not with bored familiarity, but with joy and security in the presence of the Other. He thanked God for even the tiny things around him, like the view, and for the success of the retreat. He was talking like there was nobody in the world besides Bill and God.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that:

Your God is ever beside you—indeed, He is even within you. “In Him we live, and move, and are.” (Acts 17:28). Not only is there no need of an intermediary through whom He would want you to speak to Him, but He finds His delight in having you treat with Him personally and in all confidence. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears—of everything that concerns you. But above all, converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”

Since that day, that quote has always reminded me of Bill, and every time I read it (and, since it’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my patron saints, I read it a lot) I say a quick thank you to God for blessing me with this incredible role model. I pray like he does, now, too, and gosh does it ever make a difference in life to not feel like you have to say thees and thous in order to make God hear you. God loves us and is interested in us, and so it should be the most natural thing in the world to just talk to Him like a friend. I can talk to God in the good times and the bad times and the bored in-between times, and He’s always as new and interesting and involved as the very first time we talked. That’s the cool thing about having an infinite God. He’s infinitely interesting and eternally available.

Bill had to move to another parish recently, and so I probably won’t be seeing him very often at all. But, on the off chance he ever reads this, I thought he and the world should know that he completely revolutionized my prayer life, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. Also, I owe him some peanut butter cookies, so there’s that.

Love to all!