Because Sorrow Enriches Us

More than once, I’ve had my heart shattered. In my late teens, my first love left me without warning. In my late twenties, I lost my former college boyfriend to a drug overdose. In my late thirties, I nearly lost my beloved husband to a terror attack. Since then, until most recently, I have been haunted by a recurring dream that my wonderful, loyal Greg would not marry me, despite the life we’ve built together. The shock of nearly losing my husband has echoed in my heart. Only now, in my late forties, do I realize that the sorrows I’ve carried have woven themselves into the tapestry that is me. A recent encounter with my teen-aged self taught me that my sorrow has been a helpful companion.

Earlier this year,  I received a phone call from my high school boyfriend. His mother, with whom I had been extraordinarily close for most of my adult life, had died after a series of illnesses. She and I had been out of touch only the past five years. Her son, with whom I had not spoken in at least 20 years, asked if Greg and I could please attend her memorial service. And so we did, to honor both her life and his request. This high school relationship had not ended well. I don’t think many of them do. He hurt me; I never said a word to him about my sorrow. In fact, I had not spoken to him at all. I could not reconcile his behavior with the young man I thought he was, and so I determined to believe, in my self-righteous anger, that he simply was a person who lacked substance. Instead of embracing my sorrow,  I let it become a bitter knot in my heart that did not untie for several years.

When Greg and I went to the memorial service of this man’s mother, I realized how very wrong I had been to demonize a then-adolescent boy years ago because of the clumsy way he ended our relationship. He stood before us, a grown man, happy in many years of married love. We could see that he is a wonderful father to his children. We learned from the eulogies that during his mother’s illnesses, the son had spent days and days tending to her even though she lived more than an hour away. We learned that he works hard and is in the midst of a successful career. In short, he had grown into the kind of man I had determined he never would be. I felt such sorrow over the harsh judgment I had made in my youth. You see, I have learned that if I do not surrender to sorrow, it will bend into bitter anger.

As I matured through college and my twenties, I handled subsequent losses much differently. I stopped trying to step over them. I embraced sorrow as best I could. And the knot in my heart untied and I again had an open heart. And so in 2001, when Greg nearly died in the World Trade Center attacks, and we had to cope with the loss of so many dear friends and colleagues, I understood that this was something we needed to get through and not “get over,” as some were advising us.

For thousands of years, people have reflected on the benefits of sorrow. The Hebrew Bible’s Ecclesiastes, which some attribute to King Solomon, tell us:  ”It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because when the face is sad the heart grows wiser. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” We need not fear suffering; they align us with the sufferings of Christ. The Holy Spirit can be our companion in our distress, if we allow ourselves to feel its presence.

The benefits of sorrow are not accidental. God designed our hearts so that when we are able to surrender to sorrow, we become better able to see the face of Christ in the sorrows of  neighbors.

St. Paul spoke to the Christians in Corinth about sorrow. He is speaking to us now. We sorrow “so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02064673794877417232 Sarah Harkins

    Great reflection, Allison. Why is that the world's reaction to sorrow is that it makes us stronger, but in a more independent, hardened of heart way? I find myself falling into the lies that the only way to overcome past hurts is to toughen up and build walls. I hope one day I can learn to better embrace sorrows as you have done.

  • Webster Bull

    Beautiful, Allison. I think there's a gender issue with sorrow, at least today–though probably not in the time of Ecclesiastes or St. Paul, when it was OK for a man to rend his garments! Women experience sorrow and allow themselves sometimes to show it. Men experience sorrow and mask it more often than not, so that it comes out in anger or depression or substance abuse, or all of the above. By the same token, I understand that you masked your own sorrow for many years and are coming to terms with it more recently. And Sarah confesses the same in her comment. So….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    We all are a work in progress. Once I got over trying to disprove Catholicism, I began to realize rapidly how wonderful the Sacraments are in sustaining us through the journey. Sarah's comment is dead-on regarding the conventional wisdom of the world. "Just toughen up and stand on your own." Or "me and Thee Lord, just me and Thee." But the Sacraments are altogether more humane and understanding of our needs as fallen human beings. Instituted by Our Lord, the Sacraments clean us (Baptism,Reconciliation), feed us (Eucharist), heal our souls (Anointing of the sick), breath new life into us (Confirmation), allow us to become partners in creation(Marriage) and lead us(Holy Orders)along The Way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031127190630487584 Abbey

    I certainly have some things to rethink. Perhaps I will mend some very old emotional wounds by being more realistic about those involved. Maturity has its advantages, for sure!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    In sorrow and suffering, go straight to God with confidence, and you will be strengthened, enlightened and instructed.~John of the Cross@Abbey: This was on your blog yesterday. I do believe our years give us advantages, if we allow God to work through us and with us. They give us the gift of perspective, and through that, we can begin to forgive.

