My mind has been plagued by “What if?”s lately. What if this hadn’t happened? What if I had not said this? What if? What if? WHAT IF?

We are told to not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about it’s own things; sufficient for the day is its own troubles. We aren’t told anything about worrying about yesterday and wondering what things would be like if it had been different. But something about this thought process strikes me as wrong and flawed. There is something quite contrary to the notion that we are to always be in positive action that clashes with a mind caught in the past and what has happened.

There is also something that reeks of ingratitude about it. In the prayer of thanksgiving, we give thanks for every condition, in any condition, and concerning every condition. But a thought process devoted to wondering what if the past had been different does not give thanks for the past conditions. It is the very essence of ingratitude. It is defiantly telling God, “I may say I trust in Your will and that all that You do for me is done for the best, but I still think I could have worked it out better.”

This thought process also robs us of our ability to rejoice, and we are told to rejoice always. When caught in what has been and what could have been, there is no room left to rejoice in the present moment. There is no room to give thanks for now. There is no room to live.

There may not be an express warning about getting lost in the “What if?”s of yesterday (that I know of, if you have any please share) but the very thought process contradicts several of the commands we are given. I cannot submit my present will to Him if I cannot accept His past will for me. Time to leave “What if?” in the past.

“Verily, verily I say unto you, today you shall be with me in paradise,” came the proclamation.
Yet, I cannot remember where I came from.
But I know I desperately wish to return.
It is cold and dark here and the roof has sprung a leak.

We all hurt. We all feel pain. We all experience sorrow and loss. Even those who seem to have been born with a golden spoon in their mouths, whose every wish and whim is fulfilled, experience the ache. Even those who seem to have permanent smiles on their faces and endless cheer and joy have tear-soaked moments. (Ironically, the ever-happy seem to experience the most pain.)

I’d like you to pause for a moment and quickly recollect what you’ve labeled as the most painful experience of your life thus far, emotional or physical or perhaps the emotional pain so great that your very body physically ached. Once you have it in your mind’s eye, answer a question: What does the world around you look like? Who’s around you?

Chances are you can’t recall the world. You can’t recall much of anything. It just hurt and that’s all there is to the moment. The world with its day to day hustle and bustle, your clothes, your food, the news, your car, your job, your classes, your studies, the time, the day, the dishes, the dog, dinner, laundry, everything just simply disappears. In that moment, you have broken free of the world so to speak.

In her book, The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry articulates this notion quite eloquently and succinctly when she writes the following: “The absence of pain is the presence of world; the presence of pain is the absence of world.” The first time I read that quote I remember my mind reeling with thoughts. I had often thought about the issue of pain. Why we felt it, why it was so awful, why it seemed to be what stood out in our memories over the joy and the laughter. The thoughts stretch back in time as far back as I can remember actively thinking about my faith in Christ in order to deepen and expand it. In their most simplistic form, my thoughts went a little like this:

God = Love, happiness, joy, hope, and all the good stuff out there.

pain = all the crappy stuff out there, no joy, no love, no hope.

It seemed that God and pain could not coexist. So you stick close to God and you shouldn’t ever feel any of the bad stuff, right? No, not so much. It’s not flawed reasoning to think so because God is our shield and our protector. He gave His only begotten Son for us that we may have eternal life and not perish. So it is true, pain and God do not coexist. But this is an incomplete picture, and an incomplete picture leads to incomplete reasoning.

The Book of Revelation helps complete the picture. In it St. John writes of Christ’s second coming: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The notion that God’s presence wipes away pain is reaffirmed but here it is qualified–all the former things have passed away. The world with its 1,001 worries, distractions, temptations is gone, and only God in all His glory is there. How can there be pain and suffering? It’s not possible.

But we live in the world. We cannot escape it. In effect, there is no way out till we breathe our last. The worries, distractions, and temptations are simply a fixture of our corporeal existence. And as long as we are trapped in this world and simply focused on our corporeal experience and only concerned with the body and what will satisfy it, then we will never come to experience the joy of God’s presence for all of eternity. So now Scarry’s theory comes in to clarify things. She writes that the only thing that can shatter the hold of the world on us and break us out of its grasp and, in a way, out of ourselves is pain.

In order to look above and beyond to Him, we must experience pain and sorrow. The world is no more when we hurt. And when we see beyond the world we can see God and all of His comfort and mercy. Although we remain planted here physically, as the world melts away in the face of our struggles and only God remains, we are comforted by Him. In his most painful moments, David the prophet and the king writes “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning…Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness…” (Psalm 30:5, 11).

We feel pain so that we may see Him. When we see Him we are engulfed in His warmth and we are comforted. And we have the His promise of second coming when all the former things have passed and the pain itself no longer exists.

An answer for our darkest times…

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Disappointment and dashed hopes are inevitable in this world. Not everything is perfect. Not everything will go “according to plan.” Sorrow will follow; that is a given.

As crazy as it may sound, it those moments of sorrow and grief, sadness deep enough for me to cry off my waterproof mascara, that I ultimately cherish the most. Yes, the feelings are awful but if it were not for the moments of sorrow that put my waterproof Diorshow to shame, I would not be able to lift up my heart to the Lord and cry out with David the prophet and the king when he said,

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;
My eyes waste away with grief,
Yes, my soul and my body!
For my life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away…
…I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind;
I am like a broken vessel.
For I hear the slander of many;
Fear is on every side;
While they take counsel together against me,
They scheme to take away my life.
But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’” (Psalm 31:9-10, 12-14)

It is moments like these that make me determined to shake the ground and the earth with my prayers–to make it resonate with the sound of my cries. It is moments like these that bring to light my shortcomings and my faults. Why must my prayers be earth-shaking only when I feel sorrow? When all is well, why am I content to simply throw up my dues to my Creator and Savior without the same focus or fire?

I cling to God in times of adversity, I literally place Him in a death grip and refuse to let go. So why does my grasp loosen when the storm has passed overheard and the sun starts to emerge?

It is safe for you dear reader to assume that I am going through a bit of a rough time at the moment. Today, just a few hours ago, I was having it out with God and asking Him why He didn’t answer the prayers I had sent up to Him months ago asking Him to not allow anything to begin that would ultimately end in sorrow. I have had much loss and grief in my life over the past two years and my frail heart could not stand anymore. So I prayed and pleaded, asking to be spared from any more situations that would bring about more sadness. But I do not have His wisdom, and I trust it far more than I would even dream of trusting my own. I stand here, months after I had made that request, with fresh tears in my eyes, and yet I thank Him from the very core of my being.

If it were not for this sorrow, would I be lifting up heart to Him as much as I am now? Would I know the depth of His comfort and how He can ease a soul in despair? Would I have become aware of my shortcomings in the manner I hold onto Him everyday?

You see, the point is for me to cry out and lift my heart up to Him in the same manner as I do now in sorrow when I am happy, content, ecstatic, ambivalent, ordinary, tired, energetic, lackadaisical, at a loss for words, entirely verbose, when nothing is happening and when everything is happening–at every moment of every day until the last moment of my very last day.

And that is how I am refined. This is how we are all refined.

“I will bring [them] through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is my people,’ And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)

If He places me in the fire, my soul will rejoice. I will emerge a finer grade of gold, more worthy to be called His daughter, more worthy of His salvation. Far more worthy to lift up my eyes and heart to the heavens and say “The Lord is my God.”