This week in our “Chosen for this Cross” Lenten reflection series, we are meditating on Jesus’ words to Saint Dismas, the Good Thief: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV). Let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the different ways this episode from the Gospel can speak to those of us who are suffering from infertility.
1. We can proclaim the Gospel in our suffering.
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What a gift these words of Christ must have been to Saint Dismas. This thief did what so many of Jesus’s own disciples and followers failed to do on that day: he spoke up and defended our Lord. He knew that his own punishment was deserved, and that Jesus’ was not. As far as we know, the third member of their sad company chose bitterness and denial (although we hope that in his heart, he recognized the truth). But Dismas chose to open his eyes and see that it was the Lord, the long-awaited Messiah, who was undergoing the very same punishment that he was.
When we are walking on the path of infertility, so many times we are struggling with thoughts and feelings that do not proclaim the Gospel, even though a lot of the time it’s not our fault that we are experiencing them. Anger, jealousy, bitterness, and comparing ourselves with others only serve to harden our hearts against what the Lord is trying to do in us and through us. But there are a lot of ways that those of us with this cross can turn our experience of pain into one of proclamation, and one of the best ways to do this is to strive to accept the will of the Lord with hope, even if it’s hard and even if we don’t want to. Just as it’s good at times to let people see our vulnerability, let them see our faith as well. It’s OK that this cross is not a light one to carry, because we are walking in the steps of our Lord.
2. God’s love and mercy exceeds our pain and suffering.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Saint Dismas did not rely on his own strength in his desperate situation. From his cross beside the Cross, he looked beyond himself and asked the Lord for help, trusting in Him. Importantly, he did not ask the Lord to take him down from his cross (more on this later). Instead, he asked the Lord to “remember” him. In the beginning of the Passion account, in the garden of Gethsemane, we hear Jesus ask, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In a way, this is also Saint Dismas’ prayer. He could have asked the Lord to take him down from the cross, but instead he asks, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). He trusted that the grace and mercy of the Lord was bigger than what he was going through.
A lot of the time I get really wrapped up in something I’m worried about. OCD is also a part of my cross, and so I tend to compulsively think over and over about something that happened, what I should do, or how I can fix something. I get so involved in thinking through a situation that at times I forget to turn to God, or only end up telling Him all about it much later, after many solo times around the hamster wheel. These mental and spiritual tendencies can make us feel alone and like we are completely dependent on ourselves. Similarly, with infertility, a lot of us keep mental lists of all our options, possible treatments, diets we should try, what we should do next, different paths we can choose to go down. Let’s remind ourselves (and I very much need to take my own advice here) to look past whatever we have going on at the moment and remember to always turn to the Lord first Who is eternal and already knows how everything will end for us. He will give us the graces we need to get through anything. He will answer our prayers even when we don’t even know what to ask for. So, let’s pray together with St. Faustina: Jesus, I trust in you.
3. God shows us how to suffer.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…” (Matthew 11:29)
As we Christians know, Jesus is God and is without sin and did not deserve any suffering or pain in the least. But He still went through one of the worst kinds of torture devised by man in order to show us the way. God knows all of the large and small crosses we all carry each day. He permits them to come to us, and however mysteriously, they sanctify us. It is easier for us to carry them when we follow His example—how could we bear some of the worst trials of life if we couldn’t look to Him? Jesus was not on the Cross all clean and glowing (as Ann said in the “What Did You Expect?” episode of our podcast). He was in pain, bleeding, abandoned, and harassed. We encounter our Lord there, when we meet Him at the Cross in our own trials, however insignificant they may seem. Indeed, Saint Dismas, with his own eyes, from his own cross, was able to look to our Lord for an example.
Next time someone says something that hurts us, even if they don’t mean to, let’s offer a prayer and remember that Jesus was hurt by the words of others, too. When we’re anxious that we might never become parents, physical or otherwise, and feel like we can’t take it anymore, let’s remember His prayer in the garden and say, Thy will be done. When we’re in physical pain from endometriosis, PCOS, after a surgery, or because we’re just not feeling well, let’s offer it up for the conversion of sinners and for our own marriages. When we’re getting stuck with a needle, let’s remember the Crown of Thorns. The Lord is always with us. He sees the small and large things we go through each day and remembers them all. He knows how much it all hurts because He has been through the Cross Himself.
The Lord is always with us. He sees the small and large things we go through each day and remembers them all. He knows how much it all hurts because He has been through the Cross Himself.
4. The Cross is not the end of the story.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” –St. Augustine, Confessions
When Saint Dismas asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus replied with a promise of the only thing that truly matters: Heaven. But what Jesus did not do, even though He could have, was take Saint Dismas (or Himself) down from the cross. He might not take us down from our crosses either. Instead, He asks us for something more. He invites us to suffer with Him, to bear the crosses He permits to come our way, so that we might come to be with Him forever in Paradise. He reaches all the way into and through our suffering, transforming it because He has suffered Himself.
There is a lot of depression, anxiety, and other pain that comes along with infertility. It is a spiritual, mental, and emotional struggle that can affect our daily lives, our marriages, and our relationships with friends and family. Sometimes this pain can seem overwhelming. But it’s in those difficult moments when we must remember that we were made to be with the Lord in Heaven forever. These times will pass. Eventually we will pass too—it is appropriate in this season to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). In Heaven nothing else will matter except to be with our Lord forever. It might not make our crosses hurt any less today, but in those moments of pain, let’s strive to raise our hearts and minds to the Lord, trusting in Christ’s response to Saint Dismas, and trusting in the words of the Gospel: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).