“Blessings Greater in the Privation”: Charis and the Grace of Suffering
Written by Megan Keyser
Another autumn has arrived. There’s a breathtaking assortment of jewel-toned colors scented with the perfume of bonfire smoke. A faint crispness of chilled breezes spiraling leaves into the vibrant air is present. Despite the beauty of this season, I, like many other mothers, find myself somewhat (okay, very) overwhelmed. In the autumn I grapple with new academic schedules and tackle evenings dominated by homework and other responsibilities. Yet, the fall months also signify something satisfying: another year of reading great literature alongside some of my dearest friends.
It seems wonderfully appropriate to begin each new year of Well-Read Mom during this autumnal season. We discard the more carefree, explorative days of summer to settle into more disciplined routines. The colder weather fairly beckons us to burrow more deeply into ourselves, our ruminations, and our pursuit of truth. We may become less physically adventurous during these chillier months. Yet, the invitation to seek spiritual and intellectual illumination and understanding intensifies. The natural world seems to push us into the confines of the interior life.
This year, our literary odyssey begins with Charis in the World of Wonders by Marly Youmans. It’s a page-turning historical fiction with strong colorations of the classic Cinderella story. This captivating tale chronicles the often-harrowing travails of a young Puritan maiden named Charis. She is bereft of her loved ones, and subsequently, contends with loneliness and persecution on her journey toward new life. Like Cinderella, Charis shines in the face of trial and tragedy, bearing unkindness and injustice with good faith and courage by relying upon the firm spiritual and emotional foundation bequeathed to her by her beloved parents and by trusting in the goodness of Providence, even amidst suffering.
While various characters in the novel experience turmoil, disappointment, and disaster, what distinguishes Charis is her ability to accept suffering. This suffering is not without sadness or acknowledgment of loss, but without allowing fear to dominate her. Other characters, most notably the Holt sisters, permit their disappointments to overshadow their hope. They dissolve into fits of temper or bitter diatribes or even proclaim false accusations against others (namely, Charis). Charis, who has suffered far more, recognizes that “Life is trial; is the path of suffering; is the measure and test of us” (page 102).
As we ponder the afflictions of Charis, we naturally consider the age-old question: Why does God permit us to suffer? In moments of anguish, it can be challenging to reconcile the reality of pain with the sovereignty of God. We naturally question this because our minds fail to see the scope of our lives, particularly when paths deviate.
While Charis experiences misfortune, it is interesting to see how many of her later joys come from prior suffering. If her sister Mary had not perished, would Charis have survived the perils of the wilderness? Had not Charis lost her family, would she have found her beloved husband? And if Silas Lovejoy didn’t endure his tragedy and build the tunnel out of his wretchedness, would Charis experience escape? What if suffering is not sadness or punishment but a means—like the tunnel—of obtaining greater happiness and… Salvation? What if all is orchestrated toward our good, even if we cannot see it in our current, agonized state?
At one point in the novel, Charis recollects her father’s words: “When we remember that Providence goes with us everywhere, there is no fear. For even ill and evil can point toward good. But in God’s own time, not ours. Never try to make the divine skip and hop to a tune” (243). Yet, how easily we descend into fear or despair when met with disappointment or adversity. Bel Holt exemplifies this temptation. Instead of praying for the endurance to meet her challenges, Bel focuses on her disappointment in bearing a sickly baby with a prominent birthmark, fearfully seeking why this misfortune has befallen her. Charis notes that “she cannot see the babe is lovely. She sees only the blot” (272). How often do we “see only the blot”?
Maybe, instead of dwelling on the distress, we are being asked by God to mirror the trust and courage we witness in Charis, who, without discounting or minimizing her sadness, proves her mettle by trusting in God’s care and boldly seeking to follow wherever He might lead.
This faithful bravery recalled to my mind a favorite quote of Saint Francis de Sales: “For our good God sometimes tries our courage and our love, depriving us of the things that seem to us, and which really are, very good for the soul. And if He sees us ardent in their pursuit, and yet humble, tranquil, and resigned to doing without and to the privation of the thing sought, He gives us blessings greater in the privation than in the possession of the thing desired. For in all things and everywhere, God loves those who with good heart and simplicity, on all occasions and in all events, can say to Him, ‘Thy will be done’” (emphasis mine).
We see only a few strands of the tapestry God creates out of human existence. Subsequently, it often seems impossible to grasp the significance of our role—or the meaning of our sufferings—in the magnitude of it all. Yet God, through His permissive Will, is using all—good and evil, joyous and terrible—to weave the salvific story of our lives. Nevertheless, until we experience the eternal Beatific Vision and our hearts are illuminated with Divine understanding in our heavenly home, it will undoubtedly remain difficult for us to fully appreciate suffering as we navigate this transient world: “For now we see through a glass darkly: but then shall we see face-to-face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known” (208).
Though we will never see perfectly until that day, perhaps the sufferings we endure on this earth are not a condemnation but an invitation for us to courageously and ardently seek a more perfect union with our final End. We can allow suffering to overcome us or surrender to it with faith, thereby receiving more extraordinary graces and understanding through expanding and stretching our hearts and souls. This way, “Deep darkness was not the darkness alone but speckled with light” (282).
Originally hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Megan is a 2006 Hillsdale College graduate with a degree in Classical Studies. These days, Megan thrives on the challenges and joys of her role as a Catholic, stay-at-home mother, who heads a chapter of the Well-Read Mom, dabbles in social commentary and other writing pursuits, and advocates for the pro-life cause. Despite the inevitable chaos of large family life, Megan is thankful for her lively brood and relishes juggling household responsibilities, babies in diapers, and, of course, a good book. She resides in Noblesville, Indiana, with her husband, Marc, an engineer in the energy industry, and their ten children: five sons and five daughters, ages 15 years to 6 months old.
About Well-Read Mom
In Well-Read Mom, women read more and read well. Our hope is to deepen the awareness of meaning hidden in each woman’s daily life. We long to elevate the cultural conversation and revitalize reading literature from books. If you would like us to help you select worthy reading material, we invite you to join and read along. We are better together! For information on how to start or join a Well-Read Mom group visit our website wellreadmom.com