On Redemptive Suffering
When we fail to find meaning in our suffering, we can easily fall into despair. But once we find meaning in our suffering, it is astounding what we can endure, both mentally and physically. – Jeff Cavins
Why is there suffering in the world, what’s it all about, and why would a loving God let it happen? For the separated and divorced, here are some profound points to ponder:
1. The world is beautiful but also broken and everyone will suffer unfairly because of that reality. There’s no escape. While this topic has a dimension of great spiritual and mystical depth, it also has an easy-to-understand side that is just as true. Let’s start with kindergarten. Kindergarten is hard. Along with the fun, you may have to do difficult things like stand in line, be quiet, and learn math. No matter how good you are or how hard you try, you may have a bad teacher who just doesn’t get you. She may even be unkind. Classmates may unfairly ridicule and cruelly shame you. You won’t get picked for the team. You won’t get a fair share of the crayons. You might accidentally fall or even get pushed on the playground and cut open your knee or chin. And you don’t even deserve any of this! The real question may be burning in your little brain: How could my all-wise and all-powerful, loving mother ever send me here!? That brings us to the second point.
2. God has both a perfect will and a permissive will. So did your mother when she sent you off to school—she’d like for things to be perfect for you, but she lets you take the risk and face the “evils” of school for a greater good: your maturity. In his “perfect will” God never desired that we be hurt or that evil enter the world. But, in order that we have the FREEDOM to really love him (and not just be little obedient puppets), he assured us that we could say No just as well as YES to him. That’s his “permissive will”. When Adam and Eve said NO, their sin (turning away from God) cracked open the universe so wide that evil rushed in and took firm root. On our own, we can’t cut down this wicked weed. That’s why we need a Savior.
3. In order to truly love, we have to be truly free. God knew about sin and injustice from the beginning,
but to protect everyone's free will he permitted the resulting sin. Your mom knew kindergarten
would be a place where you might hurt others or would be unfairly hurt, too,
but like God (yes, Moms are like
God!) she saw the bigger picture; that nothing there would really harm you and
that she could and would help you grow and mature from all your bad experiences. She kept just enough control in a general
way, but allowed you the freedom to go off and experience school in the way you
wanted. She didn’t sit in the car all day in the school parking lot or stay in
the back of the classroom with you--but she did not abandon you. In your freedom you could not see or sense her, but she knew where you were. When you would need her most, she would be there. And the bad days? With your cooperation, she
was ready to teach you through any problems and help you grow in you
compassion, understanding, and wisdom, leading you into love.
I remember when I was the new kid in first grade. A red-headed, freckled-face brat named George called me names and threw wet paper towels in my face. Funny, when I think back I can still feel the sting of those towels and my hot-cheeked-shame. From that injustice, though, mom helped me to understand that George probably was a very unhappy child. What George did wasn’t right, but Mom taught me forgiveness. And guess what else bloomed from that painful injustice? In second grade when the new, homely little girl showed up, and no one wanted to play with her, I recognized her pain. I couldn’t wait to rush to her at recess and befriend her. I asked her if she wanted to play, assured her everything would be okay, and showed her around the school yard. I protected her from George. From my misery came my capacity for deeper love. And THAT’s what we are all here for: to know love, to receive love, and—as Jesus himself did—to enter into even the most unjust suffering to bring love to others.
4. Lasting happiness is union with Christ—even in his suffering.
In a good marriage, we know that true love, and thus true happiness, involves “for better or worse”. When you and a spouse stand side-by-side and weather a storm or fight a common enemy together, that union in pain and suffering has the power to bond you more deeply and permanently than any honeymoon or romantic vacation. That reality in earthly marriage is meant to show us the truth, then, of our mystical marriage with God. He wants us by his side where our trust in and love for him will grow strong.
5. Sacrificial Love has real POWER!
Something happened in the mystical realm when Jesus did that: in a certain sense, his perfect love acted like an atomic property that super-charged his blood. I call it the “Love Particle”, giving his blood the mystical, mysterious POWER to save all of creation from the spiritual misery and death sin had brought.
And we need that blood, not to cover our sin and shame but to free us from it. You know what a blood transfusion does: it gets rid of our old, diseased blood that’s about to cause our death and fills us with healthy blood so that we can live. In the invisible realm, the spiritual world—which is more real than the world we can see and touch—Jesus blood is available to give you and many eternal life. And that new life doesn’t have to start a long time from now in heaven because he wants that new life, a life of love, to begin right here and now. He wants to replace your selfish greedy, fearful blood with a blood rich in strong, holy, love ions.
But this blood transfusion is only available one way. In the spiritual sense, you must not just lay your life at the foot of his cross, backing away at a safe distance so he can do all the work of salvation. More than anything, he has and always will desire intimate union with you. He wants to fill you with the power that comes from his life and love; he longs for his blood flow through your spiritual veins. He yearns for you to climb up on the cross, put your arms around him, and press your face close to his, allowing the thorns to pierce your forehead. He wants your blood to mingle with his—and when it does YOU become “one flesh” with him. You become united with him in the most bittersweet way, not running from but remaining with him.
6. Suffering is our opportunity to share in saving the world.
Imagine (or maybe you don’t have to) that your ex-spouse and the blood-sucking attorney take you for all you’re worth in court. You certainly don’t deserve it, but there it is. Now what do you do? Cry? Yes. Get angry? Yes, for a while. But then you let go of the self-pity, forgive them, and you make an act of the will, an act of union with Christ, to offer him this particular pain. Co-mingled with his eternal and perfect sacrifice, your pain now also rises up to the Father like a perfumed wisp of sweet-smelling incense. Because Jesus’ sacrifice pleased God, yours, now, does too. God is moved to open the gates of heaven to some soul in most desperate need. The benefits from your sacrifice can go somewhere in time, somewhere in the world, to bring life-giving grace to another. As Christ was the perfect gift to us, you, too, can now share in being a perfect gift to others.
This is called redemptive suffering, because mingled with Christ’s suffering, yours has the power to redeem, to save. You can offer your injustices and pain for someone in particular: a child who is struggling, an ex-spouse who needs conversion, a depressed person somewhere in the world who needs at this moment to know that God is really there. And that grace will go straight to their hearts.
Don’t waste this opportunity to be a gift to someone. It will also make you grow in wisdom, virtue, and holiness—the ingredients for true happiness. The apostle, James, told us that we should consider it “pure joy” whenever we suffer—and now you know why he said that. God doesn’t want us looking around for needless pain, but when it comes, he wants us to see the gift in it.
Now that you understand it a little more, thank God for your sufferings—whether you feel like it or not. Press your face close to his, feel his sacred heart beat against your chest, offer him your pain, receive his love, and let abundant and ever-flowing the graces pour out to the world!