Navigating my way through chronic illness has been challenging to say the least, especially since my particular situation is not commonly understood. You don’t expect it to happen to you, and there’s no handbook to follow. It’s a lot for me to manage physically and emotionally, and it’s a lot for others to process as well. Sometimes people respond in ways that are confusing to me, but I’m learning that’s often because they don’t know what to do, and they feel helpless or even like a failure because they cannot fix my situation. (I’m grateful to the people who have clued me in on this!)
Don’t we all feel like that for one reason or another at times? We are so used to living in an instant gratification society, and we learn success as accomplishing a feat, as achieving some predetermined end result. For me, being an achiever is part of my personality (the Clifton Strengths test is super informative), so I always measured success in that way. But what happens when you can’t fix a situation or achieve that desired outcome? We are human after all, so some things are a lot less in our control than we would like to think!
Coming from my vantage point of being in such an unusual situation, I don’t expect others to always know what to do or say. (Shoot, I don’t always know what to do!) We expect ourselves to just know these things, when often there’s no way we could, except to ask. It seems so radical for the world we live in today, but it’s beautiful when people ask how they can help or support me. Our world may portray strength as always knowing the perfect thing to do or say, but I actually see strength in comments like, “I don’t have a clue what to do, but can you tell me?”
The thing is that we aren’t always called to fix situations. Sometimes we are just called to walk with others on their journeys. Being present for someone who is going through trials or suffering is a tremendous gift. I don’t think I could have understood the value of presence until suffering opened my eyes to gift that it is. Presence can be undervalued because in our narrow human perspective, we look to measure the value of actions with specific sets of results. Sometimes those goals are good, but the heart of life really lies in what happens along the way. Being there and showing up for others is a greater achievement than we learn it to be.
We can see how important presence was to Jesus. He was the Son of God who could have done anything on His own, yet He asked His disciples to remain with Him in the garden as He went to pray the night before His crucifixion. His disciples couldn’t stop the impending suffering from happening, but He didn’t ask them there to alter an outcome. He desired their presence, and He clued us in as to just how important presence is in the Body of Christ. It’s a detail I never once saw before long-suffering. We see the same example of presence from the apostle who stood by Jesus as He hung on the cross.
Then look at the way God desires our presence at Mass every weekend. He didn’t make that a commandment to give us some chore to do. He wants to spend time with us. He wants us to be present with Him. We are so wanted by Him!
Recently I had to get more injections in my jawbone. I’m certainly no stranger to needles, but I was feeling like enough was enough. I reclined in the dental chair kind of chuckling at myself for how much I was dreading the injections, even though I go through way worse. I thought about how it’s probably the cumulative effect of everything I’ve been through making me raw at this point, and how no one could really understand, because no one really knows the depth of suffering that I’m enduring.
And then the realization came over me that God knows. God knows exactly what I’ve been through, and exactly how I was feeling in that moment and why. I didn’t have to try to explain it to Him- He already knew. Jesus knew and was right there with me with the gift of His presence. Just like the presence of others can make such a difference, the presence of Jesus made a difference. I talked to Him the whole time, and it really helped. He didn’t spare me from having to get the injections, but He walked with me and helped me endure them. With each injection into my bone, I thought of the number of times His flesh was pierced. He understood. He understood because He too experienced suffering. He knew the dread I was feeling, because He had felt it also. He knew what it was like for no one else to understand. He knew what it was like to endure something he didn’t want to endure.
And I grew closer to Him that day by being aware of His presence and experiencing it in a deeper way. His presence doesn’t change- He’s always there. But I can always stand to be more aware of His presence and draw nearer to Him in everything, deepening our relationship in the process.