it’s ok if you’re not ok

“Remember –sin hurts!” he would say as the last bell of the week rang and his high school juniors would race out the door.

My co-worker was a fellow religion teacher, in charge of our morality curriculum, and had a personality that lightened the mood of any tense situation. He could say difficult things to people without it feeling like judgment or condemnation. He was a humorous and responsible giant, and he truly cared for his students.

That year in particular, we had a rowdy group of teenagers who always managed to get into some major trouble on the weekends. As a previous “rowdy teen,” he would try to come up with mini-versions of the Gospel that would stick and could be shared  quickly. “Sin hurts” became his slogan for the year. It was short, easy to remember, and it didn’t take long before some of the students would say it with him as they walked out the door.

I thought this was ingenious…. The parable of the Sower and the Seed is pretty much indicative of what teaching high school religion is like; spread the seed and some of it will grow. My co-worker planted this particular “seed” every week and it was very catchy. I can’t imagine that it didn’t stay with some the students even years down the road. It certainly stayed with me… in fact, I always think of his little mantra on this particular feastday.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. As a kid… I could never really get into this feast. Why would I want to celebrate the Sorrows of Our Lady? Sorrow is not something to celebrate… It made no sense to me… IMG_0468

Then I got older and experienced some pretty deep sorrows myself. At those times of my life, it was hard to be joyful…or grateful… and the reminders that “We are a Christian people and Alleluia is our song!” just made me feel so inadequate… sometimes even sinful in my sorrow.

I wanted to be that joyful person…

I wanted to rejoice in all that Christ had done for me…

I simply could not do it.

I felt unholy. I felt like a disappointment to God. I felt like a failure… unable to carry the cross God had sent my way.

Thankfully, God reached down to clarify my heartache… pouring his grace throughout the murkiness of my mind, giving me a sliver of relief.

“Sin hurts…” He reminded me…as if to reassure me that my continued struggle with my cross was not my own fault.

When God created the world, he created it good. There was no evil, no sin. He never wanted us to suffer. It was not in his original plan for mankind, but our first parents were tempted into believing that having knowledge of both good and evil was a desirable thing. Satan told them eating the fruit would make them like God, and as always with Satan, his lie was not entirely untrue. Knowledge of both good and evil would make them a little bit like God (since God knows all). So they gave in and ate the fruit, unaware of the devastating effects this newly obtained knowledge would have on their lives and the lives of all their descendants.

Every discomfort, every struggle, every disruption we experience in our lives is the result of this sin. Sin disrupted every single good thing that God created… and every disruption falls under one of three major consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice.

  • The first of these disruptions is death, because the very first gift God had given to creation was life. By rejecting God, they rejected life since he is existence itself. In this action, they also disrupted all the material and spiritual goods he gave to them that made their life abundant and comfortable. . Sin “hurt” life. Now, mankind has to experience sickness, physical ailments and death… things God never ever wanted us to be familiar with.
  • The second gift that was “hurt” by sin is God’s gift of work. Before obtaining this knowledge of evil, Adam and Eve had work in the garden, but it was fruitful work — very unlike anything we’ve ever experienced ourselves, even on our best days. Because of sin, work is cursed. It becomes cumbersome and difficult, a source of immense stress for mankind, whether this work be inside or outside the home.
  • Thirdly, we see that sin damaged the relationship between man and woman. Before the Fall, they lived in perfect harmony. They understood each other, and awed at the mystery they found in each other’s embrace. Because of sin, the relationship between man and woman has suffered much misunderstanding, frustration and even abuse. Man and woman are often pitted against one another, incapable of connecting or committing, and unable to heal relationships — even when they want to.

You see… sin hurts.

Every sorrow that I have experienced in my life has been due to the effects of sin… not necessarily my own personal sin (though they absolutely played a role), but just sin in general:

  • the deaths of loved ones… especially when they’re unexpected
  • illness and injury, whether my own or someone that I love
  •  job woes (horrible bosses, low pay, unfulfilling or demeaning work, unemployment)
  •  heartbreak and loneliness (painful break-ups, living a lonely single life)

These things hurt. I would bet money that this is true for everyone.

Too often I find a specific mindset within myself and my friends, the mindset that we have to find a “silver lining” in the difficult moments — or that our sorrow and mournfulness is a sign of personal sin and failure.

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The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows proves that this is not necessarily true. She suffered great sorrow… and she was sinless. For me, her existence allows me to breathe easier. It gives me permission to grieve, to struggle, and to feel pain.

She showed me that it’s okay if I’m not always “okay”… because you know what? Sin hurts… and the human heart was never supposed to experience evil.

In fact, sometimes, sorrow is a sign of holiness. Mary’s sorrows pierced her heart so deeply because of her purity. Think of a child who has been raised vegan and is exposed to red meat. That food is going to shock her system because it doesn’t know how to digest animal byproducts. Similarly, sin “shocks” Mary’s soul more intensely than it does ours… because we’ve already been exposed to sin. Sin hurt Mary more because she was good, pure and virtuous. 

The Church celebrates The Seven Sorrows of Mary to give us peace, light, and hope.

  • Peace in seeing that there is nothing un-virtuous about being full of sorrow.
  • Light in the example of Mary’s response to her anguish; she trusted God’s plan, and persevered through the pain, choosing to remain close, pondering things within her heart when she did not understand.
  • Hope in the salvation of others that came from her personal suffering, in the ending of her pain, and in the reward she received in heaven.

If you’re not ok, that’s ok. Just know that you are not alone. Many saints experienced intense periods of darkness and pain. Second only to her immense charity work, Mother Teresa is famous for spending almost 40 years in spiritual darkness and immense sorrow.

Her advice when one encounters difficulty is to reach out to Our Lady…

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Every single one of us has or will encounter sorrow within our lives. This is one of the reasons the Church encourages us to devote ourselves to Our Lady of Sorrows. In her we find comfort and refuge. Having experienced intense sorrow herself, she will certainly never abandon us.

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