Constance talks about her personal experience with grief as a mother, and how God used her suffering to something fruitful for others. Her heartwarming story shows sometimes even if we don’t understand our pain, we must keep on trusting in God as He always has the best plans for us.
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Printable Study Guide PDF
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“One should fear nothing, but trust in the Lord. Let us leave all to the good God. He will draw us out of our difficulties if it is his will.”Saint Julie Billiart
- How does God ask you to live the cross in your life? What are the heaviest crosses in your life?
- It is often in times of suffering and sorrow that God brings us healing and transforms us. It is in times of suffering that we walk deeper into holiness with God. Have you experienced a deepening of your faith during times of suffering?
- Is God calling you somewhere unexpected due to the difficulties in your life? If so, why is it unexpected?
- Are you suffering in silence due to a particular difficulty in your life? Challenge yourself during this Advent season to be open and vulnerable about your suffering. It could be an opportunity to help others who feel alone and to build a community of support.
- Just as the crucifixion and resurrection transformed sin, the cross is also transformative in our lives. Have you experienced any kind of transformation or increased closeness to God through times of difficulty and suffering?
- Do you recognize the gifts that God has given you in your life? Just for today can you accept your burdens as being a natural part of life?
Text: The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings
Hello, and welcome to our talk on the strange ways that God heals our sufferings. Before we begin our talk, let us begin in prayer.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of this advent retreat, and we ask that You may deepen our understanding of You and the great mystery surrounding this season and our faith, and You may help us to walk firmly with You, including carrying our cross into Golgotha, where You were crucified. We also ask that our Heavenly Mother will walk beside us, nurture, comfort, and strengthen us on the journey and that she may intercede for us always as we pray.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Suffering to Holiness
In today’s talk, we’re going to take a closer look at the strange paradox that is the cross, and how God asks us to live the cross in our own lives. And in fact, it is often in times of suffering and sorrow that God brings us healing and transforms us. It is in times of suffering that we seem to walk deeper and deeper into holiness, which is one of the paradoxical aspects of being Catholic. In fact, the greatest paradox of all is the cross. Nobody expects that it will be death which will transform and give us life through the resurrection. It doesn’t seem that death will conquer sin and death itself, and yet that is precisely how our Lord redeems and sanctifies us. So, we’re going to talk about the cross in a practical way today. I’m going to share a little bit of my own experiences in living paradox, and how I have come to understand in a deeper way how our Lord uses the cross to strengthen and help me come closer to Him, especially in periods of intense sorrow and agony.
A Difficult Time
I’ve really come to understand more about the cross, and how our Lord transforms me through suffering in some of my recent experiences. A couple of months ago, I lost my fourth child in miscarriage, and it was deeply painful and agonizing. All of my miscarriages have been. But this one was very difficult for my husband and I because we were able to see a heartbeat twice, we had an ultrasound picture of our child, and yet he died, or we discovered that he had died on August 8th, which is the Feast of St. Dominic. And since we discovered his death on the Dominican feast day, we named him Andrew Thomas for St. Thomas Aquinas, who is one of my personal heroes.
That miscarriage was deeply difficult for my husband and I. It’s still something that we’re working through and grieving. And at the time, I was very angry, confused, and frustrated. I didn’t understand what God was doing with me. I wanted to know why we were suffering so much, and I wanted to know why I had lost so many children. I have one amazing, beautiful daughter, but for whatever reason I have not been able to give her a sibling. And it’s been very difficult for us. We’ve walked a painful road in our marriage of grief, and… Well, we know that my miscarriages are caused from hormone deficiencies. They don’t seem tube treatable at this time. So it’s been very difficult for us.
