Thanksgiving and Suffering

800px-Cristo_crucificado Christ Crucified (c. 1632) by Diego Velázquez. Museo del Prado, Madrid

“In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen as no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” ~St. Teresa of Avila.

Whenever I hear or read this quote, I am reminded of one of the most “inconvenient” nights of suffering I had in a hotel many years ago. My husband and I were living in Italy at the time, and we were driving home from a vacation to the north of Italy. We decided to stop for the night at a place that sounded nice: “The Romantic Hotel.” The night was anything but romantic. The Italians didn’t put screens on their windows, there was no air conditioning, it was summertime, and the mosquitoes were hungry. It was a night from hell. But we were tired, so we took refuge under the sheets and tried to sleep.

That was a night in an inconvenient hotel.

Most of my sufferings in life have been little sufferings, one might even call them inconveniences, rather than big sufferings. These little sufferings are daily annoyances like not being recognized for my contribution or accomplishments, arguing with my husband, my kids being disobedient, being cut off on the highway, any kind of grocery shopping, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, periodic abstinence, menstrual cramps, hot flashes, car problems, major appliance problems, jury duty, getting out of bed, exercise, eating healthy, or helping others when I’d rather be taking care of myself. All of these little sufferings have afflicted me at some point in my life and several of them afflict me on a daily basis still. Rather inconvenient.

Little sufferings are nefarious because they sneak up on us in disguise. We might not even recognize them as sufferings until we’ve whined and moaned and shaken our fists in the air—or ignored them and left the laundry in the basket and skipped going to the gym in order to go out for drinks with friends.

Suffering is HARD and we don’t like it. The thought of suffering scares me. I want to avoid it. When I hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross and follow me,” I’m not giddy with excitement. It sounds difficult and messy and I would really rather just avoid messing up my (somewhat) organized life with things like carrying crosses. Especially if it’s going to be more inconvenient.

I have to make myself pick up the crosses he sends me. It takes effort. It takes love. Love for Jesus, for my husband, for my kids, for my family, for my friends, and for the guy who just cut me off on the highway.

None of us can avoid suffering. It’s part of life. What we choose to do with our sufferings, whether they are mere inconveniences or life-altering traumas, is a choice we have been freely given. We can choose to turn from God and suffer apart from him, or we can choose to turn to God and suffer with him.

Here are some practical ways to find God amidst suffering:

  1. Recognize that you are suffering. (If you can name it, you can claim it).
  2. Thank God for the ability to endure this suffering through the people, the prayers, and the gifts he has given you.
  3. Give your suffering back to God. Say, “Lord, I give this suffering to you because I am too weak to carry this cross alone.”
  4. Do your duty of the day. Choose to do whatever you can to carry this cross—get out of bed, make your bed, wash your face, go to the doctor, go to the gym, go to Mass, smile, pray.
  5. Trust that God has a plan even in your suffering. He is with you. He will never abandon you. You are not made for this world—your home is in heaven. You are being formed into his image, growing in virtue, refined as silver in a furnace (as the Scriptures tell us).

It’s okay to be angry at God through your suffering. Talk to him about it. Ask him for help through your suffering. You may even ask him to take away your suffering. He is God and he can do it. If he doesn’t do it, it’s not because he doesn’t love you, or hear you. It’s not because he is powerless to do so. Sometimes he gives us suffering to help us grow in some virtue, or to make us trust him more, or to use us as an example to someone whose faith is weak. Ultimately, suffering is a mystery and there is no satisfactory answer to the question of why the innocent suffer. We just don’t know.

When you're suffering, and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you’re tempted to despair; don’t. To despair means to abandon hope. Jesus didn’t despair when he carried the weight of all the suffering of the world as he hung on the cross. He knows your suffering. Cry out to God. When you are at your lowest point, know that you are at the foot of the cross. Kiss the feet of Jesus as he hangs on the cross. He understands your suffering because he has already experienced it.

There was a time in my life when I experienced a big suffering. I was hemorrhaging after a miscarriage and I thought I was going to die. I was starting to get tunnel vision as I heard the wail of the ambulance siren coming up the street. But what is seared in my memory from that event is another St. Teresa of Avila quote that was on a calendar on my bathroom wall at the time, and I remember staring at it. My mental suffering was worse than my physical suffering because I didn’t know if I was going to live or die and leave seven children orphans and my husband a widower. Here’s what I read:

Let nothing disturb thee;
Nothing affright thee.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices

God alone suffices. Our life on earth can be compared to an inconvenient hotel because it’s not our home. We’re just travelers passing through on our pilgrimage of life on the road to our final destination. We were made for heaven and we long for eternity. As Revelation 21:4 says, “…he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” We were made for heaven. Our suffering will pass. God will always be God. He knows our hearts and our suffering. Give him your suffering today and offer thanks to him for the suffering he endured for you.

 

 

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