Monday, February 10, 2014

Life Is Pain, Highness!

A few weeks ago, at Grace's four month appointment, she received five vaccines, four of which were shots into her chunky thighs. As she braved the doubly shots per legs, crying out and trusting her mother as I cooed, held her head and stroked her belly, I thought of the part in Princess Bride when the Man in Black (Wesley) says, "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something!"

In Jen Fulwiler's article on "The 7 Habits People Who Place Radical Trust in God", I was struck by the first one - they accept suffering.

Suffering takes on many faces - the physically suffering, through maladies and disease and addiction; the emotional suffering of the lonely, sad and uncared for; the perceived suffering of injustice and abuse; the suffering of staring at a wall and not know which direction one should go.

I vaccinate my child because there are some things I can prevent, namely, diseases which used to routinely kill people. For everything else, I can only teach Grace and be there for her. I cannot, for instance, take away her teething pain. I cannot take away her sobs when she's scared and alone in her crib, even when I lean in to rub her belly and coo. Will and I are in the beginning stages of teaching Grace self-soothing.

Self-soothing "is the ability to provide comfort to yourself when you are in pain or in an uncomfortable emotional state," writes Julianna Lyddon, in her small book "Raising A Happy Spirit: The Inner Wisdom of Parenting". She goes on to say,
"Parents want to control the situation because they don't want to see their child in pain or discomfort. Life is painful at times and the best way to support children is by teaching them to calm themselves. Children who learn self-soothing behaviors will have a life with less stress and anxiety because they know how to calm themselves in difficult situations."
I remember the weight of realizing I had lost a friend because he was dating his now-wife; I remember realizing that I was not supposed to be living in Columbus - it was not where God wanted me; I remember when I almost did not return to college because of unexpected financial problems - or before that, of my loneliness while surrounded by friends, and how I didn't want to go back; I remember when my aunt died, and I couldn't go home for the funeral, and how I had to cry hundreds of miles away; I remember the misery of spiritual attacks; I remember facing two roads with Will, and having to pick one and not look back.

Self-soothing is more than helping a baby sleep at night, or picking a child up after they fell down and saying, "Okay! Not too bad. Let's keep playing!" It's us too, the adults. The adults who also have trouble sleeping, still cry, still get hangry (angry when hungry), still want to be held, still want to be told "It's all going to be okay!", still want to be unconditionally loved even if we make a mess of things.

Perhaps the bravest thing we can each do is live our life as ourselves. Have boundaries with people who tempt us into conformity. Respect everyone, even when you do not like them. And do not suffer needlessly - when you are in pain, look to the crucifix. When you are lonely, talk to Jesus. When you are overwhelmed, pray for peace.

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote, "And when night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much which one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as it is, lay it in God's hands, and offer it up to him, actually to rest, and to begin the new day like a new life."

Life is not so two-dimensional that this world alone can satisfy. There is always going to be suffering, even if it's bleary-eyed days and a teething baby (for me). It is in my suffering that I most know it is time to ask for help, time to turn off social media, time to take a walk outside, and time to listen more than I speak. It is in my suffering that I understand what it means to be human: to feel, to know, to love, to cheer and comfort, and to soothe, when necessary, ourselves and others. 


  1. Great post! Suffering, especially the normal day to day suffering and discomfort that we all have to deal with, is so much easier if we don't think that we are somehow constantly entitled to ease and comfort.

    1. Thanks! Yes- looking back at some of my "dark nights of the soul", I know how valuable those were for bringing me closer to God, even if the natural response was to skip over the hurt or wish it away. I grew in God's love, even when I felt belittled and unseen.

  2. Beautifully said, and very encouraging! Thanks for your *soothing* words, Julie. :)

  3. A friend linked me to this post after I wrote one on the same topic (kind of) yesterday ( I also used that exact quote from "The Princess Bride" to discuss life as suffering. I have since stumbled around your blog and just love everything about it :) You are a talented writer, and I'm looking forward to reading more... Happy writing!