And it turned out that, with this grief, God called me somewhere very unexpected. He called me to an even more active role in 40 Days for Life and the pro-life movement. I’ve been active in the pro-life moment here in my area for about 6 years. I started praying with 40 Days for Life when I was pregnant with my daughter. And so we’ve been going out regularly, at least a couple of times, a campaign to pray at Planned Parenthood here. Well, this time, excuse me, this time I went out, and I was there the very first day, and I ended up spending the first week, about 5 hours, praying at Planned Parenthood, which seemed odd to me because in the past when I lost my babies I needed to take a step back because I needed time to grieve and time to heal physically from my miscarriages. But this time I felt like God was calling me to be a regular presence every week, multiple times a week, at our local Planned Parenthood, and so I have spent 4-5 hours every week praying at Planned Parenthood and did so throughout the entire fall campaign.
Sharing My Own Grief
This seems confusing for a mother who is grieving to be praying at Planned Parenthood, where mothers are choosing to go in and murder their own children. And even for me, I remember the first Saturday I was out after I lost Andrew, thinking it was very strange, confusing, and I didn’t understand what was going on. These women were walking in Saturday, a surgical abortion day here, and these women were going in to intentionally end their child’s life, and I was grieving the loss of a child I deeply loved and wanted, and the other 3 that I’ve lost as well.
While I was there, not only was I called to grieve for these babies who were being killed and the mothers and fathers in their lost parenthood, God called me to share my own grief, to be completely open and vulnerable. And so I made a sign that said “I know the agony of lost motherhood, because I’ve had 4 miscarriages.” And then I put the local crisis pregnancy center phone number on it. So I stood essentially bare, holding my own agony and suffering there at an abortion clinic, where babies were being murdered, and I was trying to help the mothers and fathers avoid the tremendous pain and loss of killing your own child.
And at first, it really didn’t make much sense to me – I was crying, I was having a difficult time – but I realized while I was there that first Saturday, and then in subsequent days, that God was calling me deeper into the cross. And Planned Parenthood is a place of the cross. It is where children are being killed, and so it is where our Lord is very present in the world. And so He was calling me to unite my own grief, my own suffering and pain with the suffering and pain going on inside.
Suffering to Aid and to Serve
And so I started to realize that God wanted to use my suffering to aid and to serve in the suffering that was occurring because I’m a mom who understood and understands what motherhood truly means. I have a daughter and I have 4 children in heaven, and I understand the tremendous love and the gift that is motherhood. And I understand it the way these mothers and fathers who are going in do not. And so I’m there as a witness, not only to try and help prevent them, but also because I can grieve for them, and I can grieve for their children because a lot of times these people come out and have no idea or do not grasp what they have done. They see it as no big deal, and that they will be fine, but years down the line that may change dramatically. And because we know that a person can’t really fully live and is dead in a certain sense when they commit such a heinous crime.
And so I’m there to unite my suffering to the cross, but also to enter deeper into the suffering that’s occurring there and uniting that together. And of course this is paradoxical. It doesn’t fully make sense. It’s not logical for a mother who’s grieving to be at an abortion clinic, and yet it is precisely where God has called me. And really this is because the cross is an essential aspect of the Christian life. It is not something that we can avoid. Every single person will experience some type of suffering and sorrow in their lifetime, and all of us will die. And so suffering is an integral part of living. And there will be times when we will be sick, there will be times when we’ll lose loved ones, lose jobs, and there’s violence all over the world, poverty all over the world. And so suffering is still a major part of the human experience, even though the world has been sanctified and renewed through the Paschal Mystery.
Embracing Our Suffering
And so as Christians, we have to learn to embrace periods of suffering, which is deeply difficult. It’s not something that is easy for any of us, because when that suffering happens, we want to know why. I know when I’ve lost my children, my first question is “Why?” And it’s not just a normal “Why?” it’s a “Why?” from the very depths of my being. It’s an agonizing “Why?” But, once we get through that initial agony, the initial shock, whether it’s loss, illness, or some other type of pain, then God slowly starts to guide us through that pain and suffering, and to transform us through it, because we understand as Catholics that the resurrection comes after the cross. And so we have to walk our path, carry our cross, and follow our Lord. And He walks with us and He strengthens us, but it is difficult.
