Uniting our sufferings

First published 3rd April 2015

It was the realisation that they were both potty about God that brought them to a new and wonderful place in their own relationship. For 'God is Love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.'

image of Jesus on the cross

Can there be a point to suffering? While working as a hospital chaplain I came across a Liverpudlian matriarch, just like the mum on the 80s TV series Bread. She too had a sizeable family, had nursed one son through a terminal illness and had trailed across to Australia so that she could care for a grandchild while her daughter was at work.

Her humour and the twinkle in her eye were something else. I was truly captivated, and shall refer to her as Lilly from here on.

Regularly we would share Morning Prayer and on one particular occasion her daughter Gina was there when I arrived. Leaning on that promise Jesus made that Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst, I suggested that we got to prayer.

Gina asked, Is that OK Mammy? to which Lilly begrudgingly replied, If he says its OK, I suppose so.

At that particular time I was a Roman Catholic and I later found out that Gina had become a Methodist, which had not gone down too well with Lilly.

A few weeks later, Gina came to me and said that when she had offered to pray the rosary with her mum, Lilly had told her that it would be sinful to do so. I explained that this is not true but suggested they could definitely share passages from the Bible. I told Gina she would find a Bible in Lillys bedside locker, and she went off with a spring in her step.

Lillys illness was such that it required regular amputations. This was taken with a resilience that showed the British stiff upper lip at its best.

Other family members visited regularly but something was happening between Gina and her mum that was different. Ginas siblings hadnt been near a church for years but they had remained within the familys traditional faith community, while Gina had found her personal relationship with Jesus through the Methodist church; a personal relationship with Jesus that her mother had also.

It was the realisation that they were both potty about God that brought them to a new and wonderful place in their own relationship. For God is Love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them.

Little by little, Lillys health continued to deteriorate and she went to a palliative care ward. But the humour remained. Regularly we would be in fits of laughter with tears of joy streaming down our faces. One morning, Lilly had said something so silly or outrageous and again Gina and I were in fits. While taking breath, we looked and saw that Lilly had died.

While we were both dealing with the shock, Gina said to me You know, Bill, I always knew when Mammy was in pain, her lips were moving 19 to the dozen.

I said, Your mum and I had a discussion about suffering and I shared the opportunity that Jesus gives each and every one of us, to unite our sufferings with those that He went through in His passion in the Garden of Gethsemane right the way through to His Crucifixion and Death on the Cross.

Gina knew exactly what I meant and the realisation of what her mum was doing in those times of immense pain was a huge comfort to her. It is my hope and my prayer that this particular memory of Lilly is a comfort to you during your tough times too.

Uniting our sufferings with Christs for the salvation of others is a standing invitation open to us all.

Revd Bill OConnell is Priest-in-Charge at Lyddington and Wanborough and Bishopstone with Hinton Parva in Wiltshire


/ Contemplate now

Today is Good Friday; what does the death of all hope look like to you?

Because the realm of God stretches even into death, death can no longer deny the gift of life.

Christ is with us in our suffering; we can be with Christ in His.


/ Meditate through the day

Wherever there is affliction, there is the Cross concealed, but present to anyone who chooses truth rather than falsehood and love rather than hate. (Simone Weil)

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