  • http://www.aberfamilyblog.blogspot.com Michelle

    Thank you for sharing Allison. So many things you said are close to my heart – especially sorrow vs. bitterness. My mother had a very rough life, but she never talked about it so we don't know what was rough and can only speculate. We DO know that she had a very bitter heart and sadly died with a bitter heart when I was 12. It's a hard lesson for a 12 year old to learn!! But I learned very, very early in that suffering that the Lord would use the situation for good. Not a year later a man my father worked with lost his wife and I was able to reach out to his little girl. I'm SO thankful that the Lord provided with me a picture of what bitterness leads to so that I could see how suffering can be used in beautiful ways. Like Isaiah says, He will turn our ashes to beauty. I've been able to genuinely reach out to people in the same situation throughout my life, and it makes my suffering worthwhile.An influential book in my life is "Hinds Feet on High Places" – kind of a modern day Pilgrim's Progress. Little Much-Afraid is being lead to the Mountains of Love (the High Places) by the Great Shepherd. Her travel companions are Suffering and Sorrow, and Much-Afraid is constantly frightened of them. But once she overcomes the trials of the lower lands and finally makes it to the high places where she is transformed into Grace-and-Glory, she finds her companions are also transformed in Joy and Peace. I have always tried to view my suffering and sorrow in that light – that, when allowed to be used by the Lord, suffering and sorrow become joy and peace. Amen! :) p.s. and if anyone has been wondering, my baby hasn't come yet! 40 weeks this week, so any day!!

  • http://www.aberfamilyblog.blogspot.com Michelle

    I have to say, also, that I know it wasn't my own knowledge or wisdom that led me, at so young, to be able to cope with suffering. I truly believe it was a grace from the the Lord to spare me from bitterness and anger. During trials and tribulations it is something I actively have to pray against because I know I could just as easily become embittered like my own mother, for I am very much like she is. My brother once said that I am "everything she could have been." Praise be to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Wow Michelle – that book sounds wonderful.As for your "late" baby; both our boys were a week late and huge and then I was induced. All was well. She will arrive when she is good and ready!

  • http://www.aberfamilyblog.blogspot.com Michelle

    The book IS wonderful. Not Catholic, though, not that it necessarily matters. Every season of spiritual life is so accurately illustrated in it. I highly recommend it! I read it once a year for about 7 years. The author is Hannah Hurnard, in case you wanted to know.I hear that first time mothers are typically 4-10 days "late". She's a little one though. My midwife thinks somewhere between 5.10 and 6.2 at this point :) We're just so excited to have her here that it's hard to wait!!! I'm painting in the meantime… :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    I think those due dates are just guesswork. Our boys were 9 pounds 6 and 9 pounds 13, respectively. Ouch! But more than worth the pain of childbirth.

  • http://www.hrturnkeyservices.co.nz Michael

    As a non RC and while web browsing I read this post and followed up on Hannah Hurnard as mentioned by Michelle: I am very, very happy to find some support of my belief – strenuously opposed by my Charismatic friends – that there is no such thing as "Eternal Damnation" – I always say that if I could forgive those who are ignorant of Jesus, how much more could He forgive them – as confirmed in Lk 15:4. To this I would add Jn 10:16(KJV)As for dealing with sorrow or difficult situations I would also recommend "The Power of Flow" by Charlene Flow & Meg Lundstrom, as well as "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle. I say "also recommend" because I believe that this secular knowledge can be greatly assisted through prayer – specifically the Rosary to Our Lady and the "Rosary of Liberation", which is a Jesus Prayer on the Rosary (Jn. 8:36)-Raboni Editoria LTDA (English Version) Regards and blessings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Michael, thanks for reading the post. Are you referring to something Hannah Hurnard wrote? We didn't want to give you the impression that Catholic Christians don't believe in Hell. Take a look at the Apostles Creed.

