Love In the Midst of Suffering
Running Away From Suffering
When you're suffering, the hardest thing is acceptance. We naturally want to fight suffering, because as humans we are inclined towards maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. In a word self-preservation. But this is not always in our control. We could be the healthiest of humans and still suffer. It's part of our reality as humans. We're all flawed. If you're looking for a perfect human, they don't exist. In this imperfect, broken world we will suffer. The question becomes what will you do with your suffering?
How God Transforms Suffering
I was watching a video with Dr. Jordan Peterson and Fr. Dave Pivonka titled "How God Transforms Suffering (I've included the link below if you're interested). They talk about how bitterness towards suffering makes it twice as hard; that complaining and self- pity for ones suffering only adds more pain. Still suffering hurts. Regardless of if it's physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, it hurts. The Latin meaning of the word suffering is to undergo or endure; indicating that the process is not pleasant. So it takes great courage to accept suffering, especially when it is prolonged or chronic.
In his talk, Fr. Dave mentions a priest from Africa that he met who had Lou Gehrig's disease. What was surprising was how the priest's suffering drew more people to Church. What used to be a sparsely attended Mass, was suddenly filled to the brim with parishioners, and the confession line growing longer each day
The Story of Fr. Stu
Hearing this reminded me of the movie Fr. Stu. Based on a true story, Stuart Long (played by Mark Wahlberg) is studying to be a priest when he is diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a rare inflammatory muscle disease, which mimics the symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. However this condition did not deter Stuart from becoming a priest. On the contrary, it only motivated him more; giving a whole new meaning to his priesthood. Though Fr. Stu was confined to a wheelchair, he drew others to the church through his suffering. Every Sunday the church was packed, and the confession line teaming with parishioners. To the point where it extended from the church out to the street. One of Fr. Stu's close friends said in an interview "The weaker he (Fr. Stu) got physically, the stronger his love for God became."
The Good That Suffering Can Bring
With the lives of both these priests, it's evident how God brought so much good out of suffering. That's not to minimize the amount of suffering that either of these priests experienced. I can't even begin to imagine how much pain they were in. What is amazing though, is how they accepted that pain and used it for the good of others. A particular quote Dr. Peterson said in speaking with Fr. Dave was"when you see someone bearing their suffering nobly, there's nothing in that but good."
No suffering is wasted. Jesus showed us this when He died on the cross. He took the most terrible form of suffering, crucifixion, and transformed it into redemption. Sanctifying suffering. Taking all the world's pain and brokenness, and turning it into something salvific. On the cross, Jesus' appearance was grotesque. His mortal body mutilated, scourged, and beaten. He endured every form of torture for us. Yet He did it out of love, not bitterness.
The Real Reason For the Season
With Christmas around the corner, I wanted to talk about love. Why do we celebrate Christmas? It's definitely not about the presents and cookies. That is a byproduct of coming together to celebrate the holiday, but that's not the reason. It's Jesus. As John 3:16 tells us
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."
We celebrate Christmas because without Jesus, we wouldn't be here. It says it right there in the passage. God loves us so much that He gave His only son, knowing full well what kind of death He would endure for us. It's interesting to see the parallels between love and suffering. Because suffering done out of love points directly to our God.
So when we hear Christmas songs like O Holy Night and Hark the Herald Angels sing it makes sense; the angels singing praises, the stable animals bowing in adoration, and people coming from far and wide to see the infant Jesus. The night Christ was born in Bethlehem changed the course of our world forever. This wasn't just another baby, this was THE BABY. The Redeemer that the world and all mankind had been waiting for.
Now there were shepherds in the region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel of the Lord said" Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2: 8-14).
Why we suffer doesn't have an easy answer. How can being in pain be a good thing? And what does it have to do with Christmas? In many ways it's a mystery (and I am no expert). However here's my point, the nativity story shows us the love and mercy that God poured down on our suffering world. Christmas is a joyous time! For unto us a savior is born. It's a time to celebrate and give praise to our God. That's why we celebrate Christmas.