Creighton University's Online Ministries

Learning Perseverance in Difficult Times

Sometimes, the Load We Carry Is Very Great
In a season dedicated to hope and expectant longing, it is good to name the fact that for some of us, life is very difficult. For some, there are extraordinarily painful realities before us. More and more, financial dilemmas are tearing us apart.  If we have lost a loved one, if we are in the middle of a deteriorating or abusive relationship or trying to cope with a broken one, grief can cloud our hope.  If we are facing a life-threatening health crisis or if we struggle to endure a chronic condition, we can find ourselves nearly paralyzed emotionally and spiritually.

The word "perseverance" can put us off, especially if it comes from someone who doesn't seem to understand what we are suffering.  We can think it just means, "you just have to endure this without feeling sorry for yourself." 

The actual Latin root of the word "persevere" can help us.  There are three parts of the word:  per - se - vere.  Loosely translated it says:  "by means of the truth."  We persevere by recalling and staying close to the truth.  What truth?  The truth of who we are and what our life is about.  That's why Advent can be a season of perseverance, as well as a season of hopeful longing. When we let the truth of God's love for us touch our wounds, we begin to taste our salvation.

How do I persevere, if the pain doesn't go away?
When we find ourselves stuck in a painful situation, we can be tempted to think that we can't experience "relief."  Sometimes tears just overwhelm us and we are reminded how close the pain is and how vulnerable we really are. Major stress or financial pressure magnifies any difficulties we have in communicating. Deep losses or profound ruptures in relationship pre-occupy everything else. When we are experiencing such grief or anger, it touches any grief or anger.  So, small losses or disappointments become very big.  Small things people do that might disappoint us, seem to fuel an outburst of rage.  And the approach of Christmas can intensify every emotion and leave us feeling helpless and hopeless.

This is the time to remember who we are.  There is "relief" in recalling that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Incarnation - the In-fleshment - of our God is a most profound reality when we are suffering.  Our God came to be Immanuel - "with us" in the midst of the greatest effects of sin and death.  The One who was born in poverty was baptized into our entire poverty, and suffered all that death means, that we might have the promise of complete joy.  Can we really have joy in the midst of sorrow?  We can, if we recognize the gifts that have been given us.  It is a tremendous gift to be known and understood.  Jesus entered into our world and has walked our path.  He is full of compassion, born of experience with rejection, grief, and a very bad death.

Praying Advent is the Prayer of Perseverance
It takes some focus.  Into hearts that are preoccupied with our pain, we have to make some room for some new experience.  And, a faith community is very important.  It is very difficult to be a believer alone.  We need the support of others who can trust in God.  We need the support of a faith tradition that has a season like Advent.

Our focus has to be more and more on the promises of our God.  The daily readings from the prophets these days, as well as the psalms and intercessions, are powerful ways to let the faith of those who have gone before us into our hearts.  We need to hear the prophets say that "A time will come for singing" before we can ever sing.  We need to dialogue with God, through the emotional cries for help and the moving professions of faith in the psalms.  It helps to say the simple prayers of Intercession, to begin to open a space for comfort and joy.

In the end, "by means of the truth," we can raise our hearts and minds to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus!".  When, even through our tears, we can say, "Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise," then God's grace is with us.  Surrendering to the Truth which is Good News for our suffering, truly "refreshes our souls."  Through perseverance we shall be saved.

And Mary said: 
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 
   my spirit rejoices in God my savior. 
   For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; 
   behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. 
   The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 
   His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. 
   He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind & heart. 
   He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. 
   The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. 
   He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, 
   according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

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