Escape Artists and the Fear of Suffering

When I am not busy traversing the halls of my all girls’ high school or not-so-silently geeking out about Jesus somewhere, you can probably find me waiting tables at a family owned diner called Sam’s Place. In fact, this little diner was exactly where I was working the hostess shift on Father’s Day--AKA the most stressful three hours of my entire life. I believe I was in the midst of seating an endless stream of people at about ten-thirty when someone smacked me in the arm.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” a senior citizen said, her eyebrows furrowed as she held up her empty mug. “I was just wondering when you are going to get me coffee?”

 

I raised an eyebrow, confused as to why she wouldn’t have some already. Between manning the register and seating senior citizens with failing eyesight, and trying not to kill the head waitress for stealing everyone’s tables, I was supposed to be “keeping up with the coffee”, and last time I had looked over at the ancient piece of metal, it was practically overflowing with the stuff.

“Oh, we can get that for you right now, ma’am, don’t worry about it.”

The lady just looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Um, I don’t think you can.”

And when I glanced up at our single, mostly broken coffee machine behind the bar, my eyes smacked into three completely empty coffee pots, burning merrily on our heat pads.

OH. NO.

My first thought wasn’t even “Wow, I need to make coffee” or “everyone is going to be very upset with me in about twelve seconds”. Instead, my thought was along the lines of, “Could I just please die, right now.”

 Instead of being practical in my moment of horror, I was stunned to a halt, longing for a distraction, something to divert my attention away from the cold reality that there was no coffee in the entire restaurant on the second busiest morning of the year.

You see, I’m a bit of an escape artist.

When tiny preschool me didn’t like the ending of a movie, I’d pull out my Magna Doodle and scribble out an alternate ending. In middle school, I took up writing my own stories, on enough sheets of printer paper to drown my piles of laundry on the floor with stories about bird mutants and time travellers. Along with high school came the total obliteration of free time, so I had to learn how to leave the universe in a different way. YouTube was my first, to try and fill the void, pouring videos into my brain on an endless loop. When that died down slightly, my problems screamed, and I started to self destruct. I’d look at myself in the mirror and stare at myself, analyzing the curve of my stomach and my lack of my hips and the acne on my forehead. I’d have thoughts that I never used to have about fixing myself no matter the cost. Silence became a death sentence, because when I was left alone with my thoughts, rattling off the insides of my skull, they seemed foreign and unfamiliar.

And what, might you ask, was driving me to sprint from reality until my face slammed on the treadmill of my efforts? What was so horrible about my life that I felt the need to try to constantly avoid dealing with my problems?

It wasn’t anything catastrophic, I suppose it was simply all the little things stacking up on each other. I couldn’t bear to feel the disappointment of an awkward conversation, and the crushing anxiety of junior prom. I couldn’t bear to think of my failed math test, or my friend not talking to me. I couldn’t bear to think of a Tae Kwon Do test that night, or the noises my brother made as he played Super Mario Brothers. I couldn’t bear the thought of anything that wasn’t my own perfect little fantasy.

And really, having a happy place isn’t the problem, but rather it’s the amount of time we spend in it. Having time to yourself, to curl up and watch a movie or read a book or write your story or draw a picture is not a bad thing. I’m not trying to make Netflix sound evil, or shame everyone who has a Tumblr account. The problem surfaces when the dessert becomes the new PB+J, and self indulgence becomes routine. The problem comes when, instead of facing our problems, we turn to a place where they do not exist. The problem comes when we refuse the crosses that Jesus has given us in order to walk beside Him.

We escape the world, we shun our crosses so we don’t have to feel the hard things: pain, sadness, rejection, loss, anger, disappointment, resentment, loneliness. Instead, we occupy our hearts with numbness, because the emotions terrify us. But Christ shows us that this fear of feeling is silly. Emotions are beautiful gifts from God that color our perception of the world. If we cannot accept the hard things, if we cannot truly allow our hearts to go to that hard place, we will not be able to recognize the beauty that the rest of the world holds.

By no means do I mean that Christ wants us to carry our burdens alone. We should not try to take all of our problems onto our shoulders and trudge through life miserable and bleak. All He wants, really, is for us to recognize them, to accept their effects, and to offer them up to Him. He wants us to ask for help, and to do our very best. He wants to help us, but we can’t be helped if instead of walking beside our Savior, we bolt off before He can say a word of comfort.

By accepting our suffering, we can unify our hearts to Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and the souls in Purgatory; in other words, our individual aches and pains that we offer to God can strengthen the whole Church. Our character becomes stronger, and controlling the impulsive little getaways, our favorite methods of procrastination, will speak well for other areas of our lives. Unlike me, you hopefully won’t be like me in Sam’s Place with the coffee, pulled to a shocked halt because of a dead end that forces you to cope. Instead of being paralyzed by our emotions, we’ll be able to surge forward with them, to become stronger women of God so we can take on this crazy thing called reality.

Image via Debbie Herbeck