  • cathyf

    I had a pretty rough winter this year, with illness, exhaustion and depression. This basically lifted in February, and then 2 of my friends died in March. They were just the latest, though — since August I have lost 8 people close to me. So I found myself moving from numbness to grief.And you know, grief is better…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02064673794877417232 Sarah Harkins

    Michelle,Your story is so uplifting and hopeful. Thank you for sharing! And many blessings to you as you await that baby! I too was ten days late with both mine. It was especially hard to wait for the first one, and I was starting to get envious of the short gestation time of every other creature, but just think, that's like 70 less diapers to change!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    @cathyf: I will keep you in my prayers. "To everything there is a season." God is with you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05527657294925014026 Michelle

    @ Sarah – haha, 70 less diapers. Yes! Thanks for that uplift! :) @ Frank – I don't know everything that Hannah Hurnard believes/d or preaches/d, but I do recall someone telling me she believed that one could reach perfection on earth – which might eliminate the need for eternal damnation? I'm not sure, though. I personally don't see it in the book I recommended, and DO believe there is eternal damnation. But I do think Hannah has some more controversial believes regarding that. Apologiies to Michael if I led him astray – my love for the book is solely for her allegorical depiction of the Christian journey.

  • http://www.hrturnkeyservices.co.nz Michael

    @ Frank – Hannah Hurnard believes, as do I, that while there is a Hell, damnation is not eternal. There has been a lot of debate around the concept of Hell and eternal damnation as there has been about God as a just God, but also God as a God of Love. What it boils down to is that Hell is a state of temporary purification for sinners who either did not know Jesus or those who did not have the wisdom and understanding to ask Him into their life. According to the Bible verses quoted in the earlier post (H.H. and mine), Jesus Himself will go after the lost sheep. He will not let His Father's creation suffer in eternity because they either did not know Him or because in their life they did not care. He has died for all of us and did not make a distinction in terms of religious purity or creed. Any argument in contradiction of this is simply a misrepresentation or misinterpretation of God as Love – in a very Machiavellian way.The concept of Eternal Damnation, in my opinion, has just been the most welcomed tool by some dogmatic Christians for manipulating unbelievers into a state of fear and instead of teaching about a loving god, they are threatened with Hell and eternal damnation if they don't conform!It is as if certain biblical passages are the most beloved quotes of some Christians who seemingly wish, with religious fervour, to see any imperfect person land in Hell forever, rather than being redeemed by a loving God.Such Christians, in my opinion, seem to argue that God, our Creator and loving Father, will send a child of His, who has been naughty in their life – which, in terms of time, is just a blip on eternity, into eternal damnation, rather than knowing, as any parent does, some children in their ignorance need extra loving before they turn to their Father again. Proponents of eternal damnation argue like the Pharisees: Because we seek righteousness and because we have accepted Jesus into our life, we are OK – and not like those who have not done likewise…like those "tax collectors".Hannah Hurnard's thoughts, and she is much, much more erudite on this topic than I am, echoed my thoughts. I see the psychology of some Christians, who, having lived for the law and having done all the "works" and thus think that they have the “right” to go to Heaven, are outraged that others who have not complied with scripture and verse, should go scot-free. It is as if they would quote Scripture to God… the law says "they that don't believe etc" will go to Hell for eternity". NO THEY WON’T.Anyway, this “Eternal Damnation” issue is probably one reason why I am not a Roman Catholic or member of any other church. On the whole I love the RC faith and in my heart I have probably always been a RC, but I have long ago stopped this debate and I say: To each his own, according to their understanding. I will pray for wisdom and understanding, for steadfastness in faith and the knowledge of God as my loving father, and I will pray for those who argue in favour of eternal damnation as I will pray for all who have never met Jesus and I know that He has the last word, for we do not know, we have been given milk and see how we argue…This is not a topic I will pursue or debate any further…we believe what we believe. But I will pursue reading on this website. It is amazing what insights people have, the knowledge that they have and how I can learn from them. Regards and blessings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    @Michael: I truly appreciate your reading my post and sharing your own thoughts. We Catholics do not "decide" who will see God's face in the afterlife; that would be presumptuous. You will not hear Catholics speak of being "saved," but rather of being redeemed. We pray for. the souls of those who go before us, trusting in God's mercyUnique (I think) to our faith is the concept of Purgatory, which is a process, not a place, where the soul is purified before it reaches Heaven.That said, yeah, we do believe in Hell.God bless you and thanks for reading and talking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Michael: We look forward to you staying around! Peruse our YIM Catholic Bookshelf in the sidebar and you can learn much (as can we all!). And I understand your desire not to engage in messy debates. Often times the Truth is forgotten and only "winning" becomes important. Having said that here is what Truth said when He was on the ground. This from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25. Sheep are sheep. But what of the goats???"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."God has spoken…gulp!

