"Take up your cross, and follow me." We've all heard that, many times before. We know what it is God is calling us to. Unlike what the world tells us, if we are going to live out our vocations, we won't find our "happily ever after." No. Instead, we will open ourselves up to suffering.
I sometimes feel frustrated when people have this sense that parenting and marriage are fun and free from problems. And I'm saddened when people assume that if that is not the case then something must be wrong, and it's time for the marriage to end. Neither of these is true. The vocation to marriage (and parenting!) are ones imbued with tremendous joy, but that joy comes through the cross.
I've given birth twice. I didn't use an epidural either time (because they kind of freak me out) although I had a little IV medicine to help me relax with the first (long!) labor. Let me tell you - labor is incredibly, incredibly painful. I can't even begin to put it into words. Therese's labor was long and exhausting, but Maria's labor was short - yet with back-to-back contractions for four hours and almost no break. By the time I got to the end of Maria's labor, I felt as if I was going to die, as if I couldn't possibly take another minute of it. It's fairly typical that when a mother goes through the "transition" stage of labor and enters the pushing stage, she begins to say, "I can't do this! I can't do this!" And pushing is no bed of roses, either. Labor and delivery are hard!
But, labor and delivery is also indescribably beautiful and awe-inspiring. There is something mysterious and wonderful about seeing a child emerge from you, and be laid in your arms. Suddenly, all the pain and suffering you endured prior to that moment (including any pain or suffering you endured during pregnancy or trying to conceive that child) seem as nothing. I am a total wimp when it comes to physical pain - but I would go through either of my labors again in a heartbeat, in order to have my girls. Labor is, for me, the closest experience I have had to the cross, and to that tremendous love born out of pain.
In fact, both girls were born on a Friday, and the final three hours of my labor with Therese were from noon-three o'clock on a Friday afternoon. I remember glancing at the clock when she was born - at 2:59 p.m. - and realizing that she had been born at the hour of mercy.
From the agony of the cross, is born the Church.
I think that I sometimes - when I'm not in a state of suffering - tend to romanticize suffering and "offering it up." I find it hardest to offer things up when I am in actual, terrible, physical pain (like labor or passing kidney stones). I find that physical pain to be all consuming, and anything but romantic. Yet, my experience of physical pain has changed how I view the cross. The agony of the cross exceeded labor or kidney stones. And not only was it excruciating physical pain, but there was also the suffering of bearing the world's sin.
But with that all - there was love. And I have found that suffering is easier to bear if love has entered the picture. If I am able to offer up my suffering for the love of another, that suffering instantly becomes lighter, if only a little bit.
Yet, how shallow my love would be without suffering! And no vocation is free from suffering. Once you have chosen to follow Christ, the cross is inevitable. Yet, so is the joy - and the love. In the cross we find deeper joy, love, and freedom than we could anywhere else. We find the way to heaven.
Don't fear the cross.
Please continue to pray for vocations with us!
O God, Father of all Mercies,
Provider of a bountiful Harvest,
Provider of a bountiful Harvest,
send Your Graces upon those
You have called to gather the fruits of Your labor;
preserve and strengthen them in their lifelong service of you.
Open the hearts of Your children
that they may discern Your Holy Will;
inspire in them a love and desire to surrender themselves
to serving others in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ.
Teach all Your faithful to follow their respective paths in life
guided by Your Divine Word and Truth.
Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary,
all the Angels, and Saints, humbly hear our prayers
and grant Your Church's needs, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (source)