From Tears to Context

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Why, in the middle of working a crossword or putting mustard on a hotdog, did I suddenly find tears welling up? This had been happening for over a week now, and I finally realized I’d better pay attention.

The tears had started in the days after a retreat with homeless women. It had been inspiring to see women who were struggling with so many issues but had made the commitment for this weekend to focus on their relationships with God, both in one-on-one and in group sessions. It was not as though I had never heard individual stories of the kinds of hardships they had endured. But I had not realized that many of these horrors are often wrapped up in one life. As I shared my own story with my retreat partner, heard her story, and then heard more stories in the group sessions, I began to feel very heavy. At the Sunday closing I was baffled as women talked about how consoling the retreat had been and about how light they felt. I did not feel that way at all. On Monday morning I was back to normal life and concerns, putting aside the weekend so I could focus on my work. Except for those surges of tears.

It was Marian Cowan, CSJ, a member of the retreat team, who helped me process what I was experiencing by guiding me through a weekend of reflection. Gently, she probed my own life, suggested scripture passages for prayer, and encouraged me to ask Jesus for tips on handling the stress of hearing so much tragedy. It became a time of learning about Jesus’ suffering when he sees someone being raped or rejected by a parent or hurt in any other number of ways. “How do you stand it?” I asked. “How do you handle it?” Because I was so full of my own “stuff,” it took some time to tune in to his answer. “You see what I go through when someone is being hurt,” he seemed to be saying. But the response I remember most is “Remember, you are seeing only part of the story. I have something to do with this story.” In other words, the pain I saw in these women was something like a movie trailer; it was an indication of a whole story that I had not yet heard. Maybe that was why the women felt serene at the end of the retreat. They had come to see their suffering in a wider context of someone caring about them, even though they knew that the next day they would be back to dealing with all the difficulties they had talked about. The thought sustains me whenever I begin to feel discouraged about what seems like a hopeless situation.

Recently, I learned that my sharing partner in that retreat had died—peacefully— and I wept again. But this time, I knew that the tears came from gratitude that I had known her, even if I didn’t yet know her full story.

Rosemary Jermann is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC St. Louis.  She is an adjunct faculty member at Saint Louis University and previously servesd as an editor for and contributor to Theology Digest and Review for Religious. 

6 Responses to “From Tears to Context”

  1. Louise Sandberg

    Thsnk you for sharing your own vulnerability, and for your description of the heaviness that comes as others lighten their burden. I find that for me an anxiety comes and I think I have to fix instead of realizing that God is already there. Sandy, the Nor’Easter, and the recent massacre in Connecticut are teaching me to trust God in new ways. People are challenging God, “how could God let this happen?” I do not have to apologize for God. I simply have to be present to the pain of the person in front of me, and talk about the choices we have now to heal and to do God’s will. To do the next right and loving thing.

    Reply
    • Camille

      I participated in my first ISP retreat with woman just a few weeks ago in the Chicago area. Reading your story made me think, this is my experience my story. I thought for a moment I was having a “senior moment” and wrote a story and didn’t remember. We are blessed to have experienced sharing time with these God filled woman.

      Reply
  2. Bill Barry, S.J.

    Thanks for writing this blog. Your experience of Jesus being with the sufferers is similar to my own. I have felt compassion for God who is present to all the horrors of this world and is trying to stop them, but cannot unless we cooperate with grace. And God still loves us. Amazing.

    Reply
    • Pat Connelly

      Since 10:30 this morning I have been crying off and on, feeling really unhappy
      that my Dr. told me that I would need to use a walker to get around.
      A cane was bad enough. I am leaving to go on a little cruise with some
      friends; a walker just does not fit in with the scene.
      I cry again seeing how puny my reaction is. I am surrounded with Real problems;
      REAL suffering.

      Reply
  3. Maria

    Rosemary,
    What a beautiful and heartfelt entry! Thank you so much for sharing your experience, as I’m sure it will help others enter more fully into the mystery you describe. I’m reminded of the quote from St. Augustine: In my deepest wound I saw Your glory, and it dazzled me.
    Merry Christmas, dear lady!

    Reply

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