Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hanging By A Thread

A week ago, I thought I had things under control.  My blog post was up on Monday and I’d jotted down thoughts for another two; my upcoming classes with senior executives were planned; my beard was trimmed.

On Tuesday, I ate lunch with a friend I’ve been out of contact with for a while.  He gave me inscribed copies of his two most recent books, which I started reading that day.  Then, it all changed.

We brought our eight year old, Jopa, to the MD’s office that afternoon.  She’d been showing signs of what we thought was an infection.  We were wrong.  It was Type I diabetes.

One day her pancreas was producing insulin.  The next it was not.  Her life, and ours, changed forever with the mysterious shutting down of her relevant cells. 

She and my wife went to the hospital, where they remained for three days.  And, that was the least of it.  She’ll be pinpricking her finger and giving herself shots for as long as she lives.

Something similar happened to a parishioner who was healthy and living a normal life on Friday.  Saturday, he slipped on the ubiquitous ice, cracked his skull, and underwent emergency brain surgery.  He is in critical condition, fighting for his life.

Over the course of my own life, I’ve noticed that God often sends heavy crosses to his especially beloved followers.  I used to watch it happen, and wondered why I was lucky enough not to deserve His divine caresses.  I assumed that God saw my weakness and decided to spare me His special favors. 

What I could never understand, though, is why God would work that way.  In the deepest, darkest corner of my trembling soul, I feared that my God was a sadistic lover.  He even wanted his own son to die.  Why, for heaven’s sake, would He arrange for our salvation that way?

Having been struck with an autoimmune disease three years ago, that has no known cause, no cure, and only the hope of remission, I’ve given the question of why He works the way He works lots of thought.

By faith, I knew that if God wants something, it is good.  Consequently, I know that my disease, and now Jopa’s—though an evil, being a defect in the good of health—is, in some larger way, good. 

But to know a formulaic answer and to know the truth of it in one’s bones are two different things.

Fact is, I don’t appreciate the way God works, sometimes.  I don’t get mad at Him for it.  That would be stupid—infinitely more so than getting mad at the snow or the wind, but in a similar way. 

Wanting the good the way I perceive it, though, I do get weary.

I imagine that God looks at our questions and reactions to His gifts the way I look at my children when they moan about eating green things, or taking medicine.  (Happily, Jopa has been reacting to the new normal like a champ.)

 I’ve passed through the “If God only knew what I know, He’d see it the way I do” phase.

What He has granted me through my own illness, and what has prepared me for Jopa’s, is the firm conviction that He knows the grain of sand of reality that I do, plus the meaning of the infinite beach in which it is contextualized.

If only we knew what He knows, we’d know the goodness of what He sends us.  We just don’t have all the information, or even the capacity to glean it.  We’re like tube radios in a Wi-Fi world.

With respect to our illnesses, and the heavy crosses He sends, generally, I still don’t like His idea of the good—or, alternatively, that His bigger perspective is not available and evident. 

Candidly, I don’t want asthma, vasculitis, edema, prednisone, injections, and more side effects than I care to mention.  I don’t want Jopa (and my wife) to be burdened with carb counting and shots all of her life.  But, knowing that they are good in ways that I don’t comprehend makes them bearable, maybe even lovable.

We probably won’t know how sickness and other crosses are good in this life.  Though, I suppose, He might give us intimations.

I’m reminded of an anecdote in The Hiding Place, Carrie Ten Boom’s account of her family’s life in Nazi-occupied Holland.  Her beloved sister, Betsy, insisted on giving thanks to God for everything, including the lice in their concentration camp.  It transpires that their barrack’s lice infestation deterred camp guards from entering, which permitted them to hold prayer meetings in relative freedom.

The lice permitted them to pray, and thus become agents of light in the darkest of circumstances.  After the war, Corrie became a world-renowned apostle of reconciliation and love.

In reality, even the lice in a concentration camp were good.  Carrie could see that, though the camp claimed the life of her beloved sister and, but for a clerical error, would have taken hers as well.

With this in mind, you may understand my response to a friend who is visiting the Holy Land.  She offered to lay special intentions before the Lord at the holy sites while there. 

At first, I thought, how opportune!  I would ask her to petition the Lord for cures to Jopa’s illness and mine, and for my wife’s release from these family ordeals.

But, God knows that I want to be cured.  I’ve petitioned Him a million times, including at Lourdes.  Even if I hadn’t, He’d still know.  Moreover, so many good people have asked on my behalf. 

He knows that I don’t want my daughter to have Type 1 diabetes, or for my wife to be chained to the requirements of caring for her. 

He knows that we didn’t want these diseases in the first place.  Yet, He sent them for His own reasons, which are good in ways that He understands, but we don’t. 

