Suffering – when we are not in control

By Fr. Richard Rohr, April 14, 2020

Both St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and St. Clare (1194–1253) let go of their fear of suffering; any need for power, prestige, and possessions; and any need for their small self to be important. By doing so they came to know who they really were in God—and thus who they objectively were.

Such a profound ability to change is often the fruit of suffering and various forms of poverty.  The small self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If we understand suffering to be whenever we are not in control, then we see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God and the flow of reality.  

This counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts—Francis and Clare—tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” and powerlessness where all of humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be the wrong path.

By God’s grace, they believed that they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where they were passing to. They did not wait for liberation later—after death—but grasped it here and now.

Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio writes:

[Francis’] life indicates to us that if we persevere in prayer we will find God in the center of our lives and the bitter will become sweet [as when Francis kissed the leper]; however, if we stay on the plain of mediocrity then the bitter may remain bitter. To trust in the power of God’s grace through darkness, isolation, bitterness, and rejection is to be on the way to becoming prayer because it is the way to freedom in God. For prayer, that deep relationship of God breathing in us, requires change and conversion. And where there is change, there is the letting go of the old and the giving birth to the new. To pray is to be open to the new, to the future in God. The way to life passes through change and ultimately the change from death to life. Prayer is the way to life because in prayer we are invited to change and to grow in love. [1]

I find myself in prayer much of the time right now, not simply because of the limitations of our current circumstances, but because I want to be a witness to such divine freedom. I believe it is this kind of prayer that may keep us from simply hoping things quickly return to “normal” (though that is a comforting thought to many) and instead praying for the courage to “change and grow in love.” Such courage is surely what we and the world truly need.


The larger-than-life, spiritually transformed people I have met have all died before they died. (Sunday)

Life is hard, and yet Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28 (Monday)

You are not important, and yet Jesus says, “Rejoice because your name is written in heaven.” —Luke 10:20 (Tuesday)

It is true that your life is not about you; rather “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” –Colossians 3:4 (Wednesday)

It is true that you are not in control, for “can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to your span of life?” –Luke 12:26 (Thursday)

It is true that you are going to die, and yet “neither death nor life . . . nothing can ever come between us and the love of God.” —Romans 8:38-39 (Friday)

Click here to watch a special video or listen to the audio of Richard Rohr introducing Holy Week and this week’s Daily Meditation theme on “Reality Initiating Us,” addressing our current global crisis as a collective initiation experience which we are all undergoing. 

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