Have you experienced suffering?
I was listening to a Christian radio station this morning, and a commentator made the statement that unless you have experienced suffering, you cannot share with others on this subject, nor can you empathize with another person's pain. That's very true.
Nowadays there is no one who does not experience suffering in one way or another. If you have never experienced suffering, you are either a pre-teen child or something else is wrong, perhaps your take on reality.
We were born in original sin... that's suffering. We are all a part of original sin the minute we open our mouths and say something awful about another person. How often do I hear teenagers say: "I hate her..." (referring to a peer), or an older person laments about hating someone because that person is incapable of forgiving.
There are those who feel compelled to tell everyone around them how much they are suffering... go to any doctor's waiting room, and you'll know what I mean. But it does not stop there, you meet such people in local diners (where most everyone knows one another), at church gatherings, in the supermarket, etc. Sometimes I feel like shouting "Stop your whining," but I don't say that because I've been whining, too.
I'm one of every four Americans who are obese (comes from years of sitting in front of a computer screen) and while I am concerned about it, I don't do enough to break those pounds down... there is no point in whining about it, because the minute people meet you on the street they know where you're coming from.
In May some years ago, I visited friends in Michigan for a few weeks, and I seriously wondered how I will fit myself into a 16-inch airline seat. But we managed somehow. Lack of self-esteem is often an issue (not with me anymore) with people who have these and other problems but it shouldn't be. Laugh about yourself. When you learn to laugh about yourself, you'll be the most popular person in town, because laughter and whining doesn't co-exist. Take your suffering and place it at the foot of the Cross, and offer it up for those worse off than you are. Lots of Catholics have forgotten the Saints and other Holy persons in the Church. In fact, many ex-Catholics tell me that they left because Catholics worshipped the Saints, and also the Blessed Virgin. As an active and discerning Catholic you know that we worship ONLY Jesus Christ, the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We pray to Mary and to the Saints to ask them to intercede on our behalf with their efficacious prayer in the Kingdom; we do not worship them in any sense of the word.
Of course, when ex-Catholics make this statement, your experience tells you that their leaving the Church came about through other reasons, much deeper reasons, even sinful ones. It is difficult to empathize with these reasons because they go against the grain. But empathy is necessary. The definition of empathy is "The ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions." We cannot empathize easily unless we have experienced a similar condition in our lives, too. If you have never been lonely, how can you tell another person how to be less lonely. I've heard someone say to another, "Get a life," an extremely rude answer to someone seeking help and understanding. And that reminds me... when you're at a funeral for a relative or another person, don't say to the next of kin, "He's better off where he is now." That's a slap in the face to someone who is grieving the loss of a spouse!
Or, to a person suffering from cancer, it is inappropriate to say "Hope you feel better soon" - because it is unrealistic. It would be better to suggest that you hope the chemotherapy will work and won't cause too many side-affects.
This is probably petty, but I have a great aversion to a teenager who refers to me as "Hey dude..." - and I wonder sometimes, would they address their parents in a similar way?
In any case, use the suffering in your life so that the suffering is not for nothing. Comfort the people around you because YOU KNOW what they are really feeling when you have suffered in kind. A simple "I am sorry," is often the best response, followed by a prayer or a wish that he or she will be feeling a little better soon. Also your suffering is a prayer to Jesus... talk to Him as you would to a friend, because He IS your, and our, best friend.
God Bless you!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
2005 rev. 2012