Heart to Heart
The Experience of Suffering
Why do you think God allows us to struggle and even suffer at times? This is a question I have been asked numerous times over the years, and it is a question for which, I too have repeatedly sought an answer. So, let’s talk about this and dig a little deeper into the experience of suffering.
We can agree that no one looks for opportunities to know pain or loss, but when we are faced with experiences of suffering, I believe we are also being offered powerful opportunities to grow and learn.: to grow closer to God, learn more about his love for us and understand more fully who we are as his children.
We may view pain and suffering to be an interruption to the life we are leading, when in fact God may be using our trials and tribulations to encourage us to become more of the person he desires us to be, using these “desert times” to strengthen our relationship with him and deepen our faith.
Looking back over my own life I now see that times of loss and suffering I endured were some of the most significantly transformative times of personal growth, times in which, while going through them, I may have felt farthest away from God but was actually being drawn even closer to him.
As a mother of two adult sons, I am able to recognize the parallels to my relationship with God by drawing comparisons in how my husband and I raised our children. Like God, ultimately good parents desire the best for their children but recognize that sometimes children learn most effectively when they have to struggle on their own and thus learn how to persevere.
Honestly, I would prefer to hurt, rather than have my children hurt. I would rather face difficulties than watch my children struggle. If I could prevent our sons from experiencing pain I probably would. But having gone through trying times in my own life and realizing now the value of those difficult experiences, I understand that our sons will also be “fine-tuned” by the challenges they face in life, particularly if they ask God to help them make sense of any suffering they encounter.
This very idea is beautifully reflected in a statement by Catholic musician Audrey Assad: “It’s about not wanting God to take away the pain just yet because I know it’s worth something. And I have something to learn so just leave me here for right now, God, but be with me.”
When we look to the cross to better understand the value of suffering, we can see that this very symbol of pain & suffering has become a powerful instrument of hope. Through Christ's freely giving of himself and dying for the sins of humanity, he defeated death and showed us that, once and for all, in every situation there is cause for true hope, an “Easter” for each one of us, if we place our trust in him.
Please understand, I do not wish to minimize the negative effects of pain and suffering, but rather underscore that with faith and prayer we can successfully weather the storms of life and ultimately draw wisdom and strength from them.
In fact, each victory we personally experience or witness in the lives of those around us can powerfully edify our own faith. When I see someone who is seriously ill receive communion at Mass or kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in silent prayer, my heart is always moved. I see beyond their obvious suffering to the beautiful example of their faith. They may not understand why they are being asked to suffer, but they have not allowed the experience of their suffering to separate them from the love of God, For me, this is such a powerful example of God's grace at work in the world!
I have always loved the statement, “expect miracles.” I don't always remember this message when life becomes challenging for me, but through prayer I am reminded that in both the good times and the bad, I am never alone. God is always with me and is working on my behalf to produce blessed fruit from any suffering in my life.
When God is involved, there will always be miracles. Seek an outpouring of God's grace in the sacraments, and never forget: sense can indeed be found in suffering – just look to the cross!