“Do not believe you can love without suffering, without suffering a great deal.”
Suffering was not hidden from our dear St. Therese. October 1st is the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux. She lived as a cloistered Carmelite nun from the age of 15 until her death nine years later. Although she never married, her understanding of the relationship of love and suffering is inspirational for husbands and wives.
During our wedding ceremonies, we consent to difficult promises. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, to love and to cherish. These words are not meant to make people feel like we’re signing our freedoms away and consenting to potential misery. They are an accurate reflection of the challenges we will realistically face, and affirmation of what real love is.
Love is pursuing through suffering.
Whether a person is single or married, a parent or not, life will not be free of these challenges. There will be times of sickness and health, financial stability and instability, good times and bad. Marriage, however, introduces a unique factor into everyday hardships: responsibility for another person. Living in discouragement, making irresponsible decisions, running away from problems is tempting, but we cannot do that when we’re married. We have to argue with another person, care about their perspective, and come to a decision.
This responsibility is what causes the true suffering in marriage. It’s painful to come out of ourselves and care more about another person than our own desires. But, that suffering is where love is found. Love is not the happy feelings and endorphins we get from hugs and kisses and dates. Those are natural pleasures of being pursued by another person. Real love is making that pursuit through suffering, through pain, through difficulty. If more people understood this, there would be a lot less divorce.
How does a cloistered nun know this better?
Therese may not have lived the traditional experience of marriage, but she had a spouse. When a woman becomes a religious, she takes Christ as her husband. Although she never experienced life with a man, Therese understood better than most married couples the concept of love in suffering.
She had to deny herself most of the pleasures of life to be with her husband in her cloister. Therese had to submit to her husband more extremely than any housewife or mother ever will. She had to forgo the physical love and affection of a spouse. Therese never saw her father and sisters. She surrendered all of the world except what was behind the walls of her convent. All to be with her spouse.
Therese chose a life of suffering.
She chose a life of love.
What small suffering are we called to pursue love in during our daily married lives?