When I was a little girl, our dog dug up a rabbit’s nest. I can’t remember if she ate the mama bunny or the mamma bunny ran away and never came back. All I remember is that five little baby bunnies were orphaned, and my gentle mother felt sorry for them. Mom called the animal shelter to find out what she could do. My memory is vague but this I do recall. Eyedroppers were purchased, and some sort of solution of nutrition (milk, baby formula) was mixed together for them. Every hour a solution of that nutrition was dropped into the mouths of the hungry bunny babies, and their tummies were gently rubbed to help them digest.
I soon found out that rabbits, like humans, have different propensities and personalities. Some of the babies accepted the milk dribbled into their mouths. Some licked the sweet nutrition. One tiny bunny, however, freaked out, for lack of a better term, squirming and flailing, instead of taking in the sustenance. I remember the frustration of trying to feed that bunny. I thought: He’s not helping himself. If only he’d relax, it’d be better.
That image stuck with me for a long time, that of fighting reality instead of accepting it. It occurred to me that rabbit was a lot like me, at times. Sometimes I resist. I fight. I freak out. I don’t trust. I let fear take over. If only I would relax.
For a long time, I was terrified to fly. I just couldn’t imagine how being up in the air in a manmade contraption, airborne, could be safe. It didn’t help that my brother-in-law was killed in a small aircraft plane crash on a foggy night one January. But fear can consume us if we let it. It can prevent us from going places, literally. And my fear of flying almost prevented me from some of the best experiences of my life, trips with my husband, excursions to see my adult children. In time, I learned to manage my fear of flying, small step by small step, flight by flight. I listened to soothing music. I wore sunglasses to block and keep things calmer and dark. I took deep breaths and consciously relaxed each muscle group. I prayed the rosary, not frantically, but deliberately, slowly, peacefully. Each time I reached a destination, I gained confidence.
The year I was diagnosed with cancer was another fear-provoking time. I had nine children and a new baby when a collarbone lump was determined to be malignant. Again I fought. Again I thrashed against the situation. My mind tormented me with thoughts of “what if” and darkness. One afternoon, bald and exhausted from chemotherapy treatments, I drove to pick up my son from soccer practice. On a whim I decided to stop in the Adoration Chapel at St. Thomas the Apostle in Elkhart to pour my heart out to God. My son was hungry and tired. I told him it would just be for a minute. I was empty and knew I had nothing to say. I just felt the urge to give Jesus that nothingness because it was all I had.
My son and I entered the chapel and I knelt down. I made the sign of the cross and felt myself sigh deeply. “I don’t know what to say,” I told Him, “Help me … help me … help me. …”
Just when I felt I could say no more, I felt a warmth in my soul and a gentle calm washed over me. I suddenly knew that Jesus was with me and would be with me through the cancer ordeal. I knew that His being with me was not like a husband is sitting next to a wife during labor, supporting but not experiencing the event like she is. Rather, I felt, I knew, that Jesus was with me, in me, experiencing with me every physical pain, every emotional sorrow, and every mental anguish that cancer put upon me. He willingly, through love, took that on and went through it Himself. He carried this burden no less than I did, in fact, more. Suddenly, I understood the cross and what it meant. Jesus took and takes the pain with us not merely next to us, but He absorbs it for us and walks with us every single step, enduring every pain we do, for us. And I knew I needed not to fight but to accept because God was with me. My suffering could be redemptive when united to His on the cross.
Fighting a strong wave leaves us exhausted. Experts tell us if we are ever caught in a rip tide, we should not fight, but swim along sideways until the shoreline can be reached. Patience achieves what brute strength cannot. And there is nothing to fear when God is literally with us.
How to suffer? Don’t fight. Unite with Christ. Breath deeply. And trust.