What is Suffering?
My definition of suffering is; suffering is what happens when things are not going as they ought to be according to you. When things just aren’t going your way and you are upset by it, that’s suffering. Suffering is what happens when we desire things to be one way, but when reality tells us that they are another way, and we refuse to embrace it.
It is only through reconciling our desires with reality that we can see God, because God is reality; and when we desire something that is not based on reality, we desire something less than God. In fact, the object of the spiritual life is to become one with Him who is reality, and that is the only way to become a real person.
This is not to say that your present reality is God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you. We all make decisions sometimes that leads to realities that do not best glorify the goodness of God. And when that unfortunate reality becomes something that we desire not to be, that desiring something other than reality causes us to suffer. Yet, it is only when we embrace our reality for what it is can God bring us through or out of it.
For instance, the reason why God was able to deliver the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt is precisely because they recognized the reality that they were slaves in Egypt. If they were walking around thinking that they were paid servants and happy for it, they would not even have prayed to God to be delivered. Or if they were in denial about their condition God would not have delivered them, because they wouldn’t have known what to pray for. In other words, it is because they embraced their reality and prayed for hundreds of years to be delivered from it, is why God, in the fullness of time, accepted their invitation to come into their situation to draw them out.
The point of emphasis here is that suffering is never easy when we do it alone. Moreover, as we learn from Job, suffering even in the company of friends can be unbearable, and sometimes even more confusing. It is only when we turn to God in the midst of our suffering and invite Him into it with us do we find that peace and the sustaining grace to carry us through it.
I must also point out the gruesome fact that Satan knows very well how difficult suffering is for us, and he always uses that opportunity of our weakness to get us to quit and/or get us to curse God. In our weakness does the lame serpent tempt us. In response to the test and trials of life, Jesus said, “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt. 24:13; Mk. 13:13) What He did not say was, “Those who quit – those who do not endure through the temporary suffering of this world will be saved.”
The Great Benefit of Suffering
Suffering is the best method we have on earth to learn why and how to trust God. The reason being is that suffering is the one thing that reminds us that we can’t do it on our own. It makes us mindful of the fact that we need something more that who we are to get us through. Not that everyone will turn to God when they are going through, but those who do turn to Him quickly learn that God is trustworthy. When God makes possible what had been impossible for them to do on their own, it becomes for them a loving lesson that will strengthen them for the next trial and will also perpetually remind them where their true strength comes from.
Indeed, it is silly to think that the God who came and dwelt amongst us and Himself persevered through suffering, so that we might have eternal life, would command us to “take up your cross and follow Him” (Mt. 16:24) would give us a path to perfection that is different than the one He walked. No, the cross is still ours to carry, and the journey still ends at Calvary – the only difference now is that Christ Jesus came to make what was impossible for us to do on our own, now possible through grace. It is that loving lesson that Christ Jesus left us when He walked the earth that strengthens us to know that no trial can come to us that we can’t persevere through In Him. It is same power that allowed for Jesus to conquer death on the cross that lives in us and strengthens us for this journey
Offering Up Our Suffering
One of the best things that we can do when we recognize that we are suffering is to offer that suffering up to God as a thankful prayer of sacrifice. By offering our suffering up, whether it be physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual, we convert that suffering into an unceasing prayer; meaning, our suffering becomes an active prayer in the hands of God, and remains such as long as we are suffering from that particular thing. And what God does with that offering is the same thing He does with our other prayers, fasting, and alms giving; that is, He accepts our invitation to come into the situation to do something. That is all any prayer does – it invites God into our business to reconcile it to Himself.
Some Christians offer up their suffering for other people, such as souls in Purgatory. I like to offer my suffering up for the conversion of particular people I know. My suffering usually involves physical pain and the inconveniences of life. I offer whatever I am feeling up to God as a prayer for someone. By it, essentially I am saying to God, ‘God I’m going to endure this suffering for this person. I am going to be a living sacrifice for something greater than me. Through this suffering I am going to pay the price for what I am asking you to do.’ God then takes my prayer of sacrifice and does something with it.
Of course the best example of a person in sacred Scripture offering up their suffering for the good of someone else is Jesus Christ on the Cross. That was the ultimate ‘offering up’. The suffering and death of Christ on the Cross invited God the Father into the situation of a wounded creation that needed healing, and through the Blood that was offered up by His Son He provided the means for His entire creation to be healed.
Offering up your suffering as a prayer of sacrifice is a most selfless act. When your offer up your suffering for someone else it becomes one of those little acts that produces an immense spiritual good. Therefore, offer it up as often as you can.