It was one of the last emails I received in 2012. A 30-year-old stranger somewhere in the United States wrote to explain his situation.
I will call him Jason. Jason has suffered with severe cerebral palsy since birth and has grown weary of his difficult situation; he was contemplating suicide when he came across one of my blogs re-published by the American Life League on its website.
What should I say to Jason? His situation is permanent and certainly miserable by most standards. Too many people would espouse helping Jason in his suicide. They would agree with his dark thoughts about death because they think his life is not worth living.
They would not put it in such blunt terms, but that's what assisted suicide says to the suicidal person. Jason is unwanted by a culture that increasingly embraces euthanasia consciousness for the sick and disabled. He knows that . . . and so do I.
I have had degenerative multiple sclerosis nearly as long as Jason has been alive. I am wheelchair bound too. I also know the vise-like stabbing pain of spasms and the frustration of spastic limbs (although I suspect not yet as severe as Jason experiences). What future deterioration is in store for me is unclear.
Our diseases may be different, but Jason and I have much in common. We both know the humiliating stares of people in malls or grocery stores. We both know the ache of internal isolation that protracted suffering can bring and grimly reminds us that we are "different." We are both defective - we have been set aside from the ongoing productive life the normal population enjoys.
There are lonely agonies that words cannot express. Pain of the body is just that but pain of the heart can cut to the soul. Jason's email seems to ask no, begs - me to answer that I do understand experientially his soul pain, his isolation and loneliness, his inexpressible agony of agonies.
Is there a solidarity of broken spirits? I don't know. I do know that in whatever our pain may be, we must turn to God and not yield to despair. If we do this, our predicaments become opportunities for spiritual growth. Loneliness can become solitude.
In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said, "The Christian saint is happy because he has verily been cut off from the world; he is separate from things and is staring at them in astonishment."
The great saints were often cut off from the world by acts of the will; others are cut off by circumstances. All Christians must be detached from it and its corruptions, yet still live in the world. This state of being separated with God from the world (whether willfully or by circumstance) will create astonishment in us too.
We are astonished to discover that God's questions are wiser than man's answers. God's questions cut to the marrow and demand self-examination. They invite us in our anguish to draw nearer to Christ. Inasmuch as we do this, we will notice we are being purified and transformed to live in and for Christ.
If we allow it, pain can become a vehicle for this transformation of the lower natural man within us and begin to elevate us to be more like Christ. This is preparation for eternal glory. St. Peter spoke of this when he said, "After you have suffered a little while, our God, will give you eternal glory. He personally will pick you up, and set you firmly in place, and make you stronger than ever. To him be all power over all things, forever and ever" (1 Peter 5.10-11).
Chronic suffering need not stretch out ahead of us like a scorching desert. With Christ as our interior Guide and Master, a sickroom can become more like a gentle cloister where intense prayer and communion with him becomes the order of each day as we trust that there is divine meaning to our pain.
Jesus told St. Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12.9). Rather than stewing about our pain, we are called to look to Christ and unite our suffering with his.
Dear friend Jason. Have we not been told that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in those who love Christ? God will personally dry every tear you and I have shed. Do not grow weary. God is with us.