As we journey through life towards union with God, we often encounter trials along the way. Whether it be experiences of desolation, health problems, painful memories, or broken relationships, these trials can result in us closing in ourselves and hardening our hearts or opening our hearts more fully to Christ so that He can be with us in our suffering.
The “heart’s response” to adversity (that is – our deepest interiority) is essential because the heart is able to encompass a bigger reality than our mind. The Scriptures speak of the heart as the wellspring of our encounter with God. It is the inner shrine of our being, it goes beyond our reach of our reason and more fundamental than even our deepest psychic drives (CCC 2563).
A good heart is one of goodness and good will. It is open to relationships and desires the wellbeing of others. In other words, a good heart is the heart of God.
But maintaining a good heart in times of adversity can be difficult because trials always involve circumstances that are, or at least appear to be, contrary to our good.
To preserve a good heart and remain present to others requires us to ask ourselves what we are drawn to when we undergo difficulty.
The Scripture shows us what facing trials looks like from a theological perspective. Taking examples from the Psalms and the life of Job, we can see how feeling abandoned, disoriented, or sorrowful is a normal reality of life.
And when we feel this sorrow, the Psalms can help us express ourselves in a way that does not lessen or sugar coat it, but authentically and very honestly lifts our pain to the Lord.
God gives us permission to experience our trials, and it is important to grapple with why God allows trials in our lives. Every adversity we experience is a pathway that stretches us. With the grace of faith, we can intuit in hope that God loves us so much that even our trials are for our good and our growth.
Christ accompanies us
God will help us to bear our trials and He will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. He is the one who sustains us, even counting that hairs on our head (Lk. 12:7).
We can confidently trust that the Father sees us, notices us, and that we have nothing to fear. Even in Jesus’ most extreme trial, His passion and death on the Cross, He calls out to His Father, precisely with the tender title of “Abba”.
By His suffering and death, Christ redeems our human suffering, never leaving us to carry our cross alone. We are carried by the Lord. We can have confidence and hope in the Lord that he is doing something with our pain.
Because our all-powerful God is a humble God, He profoundly enters into the depths our suffering, not from above, but from within. He is able to take our hearts and our suffering as they are and make them something.
Just as Christ accompanies us, remaining with us in our adversity, we are also called to walk alongside others with love and affirmation.
We cannot take others’ pain away but we can allow it to be transformed by carrying it with them.
We can begin by listening. When we allow others to bring us to the depth of their experience and enter into it with them, they are able to begin the pathwath of understanding its meaning. It is important that they have someone to accompany them in this process, never in a forceful or invasive way, but by first simply being present.
For example, in a therapy setting, an important element that helps people heal from trauma is the trusting relationship with the therapist. If the client feels that his or her therapist is a safe place to be vulnerable, then that allows the space to help the client open up and bring difficult experiences to a place where healing can begin to take place.
This is even more essential in spiritual direction. When we undergo trials and grapple with what they mean on our journey of faith, we entrust them to someone who can accompany us in our sorrow, while also helping us sort out their meaning within God’s narrative for our lives. This is both healing and edifying in our pilgrimage of faith.
If you feel called to walk with others in this journey as a spiritual director, learn more about Divine Mercy University’s Spiritual Direction Certificate Program.