Rethinking Suffering

Pain and suffering are greatly misunderstood in this world.  It is part of our existence, in both the plant and animal kingdoms, that things can happen that maim or hurt or try us, that can cause us great suffering, illness and even death. We choose to see the pain as unnecessary, as totally preventable; so we reject and resent it happening in our lives; we deny its power over us and we tend to blame someone else for their occurrence, even God. If only He would, He could save us from ___. We pray to God to take away our suffering, to change the trajectory of our children’s lives, to do something that will save us from this pain.

I don’t’ know why our earth is so suffering-bound, but I do know from my own life that the places where I have suffered the most have also brought me great riches. The greatest pain of my childhood was growing up in a hell-fire-and-damnation church, which left me quite damaged and with a concept of God as the angry ruler up in the sky ready to zap anyone who sinned.  By the time I was a young adult I saw God as a raven sitting on my shoulder ready to punish me for any sin. I was out of the church by my late 20’s.

The gift of that church and all the suffering it caused in me was that I could not live with that “god;” I had to find God whom I could love and serve. My life from then on was a search for a way to resolve this past. When I look back on my history now, I can see God’s footprint throughout my life: in that church, in leaving the church, in my journey in a cult that was founded on Jesus as a teacher, but not his divinity, through reading about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and many of the saints’ writings. I finally came back to the church when my nine-year-old daughter said to me one day: “Mom, when the kids at school say where they go to church, I want to be able to say where I go, too.” And so a young child led me back to church. By that time I was clear about who God is and where He fits into my life; I had surrendered my life to Him.

All of us have had much pain and suffering in our lives. It is the common human experience. The problem with pain and suffering comes from what we do with it. If we deny the suffering, or refuse to let God heal us, or over-identify with it, it remains an ongoing drain of energy, some of our best energy. Fear and anger fester in us. We become defined only by what has happened to us. We add greatly to our suffering by resisting it.

The best way to deal with suffering is to grieve it, to turn it over to God for healing, to own that it has happened to us. From there we can begin to look for answers to these questions: what am I to learn from this suffering? What is God saying to me in this? Will I forgive the person who caused it? Or myself, if I brought it on? How can I incorporate the lessons of this suffering?

God’s job in our pain and suffering is to heal us and to transform the suffering into lessons learned, wisdom gained, as soon as we are ready to let it go. Once the suffering is transformed it becomes a useful tool for meeting and recognizing other people’s pain with compassion and love. It is often where we’ve felt the most vulnerable that we have the most to give. God isn’t asking us to give out of our strengths which tend to isolate us from others, but from our weaknesses which allow us to see every other person as they are, too, vulnerable and flawed.

Isn’t that interesting? God asks us to give out of our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, now healed. Out of our very humanness. Out of our biggest lessons. He asks us to give out of the places where we’ve learned the most, where we’ve had to come face-to-face with our vulnerabilities. In the world, we’re always asked for our talents and strengths. But not in God’s kingdom. His invitation is to help the people who have been challenged in the same way we’ve been challenged. He upends all the world’s expectations when He calls out His own.

So when you are troubled by pain and suffering, or when you remember challenges you’ve been through, ask God to heal these places in you. Ask Him what you are to learn from this pain and that suffering. Listen for His answers. Ponder what He offers to you as reasons. Incorporate the lessons deep in your being. And accept what is already in your life. Grieve any sorrow about it thoroughly. And move forward, walking hand-in-hand with the Lord.

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Questions to ponder over the week: What pain and suffering am I hanging onto? What challenges still define who I am? Have I given them up to God to heal and to transform? Have I learned the lessons from my pain that God is offering to me? What do I have to do to start this process of giving up my sufferings to the Lord and to begin the healing, so that I can be free of them?

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Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who have let God heal our pain and suffering. May we be those whose pain has been transformed. May we be free of all the effects of the suffering we have been through and live with Christ’s yoke upon our shoulders, allowing Him to carry the great burdens of our lives, for His yoke is easy and His burdens light!

Check out the archives of my blog going back to 2011 on this page.

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