“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength.” – 1 Cor. 10
Today was abortion day here in Fargo. It was sunny, but cold. I couldn’t figure out a way to situate myself so the wind didn’t feel like I’d just walked into a freezer with a fan blowing on my face. I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of it; it had been warmer lately so the bitterness took me by surprise.
But that was nothing, really, next to the chill that followed. I’d quietly approached the woman who had just left the facility in the parking lot, where she was pausing, it seemed, to have a smoke.
I almost missed her muffled words. Holding a dry cigarette up to her face with a lighter, trying to shield the wind, she directed them at me, the only other person within range. “Who the F*&% are you?” she asked. Though I would have been surprised, too, I’m sure, I hoped she would learn my intentions quickly. I only meant to extend a kind word, to search out whether she needed anything, even if just a friendly face, and be on my way.
When it was clear she needed space, I accepted that, but before retreating, asked her name. Her resistance was firm, so I simply told her I’d be praying for her and went back to the prayer circle that awaited.
She’d given me just enough time, however, to memorize her face. Though a name is nice to have, I have found that capturing a face in my mind can be just as helpful. It allows me an important visual to take with me into whatever prayer spaces I enter in the hours that follow.
I will not lie though. It was hard to hear the F-bomb and wonder what darkness she has experienced that would lead to her reaction. That kind of response can come from one place only: a soul that is suffering. And, I would guess, suffering without hope peeking out somewhere, which is the worst kind of all. I have had brushes of it in my own life; enough to know it is not a place I want to dwell; enough to be thankful every day that I am not there again, and to want to lead others to that same glimmer of something good.
Later, at Mass, we heard from Hebrews words about discipline, and how sometimes, God’s exhortations feel hard, but instead, they are meant to strengthen, as any good parents’ would: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”
The chapter then continues. “So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.”
I called to mind my apparent loss earlier with the woman, allowing myself to feel again the hardness of walking away in what felt like defeat. The words made me think of this in a whole new way. “Continue on,” I heard them say. “Do not count the losses, for they may not be what they seem.”
No matter what, verse 12 continues, we must strive for peace with everyone, “and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled.”
This is a charge to move forward and not be tempted to lose hope, lest we prevent others from the gift and grace of seeing and knowing the Lord. And yet, how hard this is at times, especially now.
In a meditation by Servant of God Monsignor Luigi Giussani, I read that when Christ is absent from our life, indifference to reality follows, which in turn becomes amorality. “The outcome of this is to give in to whomever shouts loudest, to whomever has the most power,” Guissani says. I can’t help but think of the protests going on throughout the country, and how restless we’ve become.
When we lose sight of the goodness of God, he says, “life is lost in the confusion in which everything becomes licit and in which everything becomes hostile. Suffering is increased and we are consumed by rebellion or cynicism instead of being stirred to collaboration for rebuilding a people.”
Stirred to collaboration…for rebuilding a people. How refreshing to ponder right now that this could be even remotely possible.
But of course, only through God, and God alone, is it possible.
Finally, I return to the second part of the passage with which I began, from Corinthians.
“God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength,” it starts, “but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you will be able to bear it.”
My desire today was that I could provide a way out for the woman who had gone into the facility. Though she seemed to have gone through with the abortion, I wanted her to know there is healing, and hope. I’m not sure I accomplished it; I was limited to the way in which she may or may not have perceived my intentions.
But I will pray that something about the way I approached her will stay with her, and bring the light she deserves. We cannot control how others receive us, but God can, through our actions, reach them anyway. How beautiful to know that our losses may only appear as such.
Tonight, I will bring the wounds I witnessed today back to prayer. In the Adoration chapel, I will offer these hurts to our Lord — not just that of this stranger, but of friends, too, who have misunderstood, and whose distance is the weightiest of all the trials I have faced this week.
“The Gospel reminds us again and again that God’s love is our true source of strength,” I read in my Magnificat. “On him the strongest person can lean without apology.”
I’m leaning, Lord, and trusting you will always be the rock in whom I can place all my trust, now and forever.