Sunday, June 2, 2013

Suffering is a Gift: The Four Purposes of Suffering

Suffering is a great teacher, a marvelous guide, an able assistant in the task of preparing us for Heaven, and effective in detaching the soul from the things which prevent it from growing closer to God. Although I did not see this clearly when I was younger, I have come to see it clearly now and I am glad of it. Suffering is still painful for me, as it will be all my days, but I know now that the pain is not meant to harm me. It merely means that there is work being done on me to help make me ready for Heaven.

Suffering is a great teacher. There is no teacher quite so proficient in transferring knowledge from her own head to that of the student as suffering. Admittedly, I am a slow learner and so I must often suffer many times before finally absorbing the intended lesson. However, I have seen that I learn in a few minutes of pain what otherwise might take me months or even years to learn from another’s experiences. The more pain involved, the quicker I am to learn the lesson. For example, I only had to touch the hot stove once to learn not to do that again. It has taken me many years to learn obedience to God.

Suffering is a marvelous guide. When the body finds itself in pain, the immediate reaction is to find the source so as to remove the cause of the suffering. In this way, suffering acts as a guide to the soul. I realized many years ago that I was desperately unhappy with my life. Nothing seemed to go well for me, and I found no joy even in the things that did. I could not understand why I was so unhappy, and I began to look for the root cause of my problem. In the end, I found that the root cause was my disobedience to God. Suffering guided me toward the straight and narrow path that leads to Love, and kept me from going too far astray when I began to wander.

Suffering is an able assistant in the task of preparing the soul for heaven. No woman gives birth without undergoing much suffering and pain. If the woman does not know what is happening to her, these pains can be frightening and she may even think that she is dying. She will seek to end her suffering at any cost, quite possibly doing great harm to herself and to the child she carries. Her efforts to resist the suffering will only bring more suffering. She does not understand that the suffering is her body’s effort to prepare her to receive a wonderful gift, to expand her narrow passages so that they are wide enough to allow the child to fit where it otherwise would not. She is likely to see this pain as a burden to be born or to be rid of rather than seeing it as the preparation for a great and transformative gift.

Suffering’s primary purpose is preparation of the soul for Heaven. It opens up the heart, the mind, and the soul which would otherwise be too small to receive so great a gift as the love of God. It destroys and tears down the barriers that might prevent that gift from emerging, and acts as an early alert system letting us know that transformation is under way. Rather than crying for mercy at our first pangs of suffering, as one might who is ignorant of these truths, or begging to have them ended, it should be our intention to relax and accept the process. We must understand that resisting it only means the suffering will endure longer and be much greater than necessary. If we relax, however, and allow the process to flow as it must we will speed along the process by allowing the changes to come that must come to make us ready.

Suffering detaches us from our attachment to the things of this world so that we have room to receive the things of God. The drunkard may suffer greatly when deprived of alcohol, but without the deprivation he can never be freed of his addiction. The wealthy person may suffer greatly after losing everything he owns, but without the loss he may never come to the point where he realizes that everything he is and has depends on God’s grace. Eight times in my life I have had to leave behind nearly everything I owned and start over. Each time has become easier because I have grown more detached from my things and have gained a greater trust in God’s providence.

Suffering is a training ground, meant to prepare the soldier of God for the daily war against temptation and evil. It is not meant for the harm of the individual, though certainly it can feel this way, but is meant to toughen the child of God so that the world does not have a chance to corrupt or to gain a foothold in that heart. The more that we welcome suffering, the more that we open ourselves up to her and allow her to do her work, the sooner our souls will be prepared for a place where suffering is no longer needed.

All the science of the Saints is included in these two things: To do, and to suffer. And whoever had done these two things best, has made himself most saintly. --Saint Francis de Sales

Thank you for joining me for tonight's installment on Suffering Is a Gift. I hope you will join me tomorrow as we talk about suffering as a great teacher.

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