A major commonality in all suffering is the sense of the unknown. I’ll venture to say that sometimes it is that very element, the unknown, that can be harder than the actual suffering itself.
When will this be relieved? What happens when someone dies? What if nothing ever changes? What if my worst fears come to be?
In my own life, I know that the sufferings I have carried and some I continue to carry would seem to be oh-so-much more bearable if I knew how long I had to endure them. I think back to my days as an athlete where our team coach would tell us that we were going to run until he told us to stop. It was absolute agony! How many sprints do I have left? One? Ten? Fifty?! Coach, I don’t care what the number is… just tell me!
My view of suffering is similar. How long will this loss plague my day-to-day, sometimes moment-by-moment, existence? When will that thing I long for finally come to fruition? How will my troubled child turn out? Will my loved one be cured of their ailment? What happens if not? I think you get the picture.
As hard as the answer may be, I oftentimes find myself wishing that I knew it. Like I said, I don’t care if I have to run 50 sprints, I just want to know. Why? Because knowing provides me with some locus of control. Knowing the outcome, regardless of what it is, gives me the space to prepare for it. In doing so, I shift the focus back to me. In other words, I do the very opposite of what God seeks to give us through our suffering, which is greater reliance on him.
Transformation Through Suffering
Let’s pause for a second to take a better look at suffering. As Christians, suffering is believed to be redemptive. The pain of our suffering gives us the chance to unite ourselves to Christ crucified on the Cross so that we may be transformed as Christ was through the mystery of his Resurrection. There could be no Resurrection without the Cross, and likewise it is through our sufferings that we are transformed. What are we transformed into? Though always staying truly ourselves, we become more like Christ. We become holier and allow ourselves a greater chance at an eternal relationship with him.
Simply put, suffering is necessary for our salvation. Blessed Andre Besset said that if we had any idea of the redemptive power of suffering, we would be begging God for more of it in our lives. I don’t know about you, but I definitely can’t imagine being in a place where I am asking for more suffering, but I frequently wonder how to take my current struggles and carry them well.
I pose the question: what if you knew your suffering would be relieved tomorrow? A long-awaited outcome was actualized, problems were solved, burdens lifted, or perhaps in spite of it all, you had a deep sense of peace. My first thought is just that, relief! My mind explodes with reasons and examples to support of how amazing it would be. I was surprised, however, when asked the question, how quickly the emotion of regret followed. Regret over what? That I didn’t carry my cross better.
If my cross were taken away tomorrow, I have to ask, did I allow it truly transform me? Or was my tune one of griping and moaning? Did I ever actually accept it, or was it carried with a begrudging heart? Did I, like Christ, ever truly embrace my cross? I’ll pause for a moment to take into account our humanity – we are not God and our human nature is very real. It’s extremely paradoxical to think about embracing the very thing that is causing you so much anguish and strife. I’m not suggesting that the expectation is that one carries his cross perfectly, but rather, that we strive to be further towards the end of acceptance vs. begrudging.
Embrace the Cross…and the Unknown
Unlike those sprints out on the soccer field (which eventually did end), I don’t know with guarantee that my suffering will someday be relieved here on this earth. And that’s just it, we don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that, as much as we want to, we don’t need to know. Recognize that tendency to find a timeline as something pointing you away from an attitude of acceptance.
Pray for the graces you personally need to accept your cross. Ask Jesus to teach you how to embrace your cross as he did. Shift the focus from when to now. How do I live this suffering well today, in this moment? You never know, it may just be relieved tomorrow. If so, don’t have regrets. Strive to live your suffering well, with the knowledge that it is gaining your eternal salvation, it was given specifically with you in mind, and that it is a marathon rather than a sprint.
You may not know any more than you do now, but by releasing the desire to have control over the outcome, you can find peace that Christ promises us, a peace that surpasses understanding.