As a child, when my teachers asked a question, my hand always shot up first and waved furiously in the air. Since I loved studying and was usually several weeks ahead with my homework, I really did know the answers. At times, teachers refused to call on me so that other students might have a chance. I even argued with the substitute who replaced our regular algebra teacher in the middle of the term. And I was right. She had an odd habit of giving us the problems that were already answered in the back of the book so I was able to prove my contentions. I was a truly annoying student.
Many people have asked me, ‘If God is so good and loving, why does He allow such awful things to happen to good people?’ How my hand itches to fly up into the air. How I want to cry out, “Ooh! Ooh! I know the answer!” An acquaintance once insisted that since I have suffered so much, if I couldn’t convince him that God is loving, no one could. Once upon a time, I loosed terrible tantrums at God because of the evil He allowed in my life. But those times seem to be past. I seem to have got it. So I ought to be able to write a clear, neat paragraph that explains why God allows suffering. I ought to be able to condense all I’ve learned into a few words.
But, after writing many pages and discarding them all, I realized I was stuck. I just couldn’t find the right words. Perhaps I’m finally learning that I don’t know everything. And too, some questions ought not receive neat, off-the-cuff responses. So I’ve sat on my hands these past few months (with an occasional, ‘Don’t You see I’m not writing, Lord?’ tossed out when I’m feeling particularly impatient) and waited. And longed to be that well-prepared, annoying student again. And waited some more. And finally realized I was bored waiting.
Since writing wasn’t working, I decided to work on improving my French conversation so that I might score higher on a proficiency exam. I’d like to become a certified translator. And I’d love to be as comfortable using French as English. After all, I spoke French before I encountered English and still read it. Since there are many free, online opportunities, I may as well avail myself of them.
And, for good measure, I decided to review Algebra II and Calculus to prepare to take a couple of Statistics courses. For me, university was like a world cruise. It whet my appetite and left me hungry for much, much more. There are so many subjects I want to study in greater depth. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other free online offerings make the internet a giant garden bursting with boundless opportunities to learn.
Then, this morning, after praying the Angelus in English* my mouth suddenly curled into a happy smile as the image of a baby flooded my mind. He scooted himself forward, stopped, supported his upper body on one arm and hand and lifted his other hand to a toy that was just out of reach.
That’s how he learns to walk, I silently told my Friend.
His voice spoke within me: Why do you not ask, ‘How can parents be so cruel as to force a baby to learn to walk’? You can see how much work it requires.
I nodded. Another image filled my mind: A girl sat at a table learning to spell a list of words. A fresh, warm breeze through the open window stirred the curtains and beckoned her to come and play.
Again, He spoke: Why do you not ask, ‘How can her parents force her to learn’? Spelling is difficult for her, she’d rather be out in the sunshine.
Again, I nodded. A third image filled my mind: I was quickly donning my purple mohair coat as I instructed my assistant on the work they ought to begin after everyone ate dinner. The voice of another co-worker ordering food came to my ears; my stomach growled. I caught up my dance bag and hurried off to class.
I was 28, I mused to my Friend. And up each morning at six so I could get to my 7 a.m. dance class. Then skipped dinner every evening to go to another class and afterwards worked ’til 9 or 10.
His voice spoke again: Why did you not ask, ‘Why torture myself for three hours, six days a week’? Why did your co-workers think it an admirable thing to go to two classes?
I loved dancing. It was worth it, I replied definitively.
Then, I was aware of many souls reaching for heaven. It was hard work. They were each willing to suffer in order to make their goal. Life sent all sorts of suffering and hardship their way; they didn’t choose what they would suffer. But they did choose whether they would participate and reach heaven or rebel and miss out on the real purpose for their lives. And, like a baby forgets the discomfort of learning to walk, they each forgot their suffering once they were with God.
So now, I must remember not to answer but to ask questions I so often neglect: Why would reaching heaven be any different than learning to walk or spell or dance? Why should I expect that being transformed from animated earth into the fullness of Christ would be easy? Without pain? Without suffering? Why would the patterns of my life, or any life, suddenly reorganize themselves so that I can avoid the discomfort that will allow me to become what God created me to be? When He did not exempt Himself but rather, did it the hard way, why would God exempt me? If He did exempt me and I never became like Him, would that not be truly cruel? If God takes all the pieces of my life, all the brokenness, all my errors and failings, all the sins committed against me, all the sins I, myself, commit, and uses all of it — the good and the bad — to make me like Him, if He gives me the eyes to see it, why would I waste my energy fuming at Him because it’s not according to my script?
* At 6 p.m., I pray l’Angélus en Français.