When we picture Jesus praying, “Let this cup pass from me” in the garden of Gethsemane, we recognize his humanity. Just hours before he was to be arrested and crucified, Jesus pleaded to God, not just once but three times, to let the suffering pass him by. Yet each time he finished his prayer with the words “Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
In this gospel story Jesus teaches us how to
suffer—we learn that wrapped in any prayer asking God to take away the suffering must be the prayer to accept God’s will.
God will guide us to pull goodness from suffering. Martha, mother of three who lost both her mother and mother-in-law in the past year, notes that while suffering is part of an imperfect world, it is not brought on by God.
“I believe that in every case God would be cheering for the suffering to pass,” Martha says. “Just as it pains us to watch our loved ones or even people we don’t know personally suffer, so, too, it pains God to have to watch humankind endure suffering. God wants goodness for us, and always God delights in our ‘resurrections.’ ”
Jesus’ suffering and death came at the hands of others. The failure of Pontius Pilate and others to protect him have parallels in every age. The innocent often die because of the sins of others.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre took place the day before Marquette University’s winter commencement in December 2012. The country reeled with the grief over the 26 gunned down at the elementary school, including 20 first graders.
During the homily at the Baccalaureate Mass at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Jesuit Father Scott Pilarz addressed the question of suffering and evil. “Despite tragedy, and despite the world’s gritty realities, we cling to the conviction that God has been and God always will come into the world with good news for God’s people,” he said. “Yesterday might tempt us to believe that evil has the last word. But here at Marquette, huddled in this church tonight, we say no to that temptation.” Pilarz went on to explain that to be a believer in God is to organize our understanding of the world differently from the way we otherwise would. In the face of tragedy, he said, we must grieve, criticize when necessary, and then, “we must… help each other to discern pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected.”
Alone in the garden, in agony. We usually wince at the sleeping disciples in the story. As Jesus suffers, his friends are oblivious. This rings true to many people who suffer quietly.
“My friends do not know that my wife is an alcoholic and struggles with depression,” says Curt (not his real name), married 17 years with three children. “They think we are the perfect married couple, but we are not. I have suffered tremendously because of my wife’s illnesses, and I have suffered alone. It has taught me that other people may have their own private pain that I don’t know about, either. Sometimes it feels like my friends and family are asleep, because they don’t notice anything is wrong.”
How to talk about suffering. When talking to children about the suffering of others, parents often struggle to tell their children the truth while at the same time protecting their innocence and assuring them of their safety. Jenna and Eric, parents of two children, 10 and 7, say their approach to suffering and tragedy has served their family well both in cases of personal pain, such as when Jenna’s mother died, and in cases of public tragedy, such as the Sandy Hook killings.
“We are honest. We are brief. We are open to questions. We show that we are sad, and let them know it’s OK to be sad, but we don’t openly grieve in front of them most of the time,” Jenna says. “We let our children know they can come to us later with questions or concerns, and if they do, we hug them and answer them as honestly as we can.”
By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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Photo: istock/©Nicholas Wave
Filed under: Family spirituality, Handing on the faith | Tagged: children and suffering, Church of the Jesu, Father Scott Pilarz, Garden of Gethsemane, Marquette University, Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, talk to children about suffering |