Receiving Our Challenges

Gunilla Norris in her book “Simple Ways” offers a number of reflections on life. One of her reflections is called, “Receiving Our Challenges.” She writes this:

“Trusting God with all our life means also to be able to trust the difficulties that come our way. Challenges and bitter sufferings can be gifts as well. To open to them is a profound act of humility. When the door slams and our hopes are dashed, when our health fails, a loved one dies, when the world closes in and the air we breath is full of despair, it is hard to receive such experiences as gift.

Years after a dreadful difficulty or loss, many people will say that it was the difficulty that was somehow a profound turning point, a gift in disguise. But in the middle of the suffering we simply want it “not to be.” To pray for endurance, reprieve, help of any kind, is only natural then. But when the challenge is the kind that will not go away, we have no choice but to be in it, and with it, and to learn whatever we must learn through it.”

I think that this is true, often, but not always. For example, I do know people who have come to experience the loss of a job as both a turning point in one’s life and a gift in disguise. But, I think it is perhaps impossible to ever understand the loss of a child or spouse as a “gift in disguise.” I can imagine a loss of this magnitude as one that is a turning point. But never, never ever could that loss be a gift in disguise. I had a miscarriage 22 years ago. True, it was early in the pregnancy, and I later had two healthy children. So, I don’t grieve as much as I might otherwise. But, I still wonder…? It remains, always, a loss. It remains, always a question of, “what if?” And never has it felt like a gift in disguise.

Gunilla then says,

“To let go when we must is not always easy. We want things to be the way they were. To pray for our resistance to pain and loss is a big prayer. It shows that we are willing to try to accept the suffering that has come to us.”

As one who has done this very thing, prayed for my resistance, prayed for the source of my pain, prayed for my loss(es)….I understand how very hard it is to pray in this way, and under these circumstances. The only way I can pray through this kind of pain is to give it to God. “God, be God.” “God, here it is, you know.” This kind of praying has also taught me a lot about prayer and the reality that God will work in and through us. In mysterious ways, to be certain. But work in and through us none the less.

Gunilla concludes with this:

“Such suffering shatters our sense of self, breaks our hearts, and lets God in. Our resistance is transformed into communion with the suffering of others. We will then belong to something eternal – God’s suffering in us and with us. Even as we are broken, we also break through.”

Yeah. That I totally get, suffering that shatters the self, breaks the heart, and lets God in. I have been broken in that way in my life. I have known the kind of resistance in me that, through the grace of God, is transformed, eventually, into communion with the suffering of others. Here I think she speaks more deeply of the grace that can come from the loss of a child or spouse. It will never be a gift in disguise – but it can lead to a communion with the suffering of others, to something eternal, to an awareness of God suffering in us and with us. And, in that I think, our brokenness can become the means through which we break through.

There are some losses for which I know this to be true.

I’ve lived them.

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About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
This entry was posted in grace, Gunilla Norris, loss, resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Receiving Our Challenges

  1. Reminds me of the old Kahlil Gibran, which I will dreadfully misquote here, when he talked about having to be carved out by sadness in order to be filled with joy. Timely for me this is, *now I channel Yoda*. Last week I wrote 11 pages on 12 years dotted with several soul searing and excavating experiences in my childhood, young adulthood and with Covenant Players. It felt like taking a soul shower writing it all down. It’s a bit like we’re made of leather through and through. And the more we’re refined by loss and suffering, the softer our finish becomes when God is let in to rub us with salve. Kinda.

  2. RevCrystalK says:

    i love how you said “It will never be a gift in disguise – but it can lead to a communion with the suffering of others, to something eternal, to an awareness of God suffering in us and with us.” somethings are just too much to be a gift, we can grow and learn from them but to call them gifts, is a stretch that not all of us can or should make. you’ve reminded me not to speak too eagerly of grief and the secret gifts they sometimes bring. thank you for your words and thoughts.

  3. Even now, ten years after having to face the reality of childlessness, I cannot call it a gift. But it was a turning point, and a vehicle of growth. I know it was a crucial part of making me who I am. And I do believe that God has been with me in that loss. So I sort of relate to what this post is about. It’s never easy, is it?

  4. Kievas says:

    Not gifts, but turning points…it has taken me a while to see this.

  5. Jayne says:

    So much to ponder here. Glad I came upon you from Songbird’s blog, and look forward to reading more. :c)

  6. Gannet Girl says:

    One has little choice but to be open to such suffering. There it is. And where does God go? I have no idea.

  7. Ann says:

    My first thought was that you were nit-picking words with regard to the death of a child. Then I realized that perhaps this is where we need to be especially careful of our words. Was my only daughter’s death a blessing? No. Were there many blessings that occurred as a consequence of her death? Many! Amazing things have occurred in my life, and in ways that have touched others. But I’d un-do it in a second, if I could.

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