Suffering is supposed to be redemptive, but we often fail to think of its redemptive nature when we’re in the midst of suffering. We concentrate on the physical, emotional, or mental pain, sometimes crumble under the weight of the pain (either physically or spiritually), and ultimately, if the pain continues for long enough, break.
St. John of the Cross wisely advises us on how to suffer:
In tribulation, immediately draw near to God with trust, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.1
How often do we, while undergoing great suffering, immediately turn to our Lord with trust? I know that I often fail to turn to God in the midst of suffering; instead, I turn to my own inner desire to power through whatever is happening to me.
God wants us to turn to Him for help when we suffer. If we do, he will give us three things: strength, enlightenment, and instruction. If you think about these three things, you will see the gifts of grace.
Is it not true that grace gives us strength in suffering to bear tribulations? Is it not also true that grace shows us with its light what we did not see before? And is it not true too that grace guides us on how to proceed and what means and ends to pursue? We pay a lot of lip service to grace, but how often do we really examine grace per se and consider this gift (literally)?
In the name of freedom, ego, or both, we often try to support ourselves. We act like built-in system programs, such as network troubleshooters, which run through a set series of steps to reset or fix common network errors that prevent us from connecting to the internet. We rely on our own strength, often failing when it really matters, and never provide feedback or even try to ask the question of why we failed.
If we immediately pull ourselves close to God when we suffer, God will grant us grace and the three gifts that are essential for enduring and moving through the suffering. We will have the strength to bear it, the enlightenment to see His Hand in allowing the suffering, and instruction on how to proceed through the suffering.
I know it won’t be easy, but I’m willing to try this new response the next time suffering comes my way. How about you?
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St. John of the Cross, The Sayings of Light and Love, 66, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2017), 90. ↩︎