The crucifix is in the center of human experience, and it transforms everything.
My wife, April, had a stroke that paralyzed her left side and has hospitalized her since December 21, but we will be coming home soon, ready to learn how to live with her new capabilities.
“Do you have any deep thoughts about the meaning of this strange event?” a friend asked. “It seems to me that a shocking number of young and young-ish people are being struck out of the blue with bizarre illnesses and suffering.”
I think a few things are going on.
First, I think God is demonstrating the real power of prayer.
On Christmas Eve, April and I were alone in the hospital and spoke with a friend on the phone who said, “It’s crazy. I can’t find a slot to pray for you.”
“‘Find a slot?’ What are you talking about?” we asked.
That is when we learned that friends had created an online form and people around the country were praying for April around the clock from Christmas to New Year’s. It was an It’s a Wonderful Life moment and I could only read one or two names at a time to April before being overcome with emotion and she was crying like a baby.
I think it’s those prayers that transformed this experience for us and made April such a light to others in the hospital.
She has been telling jokes with everyone who serves her, then helping them figure out who their patron saint is. “Did you know you have someone praying for you all the time in heaven?” she asks. She has passed out stacks of her new favorite prayer, the Litany of Trust from the Sisters of Life, and arranged Masses for people she has just met if she heard someone in their life has died.
Oh, and she got three different medical professionals to commit to the Bible in a Year Podcast.
They say that prayer is meant to change us, not God, and I think that’s what prayer did here: It super-charged April’s evangelizing efforts.
Second, the suffering is meant to humble us. And we need it.
A few weeks into her stroke, April wrote this in her journal:
“A good friend wrote that she couldn’t help thinking that this stroke was a really beautiful Christmas gift from God: a chance to really ‘be little.’
“I love that so much. And can’t stop thinking about it. I know it’s true.”
April is a mother of nine, a teacher, a lector, a homeschool co-op organizer, a carpool captain, a confirmation catechist, and much more. “People tell me ‘How do you do it all?’ ‘You’re so amazing!’” she wrote. “Over time, that sentiment is not good for the soul. For my soul anyway.”
“It certainly doesn’t foster the kind of posture we all should have before God where he is everything and I am nothing. Where he is so great, and I am so little. So now, post-stroke, as I have to have people help me dress, eat, toilet, etc… I find myself very little. And it is a truly beautiful thing!”
This is the conclusion God wants us to come to from the crosses in our lives — and in the pandemic, he seems to want it on a worldwide scale.
Third, suffering teaches us how to love.
It’s funny. This has been a year of much family turmoil and a year when I realized that my children have learned as much from my mistakes as they have from my wisdom as a parent.
But the stroke has improved everybody, reset priorities, taught us how to love, and forced us to discover abilities we didn’t think we had.
My children have sacrificed days helping their mom in the hospital. Adult children with children of their own have sacrificed their own Christmases with their families to be with their siblings while April and I were away.
And I had to learn that a husband’s real vocation is to love your wife in exactly the way she needs.
Fourth, God wants witnesses.
There are amazing examples: A father who used his cancer to bring people to the faith, a young woman who spent her dying days starting Kansas City’s largest blood-drive.
“Is God placing us in places we need to be to bring hope and healing to others?” my friend asked. “It’s almost as if God wanted a witness in those places.”
I think that’s true in two ways: Yes, God wants joyful witnesses to Christ in hospitals — but he also wants us to witness of all the potential for good around us.
In a time of so much anger and hostility, and the politicization of everything, it is very comforting to turn off the media and see real-life health care professionals offering nothing but kindness and care.
The crucifix stands in the center of human experience, transforming everything, and there is no better witness than our joy when we get to participate.