I remember when I first looked, really looked, at Psalm 23. It was the day of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings, a day of horrifying carnage and death. Looking for solace, I read this psalm, which I thought I knew well. But one phrase leapt out at me as if I had never seen it before:
"Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage" (Psalm 23:4).
I was struck by what the Psalm does not say. It does not say, “With your rod and your staff that protect me.” It doesn’t say, “With your rod and your staff that keep me safe.” It says, “With your rod and your staff that give me courage.”
Life is hard. Pain happens. Relationships are snapped through betrayal, illness descends out of nowhere, an eight-year-old standing in just the wrong place is killed by a bomb. And though faith is many things, it isn’t a magic shield that protects us from harm.
But, as a priest friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t promise you a pain-free life, but He does promise you a meaningful one.” I’ve pondered those words so many times. I can’t avoid suffering, but the suffering happens because my life has meaning, because I care about people beyond myself. And in my suffering, God walks with me. He is the steady presence that gives me the courage to keep going.
And we can be like God by being present to those who suffer. Maybe we get on a plane to be with them. Maybe we offer to make them dinner. Maybe we send a text each day to let them know we love them.
Whatever form it takes, walking with people in pain is one of the most important things we can do. We can’t keep them out of the dark valley, but we can let them know they’re not alone there. With our presence, we can help them find the courage they need to keep on going.
Saint Therese of Lisieux teaches us to make acts of faith while suffering. Have you followed her other advice?
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a mother, high school English teacher, and BBC period drama junkie. She is the author of Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood and Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. Ginny lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two boys, and about thirty thousand Legos. You can find out more about her here. She is the author of our Blessed Conversations: The Seven Sacraments found here.