Sunday, April 3, 2016

4 things to do when suffering

Following are a few suggestions I hope might be helpful to anyone experience suffering life. These are not "solutions" to make suffering go away. Many sufferers have learned there is not a secret formula to make it "stop." Not even prayer. Even in Scripture, Job cried out to God yet still lamented of his "months of emptiness" (Job 7:3), which may have amounted to years. Paul likewise begged for the removal of a thorn (2 Cor. 12:8-9), yet God did not effect Paul's request in the manner Paul requested it. Jesus himself prayed to be spared the cup of blood (Luke 22:42; Matt 26:39), yet he still endured the crucifixion. In this fallen world, we often feel the sting of suffering and of crying out repeatedly for relief.

So the purpose of this post is not to examine the mystery of suffering per se, but things we can do amidst it.

1. Offer your suffering as a gift to God.
Scripture teaches us both that Christ offered himself in suffering and that we suffer with him (e.g. Phil. 3:10, Rom 8:17). Deep down, there is a generosity here bestowed by God, that we might in some sense, by grace, join him in his work. It doesn't matter if we "feel" the value of this, but we are simply called to accept crosses and to share in Christ's suffering. We may never know in this life what God "does" with such gifts from His children. Do not worry about having that answer before being a child offering a father a present.

2. Pray even if your prayers are weak.
Don't worry if your suffering is so dark that you can barely muster a prayer. If you must, simply pray with your action, as in point #1, by accepting a share of the cross. If you've already prayed and prayed and things have never changed, you might find yourself in a dark, frustrated, empty place which razes at your faith and trust. Even if you are in such a condition, perhaps you could still pray something like: Lord, please hear me despite my anger and frustration. Don't let the answer to my prayer depend on the wreck that is my faith, nor the anger and sorrow that spills from my heart. Hear my prayer even if I feel like it is futile.

This can help place the matter more into God's hands than one's own. The petitioner admits his sorrow or anger or exhaustion. This can help the petitioner avoid falling into the deceptive trap of thinking his prayer didn't "work" because he didn't pray "right."

No matter how short or how poor you think the prayer comes out, God can work with it. This is the God who built a church on Peter, who was a flawed man in many ways. This is the God who built a universe literally out of nothing. Even a clumsily crafted prayer could become something great.

3. Recognize in your suffering a glimpse of Christ's suffering.
In today's Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday, we read in part the story of Thomas who would not believe Christ had risen lest he see Christ's wounds.
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 
Doubting St. Thomas by St. Tito (ca 1576-77)
(detail from photograph by Saliko,
acquired from Wikimedia Commons)
After seeing this, Thomas' awareness comes to life. Remember in #1 above how Scripture teaches we suffer with Christ. This is our window to Christ's suffering even when we are weak and faithless. Just like Thomas we desire to see Christ's wounds. Sometimes we are given that glimpse right in our own hearts.  When we suffer, we thus "see" Christ's suffering and garner our limited understanding of what Christ endured. And since Christ was wholly innocent and accepted this suffering, we know that whatever we suffer as sinful beings, Christ suffered infinitely worse as the innocent one. From this, we see the love Christ had for mankind. Although easier said than done,  we can translate this to our own lives. We say to ourselves:
If Christ willed to accept a suffering even worse than what I suffer now, how much must he have loved us. This is an example for me to follow when I do something loving for someone else. Do I hold my tongue against a family member while arguing, even if it is difficult for me to resist? Do I guard my eyes against sinful temptations even if I desire to look? Am I willing to accept something that is painful to me for the sake of doing something loving for another?
4. Recognize the faith underlying your frustration
Perhaps you find yourself vexed and frustrated, even "angry" at God after you've cried out again and again to be heard. Like Israel, you "cry out" (e.g. Ps. 22:2, Hab. 1:2) and wonder "how long" until you are "heard." Although the pain does not subside, part of the reason you are frustrated is because you recognize in God the power to hear you. There is faith in such a lamentation. In such a case, consider a prayer such as this:
God I wouldn't be so frustrated and crying out to You if I didn't think You had the power to help. Hidden in my rage is knowledge of Your power and divinity.
In a way, a prayer such as this can be a prayer of praise. And previously, perhaps you have found it very difficult to make a prayer of praise as you've endured heartbreak and difficulty day after day.

Only in suffering can the pinnacles of human love be realized. Is it easier to love a spouse when things are going well or difficult. Great love rises even in turmoil. All this can be overwhelming. None of the above suggestions may take away the pain we so desire be removed. With Job, Paul, Jesus, and Israel, we cry out for mercy, to be spared the pains, thorns, and cups of sacrifice. Even if we remain in the darkness and pains this fallen world delivers, it is worth looking to Scripture and Christ's love as an example to follow.

Note: The 4th point and other slight changes were made to this post on April 6, 2016.

1 comment:

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    Catholic Faith (pre-fulfillment) writing of Job 21:27 >
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