So be it.  I will serve.  Paraphrasing St. Josemaria, I want whatever God wants, because He wants it, however He wants it, whenever He wants it.

We will raise our daughter to serve (though I’ve started encouraging her to serve in another way: by becoming a research physician who works to cure these diseases).

I sent a note back telling my friend that I’d just like her to tell Jesus that we love him.

Now that I think about it, I should have asked her to tell Him that we accept, and that we pray especially for those friends who pray for us.

In reality, we never have things under control.  All of our lives hang on slender threads—on temperamental immune systems, or slippery ice.

We may not understand how it is good when the thread snaps.  But, we needn’t be befuddled about why: because it’s good in ways that we’d understand if we could capture more of REALITY, and will when we can.

All things considered, I’d rather face that unperceived reality like Betsy Ten Boom, than the minuscule sliver of what I can see, like an ingrate.

How about you?

Postscript 2/25/14: Regarding the parishioner who slipped on ice, I received the following update: "Ken was taken off life support after sustaining a severe head injury from a series of falls. He had surgery to remove the clots and blood and has not regained consciousness. Pray for Gods will to be done, for his family, his lovely wife, Pam. May they know the peace of Christ in this time of worry and grief."

Postscript 2/26/14: "Ken passed into the arms of Jesus. His funeral will be Saturday 1:00 at Christ the King. May the peace of Christ be with the family during this time of grief and loss."


  1. Thanks for this. I'm reblogging it . . . It will feed many people.

  2. I disagree theologically, philosophically and vehemently with your notion that God SENDS these things to us as trials or to serve some supposed greater good of his own. I DO believe that they can be occasions of grace to us, and that how we respond to them says a lot about ourselves. But if God sends these things for a greater good, then He and I have a very different understanding of what "good" means.

  3. Thank you for giving my day/week some perspective! Anon.-God does SEND us trials so we can unite ourselves mystically to his Passion and Cross. All you have to do is listen to Bishop Sheen's 1978 homily on the seven last words to get a better understanding of the theology of suffering. In that homily he refers to St. Paul's Letter "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." Colossians 1:24 that would be the supposed GREATER GOOD.

  4. Uh... how does that prove that God sends the suffering?

    1. This may not prove sending but is sure does prove he wants us to make good use of them. "There is but one price at which souls are bought”, Jesus told St. Faustina, “and that is suffering united to My suffering on the cross" (Diary 324).
      "Every conversion of a sinful soul demands sacrifice" (Diary 961). The Lord Jesus told St. Faustina: "I have need of your sufferings to rescue souls” (Diary 1612).”Help Me, My daughter to save souls. Join your sufferings to My Passion and offer them to the Heavenly Father for sinners" (Diary 1032).

    2. Thanks for the help Anon2! Anon1 you are in my prayers. :)
      Max you are awesome.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the conversation. And, thank you Sr. Dorcee.

    I don't know if this satisfies Anon, but suffering is a human response to what God sends, not the substance of it. God's will is the cause of things (S.T. I, Q. 19, A 4). He does not will evil (S.T. I, Q. 19, A 4). In that article, Thomas notes that: "The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, He does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached." He follows that with examples: "Thus in willing justice He wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things to be naturally corrupted."

    I don't know that "God sends these things to us as trials." I only know that He does send them, and that they are trials. That they are trials does not lead me to conclude that He doesn't send them. If He doesn't, who does? These things (which to us are trials) are not beyond, or beneath, God's Providence.

    The way you alternatively characterize my position--that God sends us things to serve some greater good of HIs own--is not the way I intended to put it. That way instrumentalists us, and makes us out to be cogs in His machine rather than free beings, which, I imagine, is what you object to. Rather, I tried to say--perhaps too clumsily--that He sends us things that are themselves good, though they are attached to an evil: a natural defect in health. The evil is what draws my attention; the good is what I strain to see, but most likely won't be able to. Nevertheless, I believe it's there, because God is good.

    I'm reminded of a thoughtful treatment of this topic: "Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness," by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere.

  6. With apologies for the mistake, the second cite to the Summa regarding "Whether God will evils?" should be Article 9.

  7. No, I didn't think you were taking an instrumentalist (is that a word?) position. I think I understand your position and Thomas', but I just disagree with them. I think the idea that God affirmatively sends these things to us is a bit archaic and sorta superstitious. There is a tradition within the Church that sees it that way, but I don't support it. It is much more likely - and logical - that things in this life just happen, sometimes as a consequence of human action, sometimes by chance. To see everything that comes as being "sent" by God to further some hidden purpose of His seems indefensible to me. That said, I am certainly sorry to hear your news about your daughter's condition and indeed all your trials. I hope you find peace and consolation.