I was flipping channels on the radio while driving home from work a few days ago, and I came upon what must have been a contemporary Christian music station. A few of the lyrics from the song that was playing stuck out in my mind:
All I know is I’m not home yet“Where I Belong” – Building 429
This is not where I belong
It reminded me of a few times when I was younger, when I said, in sadness or frustration, “I want to go home!” even when I was sitting in my house. What I meant by that must have been “I want to get out of here” or “I want to go somewhere else,” but perhaps my subconscious mind desired heaven, a place where none of the sadness or frustrations of the world exist.
The lyrics also made me think of older people in nursing homes or hospices who say they want to “go home,” but they’re not talking about any home they had on earth.
Maybe instead of (or in addition to) memento mori, we could think of something like “remember your true home.” (Wish I could translate that into Latin.)
We’re not comfortable on earth because it is not truly home for us, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to make ourselves comfortable and avoid any kind of pain or discomfort.
This also reminds me of when my husband and I attended the childbirth class before our son was born. I read or heard something like, “Women in the Western world are not used to pain in the way women in developing countries are. That’s why there are more elective C-sections in the United States than there used to be.”*
That made me feel guilty for some reason. We are quite spoiled. There are so many conveniences and perks in our coddled lives that we take them all for granted. Air conditioning, heat, indoor plumbing, medications for a myriad of painful health conditions, computers, ovens, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, cars… so much to make our lives easier, and we still complain.
Were we born to be creatures of comfort? Were we born to suffer? A loving God would not want us to suffer, but I am not sure he would want us to become spoiled whiners and complainers either.
Faithful Catholics in the past would flagellate themselves for their sins, take vows of silence, and sometimes attempt to survive on just the Eucharist alone. Now our idea of penance in modern times is to take a social media fast or avoid eating meat on one day of the week. Is any of it “enough” for God? Is he happy with what we are doing?
I don’t think we do these things to make God happy, because he doesn’t take joy in our suffering. We do these things to make ourselves more pure and to strengthen ourselves for the final battle (which may be death or a literal battle, if we do end up living in the end of days).
So the real question is this: What will truly strengthen us, not just bring us comfort? Maybe if we get used to living with minor inconveniences like avoiding meat or perhaps taking cold showers instead of hot ones, we will be ready to face greater inconveniences and even pain. But choose your penances carefully, because an appropriate sacrifice for one person may not be appropriate for someone else.
That brings another question to mind: Are all offerings of suffering or penance equal in God’s eyes? I’m thinking of the story from Genesis where Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to God, but Abel’s is superior to Cain’s. If I’m remembering correctly, that was because Abel offered the “firstlings of his flock,” which is inherently better because you’re supposed to give God the best that you have. Abel just gave the “fruit of the ground,” which could have been any old fruit. (Or maybe God doesn’t like kiwis???)
I’m not sure that translates to the suffering issue; how can one give God his “best” suffering? The only thing I can think of is what I said earlier: the sacrifice or “suffering” has to be done for the right reason—to bring one closer to God.
*In my opinion, having a C-section would have been worse than giving birth the “natural” way. And I believe the facts state that in most cases, a C-section is actually more dangerous than letting nature take its course. But if the doctor had recommended that a C-section was the safer way to go for me, I would have done it.