The cross is transformative, and we notice small things in our own lives. And so, in my experience in my time praying regularly at Planned Parenthood, not only was I able to offer up my suffering for the suffering occurring inside, but I met a lot of people in the 40 Days for Life campaign who had experienced similar pain or loss. I met women who were struggling with infertility, I met families who had lost multiple children in miscarriage. And these are people who largely suffered in silence, and so they needed somebody else to share their pain openly so they too could share their pain and suffering. And that’s another aspect of living our suffering and embracing it and walking the cross, is then we’re able to unite in deeper communion with the people around us. We are able to come closer to them, to help them. Because a lot of times, we keep our suffering to ourselves and we suffer in silence, and there are other people around us who need to know they’re not alone. And we can only let those people know they’re not alone by being open and vulnerable about our own suffering.
Transforming Others Through Suffering
So, in our Lord calling me to openly share my sorrow and my pain, I was able to also minister to people within the movement, and continue to do so. And I’ve made great friendships with women and men who have also experienced the pain of the loss of child, or more than one child, and I was also able to meet with a young mother who was 20 weeks pregnant and considering an abortion. In my state, you can get an abortion up to 26 weeks, so it was a very difficult and painful situation, and she needed people to be there for her. And even though it was very difficult for me – I still don’t fully understand it, because our due dates were 2 days apart, and so I didn’t fully understand why God called me to minister to this woman, because it was hard for me, discussing ultrasounds, and due dates, and names, because I would have been doing the same thing had I not lost my son. But God’s ways are not our own, and I don’t fully understand what He was doing with me, or what He’s trying to achieve, but in some small way I was able to minister in that woman, and she chose thankfully not to kill her son. She knew she was having a boy, she was 20 weeks.
So, even though it doesn’t make sense at the time, if we’re willing to enter into our suffering, God is going to transform us and the people around us through our suffering. But we have to have the courage and strength to do that, and it only comes from Christ. We have to pray constantly for Him to give us the fortitude to continue walking on the journey, to continue going deeper into the great mystery of suffering, and trusting that good will come of it. That God will transform the pain and evil into something amazing that is for Him. And that we ourselves will be strengthened and deepened on the journey to holiness. Because the meaning of our lives is to grow in deeper communion with the most Holy Trinity, and also to be saints. So, through suffering, we’re able to become closer to our Lord because He knows suffering through the crucifixion and through His time here on earth. He saw tremendous suffering from people all over, and He tried to and wanted to bring healing and strength to everyone, but He asks us to choose to follow Him. And He can’t do all of it for us. We have to be willing to choose to follow Him. And even into periods of great sorrow and suffering.
And a lot of time when we’re in those times of suffering, we just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep saying “Okay Lord, I will go wherever you want me to go. I don’t know what you want of me, I’m scared, I can’t see the path ahead, but I trust you Lord, and I will just continue to place one foot in front of the other.” And then we are able to grow in holiness and understanding. And in the end, we’re not going to have all of the answers. I’ll never understand fully why I’ve lost 4 children, except once I have died and, Lord willing, have gone to heaven, and then the answers won’t matter as much, because God’s grand plan is going to reveal that His way has brought about some good that I can’t fully understand, because He’s God and I’m not.
And so we must be willing to enter into the strange ways that God asks us to be healed. We don’t have to understand them, we just have to trust Him and hope and pray that we will make it through and persevere to the end by His grace. And He is always walking with us as He transforms us by the power of our suffering. Thank you very much for joining me today. May you have a very blessed advent.
About Constance T. Hull
Constance T. Hull is a freelance writer, graduate student theologian, homeschooling mom, and active member of pro-life and miscarriage ministry. She has been published by Catholic Exchange, The Federalist, and Public Discourse. She has also been a guest on Teresa Tomeo’s and Al Kresta’s radio programs. She is passionate about all things Catholic.