  • cathyf

    Michael, you have given a fairly Catholic defense of the belief in purgatory.As Allison already said, yeah, we do believe in hell. I would add a few caveats, though… My husband is a physics professor, and every so often the question comes up, "what happens if everyone gets an A?" The students are concerned that somehow The Curve will be used in such a way that they will be punished for someone else's success. The answer is quite simple — it will be wonderful if everyone gets an A. That's what we want!Yes, while Catholics do believe in hell, we are not permitted to believe that any specific individual is there. Because of many of the things that Jesus taught us, we believe that "deathbed conversions" are possible and efficacious. We are taught to hope in Christ, and taught to pray for each other. So, while we believe in hell, we also believe that it is possible that hell is empty. Indeed we hope and pray that it is.The Catholic position on hell is just like what my husband tells the student worried that everyone might get A's — you worry about doing the work and learning the material, and you'll get your A, and let the other students worry about their own grades.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @cathyf, I like that example! And for Michael, check this post out:Thanks to Anne Rice for Asking This Question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16173946129611698417 Cordial Connie

    Sorrow and disappointment are such an integral part of life, that to disavow them is to disavow our very humanity. And thanks, Allison for sharing this with me. It's profound, as always.

  • cathyf

    Speaking of sorrow…Last night (well, in the wee hours of the morning) our public high school and Catholic grammar school (which are 1.5 blocks apart) were attacked by vandals. The sheer mindless violence of it is incredible. At both schools they particularly attacked and smashed trophies, and they attacked the kitchens and spread food, syrup and milk all over. They trashed school offices, projectors and video equipment.In the Catholic school they broke in through the computer lab window, and they smashed all of the computers in the lab and knocked over bookshelves. It looks like a slaughterhouse in there with the goo from the flat screens oozing out. In the front entryway they smashed statues, a crucifix, and shredded and flung around the book for prayer intentions and the bulletin boards. They broke in and trashed 4 classrooms and the principal's office by smashing the glass in the doors and reaching in, and sprayed the hallway with a fire extinguisher (probably what they used to break the glass.)We are all pretty cognizant that this is just stuff, just money. Nobody got killed or injured, and nothing got broken that can't be replaced, repaired or rebuilt. But the violence and rage of it is still breathtaking.Could you pray for us? And also pray for whomever has done this…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Lord, hear our prayer.

  • Michael

    @cathyf: The kind of mindless destruction that you describe is always a test for me – I would love to take a sword and cut off some ears!! Yet I am mindful of the exhortation that says something like this: "It is so that anger must come into the world, but woe to him through whom it comes".(Mt 18:7) The point for me is that such vandals will have to face some consequences and it is indeed better that we should pray for them and put prayer over the whole situation and had it over to God. Lord, hear our prayer.@ Frank and cathyf – response to my earlier post re "Eternal Damnation":Thanks for your response. Indeed, what about the goats? (Since I am from Africa (Namibia) originally and I know goats, maybe I should look after them and teach them…)I read the Anne Rice post that you recommended, Frank, and it makes good reading and one of the very salient contributory comments was that all hinges on our freedom of choice. That is indeed so! Interesting also Michelle's comment re people who never had a chance to know about Christ but served the Lord as they knew best – they will be saved – I couldn't agree more. On a different note:Michelle wrote that she hails from a Protestant background? Mine is German Lutheran, then Liberal Catholic in South Africa, until I left the LCC in New Zealand since in NZ they were – mildly put – pure Theosophists and actually devoid of any Christianity.At the moment I am eagerly awaiting the Catholic Bible Dictionary by Scott Hahn, which I ordered via amazon.com. Perhaps it may tell me a bit more about the "goats" – and other Catholic matters that represent "issues" to me. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in secula saeculorum. Amen.

  • Anwer Puthawala

    I have returned to this remarkably honest and profound post many times in the past two years. My family and I have also experienced much sorrow over the years. Our individual “Passion” like Christ’s Passion can lead to redemption and a richer appreciation of life if we harden not our hearts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rambling.follower Rambling Follower

    Thank you and I am grateful you find this writing helpful.


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