Lent has just begun, a season of reflecting upon the suffering and death of the Lord and go with him to the foot of the cross. Many of the faithful offer up a token sacrifice for 40 days to better learn how to love. These sacrifices have meaning, these little daily sufferings in a small way, prepare our mind and bodies for any real sufferings that will inevitably come our way. For most adults, suffering is nothing new, anyone who has lived past their 18th birthday has experienced some suffering in their life. Suffering has value, if not, then how can we explain the salvific suffering and death of Jesus?
The Value of Suffering
I do not claim to be a theologian, but I am a human being who is a follower of Jesus Christ. I do my best to follow His commands and follow where he leads me and sometimes where He leads me is to the cross. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why a good God would lead me to a place of suffering, but as I have matured in my faith and lived through many many periods of trial and personal suffering I am starting to see the value in this repeating cycle. Now I am not a glutton for punishment, but after each trial, I emerge as a better person with an increased faith in divine providence and His love for me. In other words, I trust God a little more each time I walk in the “valley of death” and still emerge at the other side. I know that God walks with me and that through each trial he is purifying me and leading me to a closer walk with Him.
No one wants to suffer, but because of the fall of man, our lives on earth involve suffering. It is the way in which we view our sufferings that will either bring us closer to God or cause us to reject him even more than we already have. Those are really the only two options. We either tend to trust God and believe that He loves us, or we tend to believe that if He exists He really doesn’t care about us and certainly can’t be trusted to have our best interest at heart No matter which camp we fall into, God loves us and desires us to be in closer union with us. He uses the situations in our lives to compel us to trust Him more and to turn to Him in our time of distress.
I suppose that is the point is this section. God uses the suffering that we all endure in our lives to bring us closer to Him. If we are already fairly close to Him, he will use it to help us to love our neighbor like he does. For me, when I experience suffering, I grow in my love for my fellow human beings. We all suffer and for some, when they encounter suffering, they aren’t very nice to other people (I have been this person). To love someone who is hurting is a challenge, but that is what they really need, someone to love them no matter how much they are hurting others while in their period of suffering.
The Value of Sacrifice
Back to Lent. During Lent many Christians give something up for 40 days. While I am sure there are many theological reasons why, I will briefly speak about how these small sacrifices can help us in our training to become saints. After all, that is our purpose in life, to become saints, to become holy and thus after we die, we go to heaven and be with God forever. Being a saint doesn’t just happen by magic. Just as being a gold medal olympian doesn’t just happen to anyone who desires it. There is a lot of training, long hours, pain and suffering while the body is conditioned and trained to be able to perform the desired athletic feat. The spiritual life is very similar, we must train our mind and body to be holy.
Since we know that trials and tribulations will come our way, we need to be prepared for them so that we turn to Christ for strength and not away from him. The spiritual training of self denial we undertake periodically, prepares our mind and our body to instinctively turn to Christ, this is otherwise known as developing virtue. We don’t even think about it, we just do it because we have trained our mind and body to do it over the course of many months and years. If, as a youth, I had approached fasting and abstinence as training for the suffering that would surely come in my life, perhaps I would have been better prepared to handle those situations with heroic virtue.
Family at the Foot of the Cross
Ask any one who has been married for over a few years, or has children over the age of 3 and they will tell you that indeed family life is full of unexpected and “completely out of your control” situations that you have to deal with. Emergency room visits for kids and parents, the death or severe illness of extended family, house fires, tornados, car accidents, unemployment, pregnancy, mental illness, calls from the police, etc. What makes family life particularly difficult is that when you are a member of a family you become vulnerable to each other. When you say I do, you are promising to be intimate with each other, when you are open to a new life and are blessed with children, those children can cause you more suffering than you thought you could handle. In short, being part of a loving family means being at the foot of the cross. This is not a bad thing, Jesus did not attempt to explain why we must suffer, he just showed us how to endure it and through it all love as the Father loves. Jesus can most definitely say to us, that He knows what we are going through and with faith in God, we too can make it through and give glory to God the Father.
You just never know what may happen and at times you may have to deal with one of more of these situations listed above. In just the past few weeks, we know three families that have experienced much suffering. One family lost their 22 year old son to committed suicide (due to untreated depression), another suffered the loss of an infant, and lastly a family lost a fairly young grandparent in a freak bus/freight train accident in a state almost 600 miles from their home which required the parents to leave their home in haste and stay in the other state for an extended period of time. In all these situations, these families turned to Christ in their time of need. They took Jesus up on the offer to help them carry their heavy crosses. Periodic fasting and abstinence is a very good way to prepare for trials such as these so that when they do come we instinctively turn to the Lord. None of these sufferings are short lived, the effects of these losses will be felt for many months and perhaps years. There will be times when these families will feel the burden is too much to bear, but with continued trust in the Lord, they will make it through the dark valley and will be in closer union with the Lord as He comforts them in their affliction.
Our lives will have trials and sufferings, there is no doubt about this, we can either take up our cross and follow Jesus or run from the cross and the Lord, the choice is yours. Jesus told us He is the way, the truth and the life and He offers to make our burdens light and to bring about good from our suffering. We just need to trust in Him and His Word. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.