My Lenten sacrifice this year was fiction (TV and books,) and it's bearing some wonderful fruit. I am reading "Calm My Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow, on the advice of a friend, and finding it extremely insightful. She speaks on the idea of contentment as accepting and working with God's plan for one's life. In this context, she brings up the fact that God is good, and so His plan for us, by definition, is also good.
Which got me thinking about "good" and how we define it. I think we most often use "good" to describe anything that fits with what we personally want for ourselves and our lives. Children are "good" when they do as we ask them to do. Someone has "the good life" if they have money, leisure time, and material things. We even describe food as good when it contains high amounts of fat or sugar, which we enjoy far more than food that is actually good (usually we refer to that kind as "healthy.")
But good, as the Bible defines it, has a very different meaning. It is beautiful and simple, yet profound: God is good. Good is God. Those things which draw us to God are good. Those things God has done or made are good. Goodness and God are one and the same.
I know for many people, the existence of suffering in the world is a barrier to faith. If God is all-powerful, why does He allow bad things to happen? Although I feel very deeply the plight of those who are poor, either in material goods, in spirit, in health or in freedom, I have never blamed God or felt disappointed in His lack of intervention for two main reasons: 1. It's mostly people who cause suffering, either to themselves or to others. and 2. Everything God does is good, thus suffering must also be good.
Part of the reason I love being a Catholic is the Church's position on suffering. It is not meaningless. It it not punishment. It is an opportunity to manifest the love of Christ to the world. When something like the tsunami in Japan occurs, it is an opportunity for the world to show love to Japan. God does not desire pain and suffering, but this world that He created contains those things. It contains disease, death, tectonic plates that shift around, wild animals, destructive weather patterns...all these things are GOOD because they are part of the world God created. Plate tectonics are a result of the transfer of energy from within the Earth. We are the only planet yet discovered that supports life -- surely the abundance of life here depends upon all components of physics, geology, astronomy, and other sciences existing in the balance that God created for them.
Here's where my problem comes in. I can intellectually understand the purpose of "bad things" in this world. I can theologically support the notion of redemptive suffering and spiritual growth that comes from accepting God's will, no matter what it might be.
But I'm afraid of suffering and pain. I don't want it. My response to God's call is something like, "Lord, I love you and I will do whatever you ask of me...as long as it doesn't involve profound suffering. I'll take a little suffering, but not anything big, OK?"
I'm ashamed to admit this. I see it as one of the biggest obstacles to my spiritual growth. I've been trying to resolve my anxieties and lack of trust for years now, but I don't seem to be much closer to the goal of abandonment I've set myself. I shouldn't fear the future. After all,
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
I think part of the problem is that my life is so easy, suffering seems preventable and unnecessary. It's somewhat counter intuitive, but the closer you are to suffering, the easier it is to accept. When I first discovered I was pregnant last July, I spent three weeks in a constant state of dread and anxiety, wondering if my nausea would be as bad as it had been with my second. Once it became clear that I would be throwing up several times a day, I sort of just accepted it and prepared for the long haul. It wasn't easy, by any means. But the only way out is through. In the same way, it can be more stressful to dread an experience (such as surgery or the adoption process) than to actually go through it.
I hope...no...I am confident that, should the worst befall me or my family, I would not lose faith in God. Rather, I would rely on Him and rest in Him to cope with the pain, emotional or otherwise. In the meantime, I can use those sleepless nights and anxious moments to pray for people who are actually suffering, and I can offer up my anxiety for those with mental illness. Whatever may come, there's no way it could ever be as bad as some of the things people must deal with around the world.
In the spirit of taking the poor with me, I can use my fears to draw closer to those who are in need, and to remind me that I am, truly, very blessed.