On Lent and the Feeling of Futile Suffering
Another 40 days and 40 nights (nearly) of Lent seemingly gone the way of failure. I sink into my hot cocoa mug, relinquishing the guilt that yes, our family gives up treats for Lent, that Jesus-diet guaranteed to break the monopoly sugar gut bacteria hold on my taste buds.
My hot cocoa desires are based in a coping mechanism. Coping with another long recovery. Coping with the broken sleep that even the best little side-nursing cosleeper still bestows upon me. Coping with mental juggling and a touch of postpartum anxiety. I’m no coffee lover, so cocoa caffeination is all I can cling to.
But this failure of really giving up treats brought me to another failure: my slow recovery. My pelvic floor took a number when I birthed this big baby and her shoulder dystocia. I’m healing on two fronts: internal pelvic floor and external SI-joints. My pelvis remains twisted and one side of my pubic bone is higher than the other. They’re called symphysis pubis dysfunction and diastasis symphysis pubis and I know others struggled with this throughout pregnancy and into their postpartum.
While I bustled around the country for the Blessed is She retreats, stupidly not even asking for a ride from those carts at the airport, carrying my 18 pounder in the carrier, my ligaments continued to not heal. While I decided to tackle changing over their coats and clothes for spring, sitting unevenly for hours, lunging forward to drag a pile toward me, bending to scoop up stray solo mittens, my ligaments continued in their frail state.
A first visit to the chiropractor after months of physical therapy revealed my bones are still in the wrong place. While my adjustment was thorough and helpful, the days after turned into Nell-back-in-bed, sore soft tissue, sore spots all around my ole mama body.
I hadn’t taken my recovery seriously enough, and tiring of my first month semi-bedrest, I had decided to just push through, just get going, just be in control again.
The other day, after a hot bath and my exercises, and laying in bed with a sleeping nursling, I sobbed to my mom, I’m like an invalid, a bystander in my own life. I can’t make a birthday party happen for my daughter; I can’t make a nice Easter dinner. It feels like from almost 7 years of pregnancy, birth, recovery, another vomit-filled pregnancy one after the other, I’ve been an invalid, a total victim to my choices, and a complete whining failure.
Her kind affirmation included words that stopped my tears in their rain gutters: it’s not a terminal diagnosis. Unlike people close to us who face cancer and other debilitating incurable diseases. I will heal up. I will look back and barely remember the inconvenience of a bad recovery. In the meantime, though:
What had I done with my suffering?
Had I whined and cried a lot. YES. Had I occasionally understood I could offer it up and bear it for the sake of my sweet friends who suffer with fertility challenges and miscarriage, infant loss and children differently abled? Yeah, sure. But had I really believed suffering to be a gift? Absolutely not.
Do you find yourself recoiling a little from that phrase? Oh, Nell, that’s so nice and Catholic sounding but let’s hope I’m not given the opportunity to live it out. That’s been me my whole life. I pray, “Give me suffering, Lord, but not very much.” Suffering means pain and pain is to be avoided at all costs because my life is a series of child-related-endurance races between netflix + ice cream binges.
This isn’t to say we’re not supposed to be happy and joyful and seek beauty and joy to have & to spread! Catholics aren’t masochists. We love a good beer, some serious dancing, and a celebration of the delights of our sexuality (read theology of the body, etc).
But what do I have to offer Jesus this Lent? I caved on the hot cocoa gift. But it’s not too late. It’s not too late to unite my suffering with those of my sisters & sisters-in-Christ to offer it as a paltry gift to Our Beloved this weekend. I may not be able to attend all the glorious liturgy. I may be in bed more than I’d like. I may sit idly by as my mom and sisters churn out a deluxe Easter feast.
But I can say, with my whole heart, this is a suffering, this is a gift.
Hi Nell, I love your blog. I am a 21 yr old nursing student/res assistant at college. I can offer no experience or help to you in your post partum woes, but I too feel like a failure all the time. I am so incredibly busy, and i always wonder if the studying/mentoring will really pay off. (i tell myself i can’t see it yet.) i feel like a failure b/c i wear nike shorts instead of put together looking clothes on the reg, my crafting board on my floor is STILL without decor from this semester, and i suck suck suck at prayer time or focusing my type A brain in adoration. i cried on the phone to my mom as well this weekend, venting all this in addition to asking her if i will ever find a mature, funny, driven, hardworking catholic man to run along this life towards heaven with me. because let me tell you, college boys are not doing it for me.
anyways, your post made me feel a little encouraged because i think that as long as we are trying our hardest (as i cried to my mom this weekend, “i am working my ass off”) we will always feel like a bystander here on earth. because we can’t see the pay off. i guess that’s where faith comes in, even tho i suck at offering suffering up too.
i will pray for you esp over the next few days. pray for me, and or bestow your wise post college self on me if you feel so inclined when you aren’t chasing around the kids. and your kids are gorgeous. and the easter dinners won’t matter in 5 years down the road. and your daughter won’t remember not having a bday party, but damn she will always remember the gift of another sibling you gave her. hang in there, mama.
What a smart young woman you are! Just beautiful.
I’m so glad you’re here, sister. Here’s my advice (https://wholeparentingfamily.com/2016/04/17/advice-single-lady-twenties/) but really, just keep on striving to be a bigger vessel of love. That’s the best advice in the whole wide world! Sending you lots of love and hugs!! Thank you for the support and love!
