"such bitter experiences"

God did provide a place for that woman last Thursday, and we were able to get her a ticket to go there. But then that same night there was a very bad incident with another guest involving alcohol and a terrible fight that makes it clear that she needs to find a place that can give her and her husband more help. And the next day we found out the first woman tried to sell her ticket back and had spent the little money we gave her. So she never got to the place that was willing to take her in.

Yesterday I read this from Dorothy Day: "It is an agony to go through such bitter experiences, because we all want to love, we desire with a great longing to love our fellows, and our hearts are often crushed at such rejections." That was exactly how I was feeling.

And I needed to understand. Is this just a tragedy? Why is God letting them sink so low? How can I love them if they will not accept my help or even use the situation to dig themselves deeper in trouble?

Dorothy says, "I can only say the saints would only bow their heads and try not to understand or judge." But I don't find this an acceptable answer. Why not understand? What "saint" would not want to understand what God is doing and so know better how to respond? I don't think Jesus closed his eyes to the sins and faults in others; after all, he was interested in repentence above all and recognizing the need for repentence means recognizing the fault.

In cases like these, it is very clear how our own faults contribute to our own suffering. They are related. I don't think it's a matter of God punishing us, but I do think God presses us hard when we persist in our faults, because he's trying to get us to change. I've experienced this often in my own life. Some people say suffering is evil; suffering just leads to more suffering; we're all fellow victims. But suffering doesn't always lead to more suffering. Sometimes it leads to repentence, to a changed life, depending on our response to it. It's a clear theme in the bible that God "chastises" or corrects us like a parent, warning us with pain when we persist down the wrong path. And God wants us to understand this, so we will stop fighting him (and hurting ourselves).

I know this isn't clear and each person's case is too complex to explain easily. But I think it's important to see the possible good of suffering, and recognize that all of us have things we need corrected and places we need to grow. There are no innocent victims. God is doing hard work in all of our lives.

That doesn't mean we should not help sufferers. Of course we should, even the ones who are hardest to help. When Heather asked what Jesus said about how to respond to people who cheat us, I thought of these words:

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. ...But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish." (Lk 6.27-35)
But it's important to recognize that Jesus puts our actions in the context of what God is doing with these people. Which may include his heavy hand upon them, pressing them to admit their fault and change.

Jesus' words are the guide for how we should act. But God has also given us some understanding that, while we humans do not have the insight to know the deepest darknesses in hearts and what is necessary to change them, he does, and he is using every means to bring people around. I don't have to take control over someone else's problems, nor do I have to bear the burden of them. God is doing this. I need to give what I have to give (expecting nothing in return) and trust God with their lives as I trust him with my own.