Radio Show

Praying Through Pain: Finding Faith in Suffering With Spiritual Director Barbara Lee

We all inevitably face suffering in our lives, and spiritual director Barbara Lee discusses faith during hardships in her book, “Praying Through Pain: A Scripture Based Journey.

Barbara describes how she felt called to ministry later in life, after a long career as an attorney and US magistrate judge. “I took early retirement and joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, and I delved into Ignatian spirituality. I experienced a call to spiritual direction, and my first reaction was to laugh. But the Holy Spirit can be persistent,” She says. Through her studies, she explains, “I began to realize that I had this late call because I could share something with people of my own age group.”

While Barbara often ministers to older adults, she notes that people of all ages experience suffering. She says, “Pain can happen at any time in our lives, and there’s all kinds of pain. There’s acute pain, chronic pain, the pain from illness and injury, the pain from losing someone we love, or even the pain of losing a job or a broken relationship. So certainly, some of the older adults are going to relate to this because the older we get, the more pain we seem to have. But there are a lot of younger people who experience this too.”

LISTEN: How Can I Explain to Others Why God Allows Suffering?

In times of suffering when prayer seems “harder,” Barbara directs us to those in the Bible who have shared these feelings. “In the Scriptures, we find people who have been there. Who have experienced sadness, grief, anger and ‘why me’ and all of these negative emotions,” She says. Through Ignatian contemplation, she invites readers to pray by placing themselves in these Biblical passages. “We have these role models with whom we can share these experiences, and we can see how they dealt with that, because most of the psalms that start out complaining end up with hope and trust.” 

Father Dave and Barbara also discuss platitudes that one often hears during times of pain, and how God can handle our biggest emotions. Father Dave says, “[Many of] the psalms that you’ve chosen are what we call the psalms of lament, where people are just being honest. As a modern American society or Western culture, we tend to either explicitly or implicitly quash people’s lamenting. The standard phrase, when somebody is either hurt or in pain, is when people literally say, ‘Don’t cry.’ Well, that’d be like saying, ‘don’t laugh’ or ‘don’t eat’ or ‘don’t breathe.’”

RELATED: On Suffering: How I Stopped Asking ‘Why’ and Started Asking ‘How’

Barbara says, “Sometimes you need to cry, it’s really important to be honest in our prayer. That means talking to God about our anger…Sometimes, in our rich Catholic tradition of prayer, we have a lot of emphasis on formal prayer. We have such a rich treasury of the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours and everything. Sometimes we overlook the importance of just talking to God about how we feel.”

She continues, “Not many people know the riches of the psalms…finding that somebody 3000 years ago felt exactly the way I feel, and expressed it even better.”