I think perhaps this is the hardest chapter in the book to wade through. At least for me it is. I have suffered so much within my life that I often wonder why God sees fit to place so much upon my shoulders. From abuse I suffered as a child to the inconceivable way we lost William and all the suffering I have endured in between and since then, it seems that suffering has been a big part of my life. I will admit that there have been times that I have questioned God, “Why me?” “Where are You in all of this?” “Don’t You love me?” “Are You even real?” I think it’s a natural reaction to question when we are in the face of something we don’t understand and that our hearts and minds simply can’t process.
As a child I didn’t realize the hope that is contained within the Cross. As an adult I often forget when I am so consumed with my worries. But, Christ shows us that suffering has merit. It has value. We have to understand that while God does not delight in our suffering He does hope that while we are in it we will cling to Him. It can be difficult to want to cling to God when we are suffering because often we blame Him for our suffering. But He is not to blame.
Chapter 15: Making Sense of Suffering
Today one of my friends will bury her son after he took his own life. Her suffering is immense. I have no doubt that if she could she would trade places with him. My heart aches for her and wishes I could assure her that one day the suffering will not be so consuming; that there will come a day when she smiles again and finds a reason to laugh. When William died I didn’t believe anyone who told me these things. Instead I begged God to allow him to live and to let me take his place instead. I held him to me and whispered life into him. He did not live though. He was gone and what was left was devastation and a pain so unbearable that I felt I would never get through it. Eventually though, the pain lessened and joy took over. There are still days that the pain is deep and my tears flow freely and I’m not sure there will ever come a day that the pain is completely gone, but I know that there is hope and joy and laughter waiting too.
Our society tells us that suffering is bad for us. But Christ showed us the redemptive nature of suffering. Without the Cross we would have no hope; without the Cross we would have no salvation; without the Cross we could not know true love. This is not to say that we understand suffering or that we are happy about it! For most of us we still dread suffering that comes our way. But if we look at suffering as a way to draw closer to Christ and to help us become more loving, compassionate, and giving people, well, it’s a whole lot easier to handle that suffering than if we stomp our feet, constantly complain, and shut God out of what is happening in our lives.
Christ told us that we would suffer, “I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn to joy…” (John 16:20-22). Christ goes on in this verse to liken our pain to a woman in labor. Her pain is immense but there is great joy after the suffering. From the suffering comes a love she never knew before; from the suffering comes a reward so great that she never could have imagined it. Our suffering can be like this too if we allow Christ to use it to bring joy from it. But we have to give it to Him so that we can see the fruit that will come from our suffering.
Point to Ponder: Suffering transforms us in unimaginable ways.
Matthew Kelly reminds us that suffering is an inevitable part of life. If we are going to experience suffering why do we refuse to allow God to help us through this suffering? Why at the most important times of our lives do we shut God out? It is in the midst of suffering that God can transform us the most. Our suffering doesn’t need to be meaningless. If we give it to Christ it has the power to allow us to see God in all His glory and to change us in the process. We become something more than we were before.
I have seen people who go through traumatic events and who suffer terribly but who do not draw closer to God. Instead they push God out of their lives, blaming Him for their pain. Those people end up bitter, angry, and very lost. It breaks my heart for them. I know that if they could see that God is calling them to turn to Him in their desperate times they would be able to experience healing. They may not ever understand why they went through what they did, but by giving it to God and by trusting in His love, their lives would become so much better.
Suffering transforms us depending on how we process that pain… it can change us to be better people or it can completely destroy us.
Verse to Live: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3-4.
Hope. Even in the darkness there is hope if we cling to Christ. Our suffering seems unbearable but it is through this suffering that God works to change us and to bring us closer to Him. Christ tells us that to follow Him we must pick up our own crosses. This can be difficult to do but it is vital. We don’t carry those crosses alone though. Christ is shouldering them with us. We simply have to look at the crucifix to see His strength and His love for us and know that His shoulders are strong enough to help us every step of the way.
Question to Consider: Are you willing to suffer a little in order to grow spiritually?
There are many times I have answered no to this question… especially when I am knee-deep in suffering. I would have given anything in the world to have my suffering taken away when William died but I can look back and see how it changed me and how it brought me closer to God. Do I still wish my son had lived? Absolutely. But I can see the value in the suffering I endured because it brought me closer to God and it made me more compassionate and willing to reach out to others who are in deep pain. While I don’t wish for more suffering, I will accept the suffering that I must endure as I know that it will bear fruit and will change me even more into the person that I know God wants me to be.
Your Turn: How have you suffered in your life? Have you allowed that suffering to draw you closer to Christ? If not, why not? How has suffering changed you? Can you see how Christ’s suffering is an example to all of us?
Prayer: Jesus, teach me to embrace the unavoidable suffering of life, and keep me ever mindful of those who suffer more than I do.
Lord, I know that even in the darkness you are there. Help me to see your light, help me to understand that I am not alone, and help me to feel your presence as I carry my crosses and follow you.