"Beat Down" and in the company of ostriches

art by Kevin Derksen
In their introduction to the Book of Job, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that this Old Testament book is "an exquisite dramatic treatment of the problem of the suffering of the innocent."

What this means is: "This is great to read, especially if it's not about you."

No one, of course, escapes suffering, but one person's suffering is never the same as another's, even if they are going through the same experience. These differences - after a few rounds of suffering in our life - begin to strike us as "unfair."

It's unfair that our child has cancer, and yours does not. It's unfair that my husband lost his job, and yours just got a big fat promotion. It's unfair that my health is so poor, while you're out running marathons.

Of course, we can turn each of these situations around. I'm so sorry your child has cancer, but mine's a drug addict. It's terrible that  your husband lost his job, but mine is a philandering dog. Yes, I run marathons, but it's to escape the unhappiness of home.

Later on in the introduction to Job, the Bishops state: "the lessons that the book teaches are not transparent." Uh ... yeah.  I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that no experience of suffering offers up transparent lessons. Such is the human experience.

In the past few weeks, I've lost my job (and income, which is a huge strain.) Our apartment has become infested with bed bugs, and it's cost us about $3000 SO FAR to deal with this. (I say "so far" because we have at least one and possibly two more treatments in the next 3 weeks or so.) Our apartment is totally torn apart, as ever single cloth item we own has had to be washed, dried and sealed in containers. Our art, pictures and books are all sealed. We are tripping over boxes and bags and totes, we don't know where much of anything is, and it's costing us money we don't have.

Tuesday, just for fun, I got to go to the ER not once, but twice. Seems my spinal stimulator is on the fritz, so my nerve pain (and then ensuing muscle pain) got out-of-control.

And it wasn't even Lent yet, folks! That's how my family rolls!!

My poor husband, who carries so much of these burdens, seemed a bit out of it this morning, which is unusual for him. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was just "beat down."

Job himself put it this way:

I cry to you, but you do not answer me; 
I stand, but you take no notice. 
and with your strong hand you attack me. 
You raise me up and drive me before the wind; 
I am tossed about by the tempest. 

Indeed I know that you will return me to death 
to the house destined for everyone alive. 
Yet should not a hand be held out to help a wretched person in distress? 
Did I not weep for the hardships of others; 
was not my soul grieved for the poor? 

Yet when I looked for good, evil came; 
when I expected light, darkness came. 
My inward parts seethe and will not be stilled; 
days of affliction have overtaken me. 
I go about in gloom, without the sun; 
I rise in the assembly and cry for help. 
I have become a brother to jackals, 
a companion to ostriches.  (Job 30:20-29)

That is a man that is "beat down."

(Also, I'm not sure how the ostriches got mixed up in all this, but "a companion to ostriches" seems as good an explanation of any regarding our situation.)

While I enjoy Job - if only for weird animal references - St. John Paul II's apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, is far more enlightening. First, St. John Paul reminds us that Job does not get the last word on suffering - Christ does. And ultimately, we humans don't simply want to know WHY we suffer. We want to know that our suffering MEANS something.

The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. 

In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection. [para. 14]

All true and life-changing and necessary for us to hear.

Except when we are "beat down."

When we are "beat down," we need compassion. We need companions - people willing to sit with us and just be. We need a phone call from a friend. We need prayers to hold us up when we cannot hold ourselves up. We need to just sit in the presence of God.

None of which sounds like the plans for Lent most of us make: I'm gonna give up caffeine, and get to Adoration once a week and set aside time every day for prayer and I'm going to work on my relationship with my mom.

And if you're not in the middle of bed bugs and job loss and your body falling apart, then this may just be the right Lenten plan for you.

But if you are currently a companion to ostriches, beat down - then give yourself a break. Jesus does not want our sacrifices of bullocks; He wants us, our hearts. He wants our hearts so badly that He will come and keep you company in the midst of the ostriches. He is a God that knows "beat down" so intimately that He can put His arm around us and say, "I know."

Are you "beat down?" You're in good company. Come sit with us, over here amongst the ostriches, and we will wait for Christ.

A work in progress. Just not THAT work.

My work life has been spotty at best the past two years. My job at Company A (which I adored and would go back there in a heartbeat) got budgeted right out of existence. I was totally bowled over - never saw it coming.

That meant months on unemployment and serious financial pinching.

I was hired by Company B (alas, no bugle boy), an organization who's business plan was written by blind and deaf chimpanzees. It was unpleasant, in the way that diarrhea is unpleasant.

I was having some issues with the way things were done, and my understanding of processes that I had not been hired to do. My tenure there lasted 2 weeks. Good-bye.

Then, a round of interviews for a job with the local diocese. Sure, it wasn't what I was looking for but I could easily do the job.

Or so I thought.

My last two jobs have taught me something: my brain does not function the way it used to. Oh, I'm not saying I've got a serious medical condition having to do with my brain. No, it seems as if the trauma of the past two decades, along with depression, anxiety and the meds used to treat them have taken a toll.

You don't need to believe me, by the way. You can read many, many articles about this.

The best way I can explain it is that it's like being partially deaf, partially blind, and limp. With time and compensation, a person can certainly live a normal life by focusing on "work arounds." But there will always be circumstances that are difficult: a noisy and crowded party for instance.

I haven't figured out my work arounds. If my brain can still function in some ways, I need to figure out how. As I told my new therapist, "If this is who I am NOW, then what am I now capable of?"

I am not at all unhappy. The job I just left was literally going to give me a heart attack. By Sunday afternoons, I was getting sick to my stomach at the thought of having to go back to work. Walking into my office: it was a crap shoot as to whether or not I'd have a panic attack. I could not eat.

So, a week ago Sunday, I was at Mass. I told God: "Look something has to give. I'm going to have a heart attack. You know this is not working for anyone involved. Give me a break, God!"

In spectacular style, God came through. I walked into another performance last Monday morning. My boss went through the list of concerns (which I had memorized), and was once again agonizingly awful. Finally, as the review wrapped up, and my boss set the date for the next review, I asked to speak with her in private. (Yes, there were others present. Just in case I had a shred of dignity left.)

I said, "This is stupid. I'm not making improvements. You've been more than generous. But one more week won't make a difference. I would quit today, but I need unemployment."

She straightened up and said, "I'll fire you today, if that's what you want."

It was. I walked out of that building on a cloud. The weight of the world was off. For now, I'm happy to just be. I'll find my way.

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