Thoughts on Suffering

No one really talks about suffering, and since it’s a pretty heavy topic, I’ll start off with a funny story.

For some reason, when I was thinking about writing this post, I thought about a trip I had to Santa Cruz, with my Aunt and my cousin.

On one of the piers, there was an informational sign that had a button on it, and when you pressed it it said,

“Wanna hear a dirty word? You do? Okay, come closer…..WATER POLUTION!!!!!:”

And then it gave an educational spiel about water pollution. That thing cracked us up for days. I feel like I could say something similar about suffering…”wanna hear a scary word? Okay, well keep reading…suffering!!!”

What is suffering?

In my words, suffering is a state at which we feel far from God, everything feels hard, and it feels like there is no relief in sight. The Catholic Dictionary defines suffering as:

” The disagreeable experience of soul that comes with the presence of evil or the privation of some good. Although commonly synonymous with pain, suffering is rather the reaction to pain, and in this sense suffering is a decisive factor in Christian spirituality. Absolutely speaking, suffering is possible because we are creatures, , but in the present order of Providence suffering is the result of sin having entered the world. Its purpose, however, is not only to expiate wrongdoing, but to enable the believer to offer God a sacrifice of praise of his divine right over creatures, to unite oneself with Christ in his sufferings as an expression of love, and in the process to become more like Christ, who, having joy set before him, chose the Cross, and thus “to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church” (I Colosians 1:24). “

Can You Be Happy With Your Life Despite Suffering?

Absolutely you can.

Your attitude towards your suffering is everything. When you learn about redemptive suffering, you will understand that your suffering actually has a purpose.

We all suffer. No one is free from suffering. I think as human beings we think if we can create a perfect life of comfort, with few demands, and all the luxuries that money can buy, we can avoid suffering. Sure, we may avoid some kinds of suffering but suffering comes to us all. Be it poverty, loneliness, anxiety, depression, loss of a loved one, illness, loss of a job, etc.

We may be suffering for a good cause, pregnancy, childbirth, waiting to adopt, working overtime to support our family, or facing rejection in our pursuit to get a job. We might suffer because of our own choices, or for no reason that we can figure out.

Why do we suffer? Why do innocent people suffer? Does suffering have a purpose?

There are obvious reasons why we suffer and then there are mysteries. Why does God permit suffering? There are so many examples of suffering that can shake our faith. Like, why a God-fearing woman would lose her husband right at the beginning of their Golden years together, or why a parent would lose a baby. Many people do not believe in God because of these very questions. Here are some great thoughts on suffering from Catholic Answers:

“Human suffering entered the world due to the effects of original sin. God does not cause the suffering. He simply permits it to happen in our lives. To understand suffering, we must first understand some basic principles about God.

God is all-knowing. He is aware of every pain we feel and every tear we shed. He can see our entire life on earth as well as our eternal destiny. God is all-loving. He loves us more than we love ourselves and would not permit something to happen to us that would keep us from our ultimate good, which is God himself. God is all-powerful. He can bring good out of evil.

Bearing these facts in mind, sometimes God permits suffering to keep us from a greater suffering later or to preserve us for a greater good. For example, you might be passed over for a seemingly great job opportunity, only to get a better one later. Or God may know a danger lurking in the job environment that could bring you physical or spiritual harm. Trusting in God helps us deal with this kind of suffering.

Sometimes God permits us to suffer the consequences of our behavior. If we are sexually promiscuous, we might suffer disease, broken relationships, and other problems caused by our behavior. This suffering brings about good when we change our lives and abide by God’s laws.

Further, God permits us to lose things that we have come to worship above him. For example, someone who has made money his god may suffer the shame and hardship of bankruptcy. This suffering can bring about a total dependence on God and submission to his will.

God may allow suffering that has no apparent reason–a child dies, we are injured in a car accident, or a natural disaster strikes. These situations are the most difficult to understand. Yet though we do not see the reason for such suffering we know that there is one, even if it is not apparent from our limited perspective.

We are particularly vulnerable and weak when we suffer because we recognize that we are not in control. Yet it is precisely at this moment that we can become our strongest, if we learn to depend on God. Christ died to save us from the loss of heaven. He did not die to save us from suffering in this world.

Yet suffering need never be in vain. St. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body, that is the church . . . ” (Col 1:24). We can join our suffering with Christ’s for the sake of others. In this way suffering becomes redemptive. It is not suffering but our response to it that makes it so.”

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Why on earth would anyone willingly suffer?

Well, we Christians should understand this better than anyone, because it’s what our Lord and savior did.

Jesus willingly suffered because of his love for God the father and for us sinners. He was willingly obedient his whole life to His mission. If he decided otherwise He would not have died on the cross. He died out of His own free will. He could not have been crucified without His consent. That’s how much He loves us. And that is true love. Sacrificial love. You know how much you love someone to the extent you are willing to suffer.

Daily Inspiration from St. Therese of Lisieux: Lord I Suffer Willingly

Even people dedicated to alleviating all suffering still can’t escape it.

There are belief systems dedicated to removing suffering from the world. Just think of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. But is it possible? No, it’s not. While we should alleviate whatever suffering we can, suffering is just a part of life.

How can we cope with suffering and be there for those who are suffering?

I think we need to listen.

We need to listen to ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to be suffering and permission to talk about. Just because there are people who are worse off and because we have so many blessings doesn’t mean we aren’t suffering and shouldn’t be able to talk about it.

Because sometimes you feel like you can’t.

Especially among Christians who try to be chronically positive and look at the bright side. But you can’t look at the bright side when you are in the middle of suffering.

You need validation.

You need to know you aren’t alone.

You need to be vulnerable and be held in your vulnerability.

You need to know you are loved when you are vulnerable.

You need to accept your feelings and know that they will pass.

You don’t need to be dismissed.

You don’t need to be shamed into feeling better before you are ready.

All of us need to be heard and seen and to have empathy in order to feel better. We need to be understood. When we are in pain and we are told “well, you’re lucky because blah blah blah.” It just makes us feel wrong to feel.

But we all feel. And it’s okay.