St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic, I admire the witness of the saints.
From a theological and cerebral perspective, Ignatius makes sense. To a person undergoing trials, however, his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now when compared to a low point in my life.
I have found it interesting that in the past few months, while I have been writing, my more engaging articles relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Vulnerability acts as a better shield than an armor of “strong” pride.
Suffering is Universal
J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work, The Lord of the Rings, some of which made it to the hit films. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic Hobbit, Frodo, and the wizard, Gandalf:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words, I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence. Is that true of yourself? Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.
Life’s Path is Often Unexpected
Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face. Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe writing on personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.
Sometimes quotations from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we can life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!
Honesty is the best policy
To continue the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. The reason for this is due largely to their candor and admittance of their limitations. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.
In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!
Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle
My battle against personal vices (anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc) is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles. In the third tale,The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil of the ring tempts him:
Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing—no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.
Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!
The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need.
It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ — making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend — that true fellowship happens. Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure, the fellowship around me is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.