Oh Nell. I’m so sorry. Even if it will heal eventually, it is so hard to accept joyfully when you know it’s affecting your life here and now. I’ve often looked at the joyful suffering saints and thought “yeah, but SHE was a nun! She had time to suffer in bed! I still have to get my kids to school!” I know God sees your sacrifice. Aching for and with you in this season of heavy spiritual gifts.
Your love means so very very much. Thank you for your empathy!
Thank you for this, Nell. I only recently discovered what to do with my suffering in the consecration of myself to Jesus through Mary. It’s so so hard to refrain from those pity parties, for sure! I’m offering your intentions, along with others, through my sufferings. Have a blessed Holy Week!
So beautiful!! Thank you for your prayers and I’ll be praying for you, too!
Hang in there. I could have written this myself after my last baby. Weekly trips to the chiropractor and PT, leaving me trapped indoors because even walking outside 6 months PP left me in tears, did nothing. And then literally at the 9 month mark it DISAPPEARED, just like my PT said. I hope you are like me and time was the best healer (even better than the 30 minutes a day of stretching and pelvic floor work). Hang in there. It’s truly awful.
Nikki. !!!! You’re giving me hope as I sit here, icing, wish my body would stop feeling like it was torn asunder. Really? It just vanished?!?! Oh gosh. Thank you. Thank you. If you have more details and magic tricks, email me? wholeparenting at gmail. I’m just not sure what’s normal anymore!!
“What had I done with my suffering? Had I whined and cried a lot. YES. Had I occasionally understood I could offer it up and bear it for the sake of my sweet friends who suffer with fertility challenges and miscarriage, infant loss and children differently abled? Yeah, sure. But had I really believed suffering to be a gift? Absolutely not.”
I’m right there with you, Nell. This Lent has been so hard for reasons similar to yours (that line about being a “bystander in your own life” resonated so much with me!) But I didn’t even come to the realization that suffering *could be* a gift until reading this post. Maybe I can turn that corner soon.
I am praying for you that the corner turns and you feel this (temporary? i don’t know!) peace I’m experiencing wading through the waters.
Thank you for sharing about your failed Lent….mine “failed” too. I think I was trying to do the penance that I wanted to do and not wanting to acknowledge that the (minor!) sufferings right in front of me should be embraced and not fought against. Just hoping now in the last days of Lent that I didn’t blow my chances for any drawing closer to Jesus through the penance that I didn’t choose. I can be so dense and I get so discouraged at how I squander the gifts/chances that I’m given while clinging to “why can’t I give up X like I’m SUPPoSED to!” Sigh. I’m always grateful the calendar is a circle, that we’ll be given Lent, or whatever seaso n, over and over and over again.
Thank you for you blog!
Oh gosh I’m the most dense ever!! Thank you for your insights.
This was beautifully written and I am sure will help many. After reading your post I read these words of St. Josemaria from Christ is Passing By-
“Let’s not deceive ourselves: in our life we will find vigor and victory and depression and defeat. This has always been true of the earthly pilgrimage of Christians, even of those we venerate on the altars. Don’t you remember Peter, Augustine, Francis? I have never liked biographies of saints which naively — but also with a lack of sound doctrine — present their deeds as if they had been confirmed in grace from birth. No. The true life stories of christian heroes resemble our own experience: they fought and won; they fought and lost. And then, repentant, they returned to the fray.”
This is beautifully written, thank you for writing this piece!
Thank you for being here, sister.
“Suffering means pain and pain is to be avoided at all costs because my life is a series of child-related-endurance races between netflix + ice cream binges.” Red faced because replace ice cream with potato chips and this is me to a T. It’s so difficult to reconcile “unwanted” suffering with the desire to become holy. I only want it on my terms. He offers different terms, most of the time…
Oh SO YES! His terms, not mine. There’s the rub.
You are an absolute breath of fresh air to me.
Prayers for your continued healing. And for your mom who is able to help. Moms are so good.
I had the same external pelvic injuries during the birth of my first. The chiropractor helped, but it’s muscles that will hold the bones and joints in their proper places. The chiropractor can keep aligning the bones, but they need to stay in place which is why it’s critical to strengthen the muscles. Katy Bowman has a great diastasis recti book-different condition but it addresses the same muscles that need to be strengthened. Her blog is great for alignment and natural movement, too. Mutu online system might be helpful. It took me 5 physical therapists to find one who actually helped. Proper alignment, stretching and strong muscles are key. It’s so hard because you have to rest, but sitting in a chair shortens the hamstrings which cause the pelvis to tuck which pulls the bones all wonky which causes pain which makes you want to sit. And it’s one step forward, two steps back sometimes. Also, there’s some great blog posts out there about how it’s ok to hate your delivery and injuries. That disappointment doesn’t mean you love your baby any less. Those helped me, too. Many people told me “at least you had a healthy baby.” While they were well meaning, there is a grieving process that needs to happen. A healthy baby is not the only thing that matters. It really sucks to have a malfunctioning pelvis. Life is instantly different and more difficult. It will get better, but it might not be the same as it was. Hang in there!
YES! My PT is right on it with the muscle exercises–so that is hopefully going to help. I love these resources and to hear from someone else who endured this kind of stuff. THANK YOU!!!