Suffering. That dreaded word.
On Monday, my 8-year-old fell and broke her arm in two places. As I sat with her as her little hands were shaking as they positioned them for the X-ray, I remembered a prayer I had prayed just that week, “God, if suffering is what it takes to bring me and my family closer to you, then do that in my life.” Yikes. I definitely didn’t mean that.
This time of year always makes me think of suffering. We just finished the season of Lent, with Good Friday so clearly highlighting the passion of Jesus, followed by the glory of the Easter season showing us the victory that Jesus has over death and sorrow. There are some, myself included at times, who want to believe that by following God, we can avoid any pain or challenges in our lives. If we do it just right, we can avoid the possible trials that surround us. But if this was true, then Jesus’ suffering makes no sense. If the perfect Son of God didn’t avoid it, what makes me think that I should?
Saint Teresa of Calcutta so beautifully expressed it in this way, “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” These words don’t take away the pain, but they do give us peace in contemplating our afflictions. Do I want to avoid difficulty and be comfortable in this life, or do I want to draw close to the one who has saved my soul and longs to draw closer to me, even in my sorrow?
Suffering allows us to feel in ways that can connect with others as they go through the same hardships. Because while the good times in our lives may give us the ability to share God, it is more often our struggles that actually help us connect with others. As we look at the world around us, with school shootings, poverty and hatred, we all know that people are hurting. We can meet people where they are, allowing our own suffering to connect with those who need Him most.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” Our suffering does not have to be in vain. God has not forgotten us and we can, in faith, believe that He will encourage us in our pain.
In Matthew 10:38, Jesus himself said, “and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Suffering may be the unexpected sorrows that happen to us, but it can equally be the results of the choices we make daily to follow Him.
The story of our lives is not an accident. God in His infinite wisdom and kindness can take the most painful, anguishing parts of our lives and bring meaning to them as we bring life and hope to a hurting world. Our flesh does not want suffering. But when we step out of our comfort zone and allow people to know that they are not alone in their trials, we answer the call that Christ has on our lives.
Now do I think God made my daughter fall? Well no, not really. But I do believe in a God who can use all things to draw us closer to His incredible love and peace. And I have shared with her the amazing truth that God can bring her comfort and use her life to comfort someone else who has that same misfortune. And in that, God has already used her suffering to bring glory to Himself and draw both of us closer to Him.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. The Jordans reside in Monticello with their seven children.