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Jan 19, 2023 264 Sarah Barry
Engage

Changing Losses into Gains

When troubles come, how quick are we to think that nobody understands what we are going through?

In almost every church, we find a crucifix hanging above the altar. This image of our Savior does not present Him crowned with jewels sitting on a throne, nor descending on a cloud carried by angels, but rather as a man, wounded, stripped of basic human dignity, and enduring the most humiliating and painful form of execution. We see a person who has loved and lost, who has been hurt and betrayed. We see a person just like us.

And yet, in the face of this evidence, when we ourselves suffer, how quick we are to lament that nobody understands us, nobody knows what we’re going through? We make quick assumptions and sink into a place of isolation bound by inconsolable sorrow.

A Change of Course

A few years ago my life changed forever. I had always been a healthy child, a ballet dancer with dreams I had already begun to realize by the time I turned twelve. I had regularly attended Sunday school and felt drawn to God but had never done much about it, so I went on enjoying my life, my time with friends, and dancing lead roles at top ballet schools. I was content with my life. I knew God was there, but He was always over there. I trusted Him, but never thought very much about Him.

Yet in eighth grade, at the peak of my childhood dance career, my health started to plummet, and four years later I still have not recovered. It all began just one week after performing in a ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, the day after I received the sacrament of Confirmation, and two weeks before I was to attend a summer intensive at the second most prestigious dance school in the United States. A bad strain of ligaments in my foot aggravated a previously undiscovered break in my ankle bone which now required surgery. Then I developed appendicitis, requiring another surgery. The two surgeries in close succession caused severe damage to my neurological and immune systems and weakened me to a point that no doctor could treat or even fully understand my situation.

As I continued to push my body to continue ballet, my body pushed back and I ended up fracturing my spine, ending my ballet career.”

Throughout the year leading up to my Confirmation, I experienced Jesus in ways I never had before. I saw His love and mercy magnified through study of the Gospels and discussions of His ministry. I started going to church every Sunday and experienced the power of the Eucharist. Before the confirmation classes with my parish priest, no one had ever taught me so clearly about Jesus’ love for me. His instruction clarified my growing understanding of who God truly is. Jesus, who I’d always known to be my Savior, was now my dearest friend and becoming my greatest love. He wasn’t just a statue hanging in the church, a character in stories; He was real, and He was the embodiment of Truth, Truth I had never known I was seeking. Through that year of study I made the decision to fully live my life for Jesus. I wanted nothing more than to become more like Him.

Since my injury, as my health bounced up and down and took me off the path I expected to be on forever, I struggled to remain hopeful. I lost ballet and even some friends. I could barely get out of bed to go to school, and when I did make it, I couldn’t stay the entire day. The life I had always known was crumbling and I needed to understand why. Why did I have to suffer so much and lose so much? Did I do something wrong? Would it lead to something good? Each time I started to heal, some new health issue arose and knocked me down again. Yet even at my lowest points, Jesus always pulled me back to my feet, and back to Him.

Finding Purpose

I learned to offer my suffering to God for the sake of others and watched it change their lives for the better. As things were taken away, space was made for better opportunities. For instance, not being able to dance ballet gave me the space to photograph the dancers at my ballet school and showcase their talent. I finally had spare time to attend my brother’s football games and started taking photos of him in action. I soon ended up photographing the whole team, including boys who never had anyone come out to watch them play, let alone capture their skills in a photograph. When I could hardly walk, I would sit and make rosaries to give to others. As I began to feel worse physically, my heart grew lighter because I was given the chance not merely to live for myself, but to live for God and see His love and compassion at work in others and in my own heart.

Listening to Jesus

Yet it is not always easy for me to find the good in suffering. I often find myself wishing the pain would be taken away, wishing I could live a normal life without physical agony. Yet one evening last March I received clear insight into my eternal questions. I was in adoration, sitting on the hard wood of the church pew, gazing at the crucifix in the dull candlelight and for the first time I wasn’t just looking at the crucifix—I was truly seeing it.

My body ached all over. My wrists and ankles throbbed painfully, my back hurt from the latest injury, my head was tender from a chronic migraine, and every so often, a sharp pain pierced my ribs and knocked me to the ground. Before me, Jesus hung from the cross with nails through His wrists and ankles, wounds from the whips lacerating His back, a crown of thorns painfully thrust upon His head, and a gash between His ribs where the spear had pierced His side–a spear that was meant to ensure He was dead. A thought struck me so forcefully, that I nearly fell over in the pew. Every pain I felt, even the smallest suffering, my Savior felt as well. My back pain and headaches, even my conviction that nobody else could understand, He understands it all because He experienced it too, and continues to bear it with us.

Suffering is not a punishment, but a gift we can use to grow closer to God and to shape our character. While physically I have lost a lot, spiritually I have gained. When all that we think is so important gets stripped away, then we can see what truly matters. That night in adoration as I looked at Jesus’ wounds so similar to my own, I realized that if He bore it all for me, then I can bear it all for Him. If we want to be more like Jesus, we’re going to have to walk the same journey He did, Cross and all. But He will never leave us to walk alone. We need only to look at the Cross and remember He is right there walking beside us through it all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sarah Barry

Sarah Barry is a high school senior preparing to study theology in college. Her love for writing has allowed her to touch souls through her Instagram blog @theartisticlifeofsarahbarry. She hopes to use her gifts to spread the love of God.

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