We all know that the journey of Christian living involves suffering. We know that God allows some suffering and that he saves us from others. We know His angels protect us. Yet, other than miracles, how does God strengthen us? Reflecting on this is essential to understanding some of the ways God answers our prayers.
This selection from yesterday’s Psalm reading popped out at me:
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me. (Psalm 138:2-3)
We know that God is all-powerful. He defeats demons. He sets trees on fire without burning them to ash. He lets three children go into a fiery furnace and remain unharmed. He parts the waters. He defeats enemies. He gives sight to the blind. He heals the sick. He restores life to the dead. These miracles are the stories of our faith. And the miracles are re-lived daily in our world and in our lives.
However, my experience is that God follows his own advice, as in when Jesus tells us to go into the quiet of our room or closet to pray to God, so as not to be prideful by showing off before others. How many miracles does God perform quietly? I think of the late night when I pulled onto a highway and did not see the semi-truck barreling down next to me, when I felt my entire car pulled to the right to safety. Or how many times did I notice after the fact — hey, that was my prayer answered! Miracles are ongoing.
But my experience leads me to believe that most of the work God does to build up His kingdom lies within us, the work he does inside of us to “build up strength within.” When we experience deep grieving, we have to stretch within to absorb the pain so as not to cry without end. As we take in those pains, the grief feels like it literally stretches our insides. We grow bigger within, stronger, more flexible, more able to hold the burdens we carry.
How many times have we suffered broken hearts from those we love. When we’re young, we suffer unrequited love and breakups. In marriage, we suffer slights, we learn to adjust, and our children are bound to break our hearts as they learn to manage their own free wills.
I think of when bones break. Doctors tell us that, in healthy people, the bones heal stronger than they were originally. Our hearts do the same. It’s as though our tears fill those cracks that form, and God transforms these into a mortar to restore wholeness. We can all point to moments of despair when we feel weighted and broken. And we can all point to experiences when we felt healed and when we felt lighter as Christ carries our burdens.
Ultimately, the Eucharist is our infusion treatment. As we take in the Precious Body and Blood, we are transformed, built up from within. This is the sustaining Grace that heals our brokenness and patches us up as we continue our Earthly journey. The more Christ strengthens us with his saving life within, the stronger we become in learning to love like Him. In the process, we become healed of the scars of sin and restored to a wholeness that reflects the divine image. It’s the work of a lifetime, which will most likely continue through Purgatory until we are healed, whole and ready to meet our Lord face-to-face in our heavenly home.
In today’s Mass reading, Saint Paul affirms that the suffering we endure helps us find our way home to heaven:
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.
This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering. (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
Consider this song by Steven Curtis Chapman: His Strength is Perfect.