We recently received the following question. One of our staff members offered to respond to it, and we thought it would be of interest and help to our supporters. This answer originally appeared in the July 2017 Renewal Ministries’ newsletter.
Q: I recently received a word that “suffering is a gift.” Please discern this for me. I think it’s true but it scares me a little. I’ve always prayed for less suffering.
A: Yes, suffering is a gift. A difficult one to receive, but one that can yield great fruit in our lives, if we unite it to Jesus and walk the road of suffering with Him.
If we face our suffering without the Lord—if it does not bring us to the point of seeing our true dependence on Him—then it will not bear the same fruit. It would still be a gift, but it would be one we were not willing to accept and let make us more like Him.
It’s understandable that suffering scares you. But when you seek Him in your suffering, and when you can try to see His goodness, even in life’s sorrow, you can begin to see how He is bigger than even our worst hurts, how He pours His very heart into our brokenness and pain, and how He never leaves us alone, but does indeed carry us. When you are suffering, there are days when Scripture will be no more than words on a page. But if you continue to turn to those Words each day, you will find comfort in them. You walk through one trial with Him, and you see His faithfulness. Then, when the next trial comes, you will have less fear and more trust. And slowly, when you see His faithfulness time and time again in the struggles life inevitably brings, trust will replace the fear in your heart. Try praying the words on the Divine Mercy image: “Jesus, I trust in You!” Add to it: “Help me to trust more!” And He will.
Suffering can humble us in a very good way; it can allow us to see how very much we need God, and how broken we are without Him.
It also is understandable that you would pray for less suffering. Isn’t that what we do for others, when we lift up their needs in prayer? That is part of the beauty of the fact that Jesus was human. He understands our desire to not suffer. And He certainly never wants us to suffer simply for the sake of suffering. Find comfort in the fact that Jesus, before His Passion, even prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” But then, He showed us what is even more important—that we do the will of the Father: “Yet, not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).
Suffering helps us detach from our own will and accept what the Lord has for us. While not always easy, His plan richer than what we would choose for ourselves!
When we suffer, it helps to simply have faith and to trust that since God loves us, He must be allowing it for some reason that will work for our good. (Consider the metaphor of a tapestry: The back looks like a jumbled mess of different-colored yarn. That is like us looking at our lives; they don’t always make sense. But God sees the beautiful image on the other side of the tapestry. He knows what He is about!) The key is to continue trusting He walks with us and loves us. Have faith! If you can’t find it, ask for it! And if you can’t pray, say His name! “Jesus! Help me!” can be a beautiful prayer, when it is the best your heart can muster, and you say it many times a day. Simply sitting with the Lord in Adoration also is a beautiful prayer; let your presence speak for you, even if your mouth can find no words to say. He will hear, and He will answer. In fact, suffering also helps us develop perseverance: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2).
Suffering can help strip away our blindness to the needs of those around us. It helps us better understand how to reach out to them, and hopefully, how to bring the Lord’s love into their lives. So many of the Lord’s children are broken, and we are the ones He wants to send into the battle to serve and love them!
Finally, when we unite our suffering to the Lord, He never wastes it! He uses it to answer prayers and help lift the burdens of others in ways we can’t imagine, and that is such a beautiful part of the mystery of being part of the Church—of the body of Christ on earth!