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The Blessing of Suffering is More than a Cute Catholic Phrase

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30 Days with Teresa of Avila (Week 4 of 6)

I realize better every day what grace our Lord has shown me in enabling me to understand the blessings of suffering so that I can peacefully endure the want of happiness in earthly things since they pass so quickly.

Day 15, paragraph 1 of St. Teresa's letter to Don Alvaro de Mendoza

The Blessing of Suffering is More than a Cute Catholic Phrase

Reading and rereading this book, I've come to realize that I have a long, long, long, LONG way to go in the spiritual life. It's no surprise to me, mind you. I want to desire sainthood; I want to long for heaven; I want to seek holiness.

When I look at myself closer, though, I realize that my natural inclination is not toward any of these things, whether sainthood or heaven or holiness. Left to my own devices, I want the easy life: I want cushions on the couch, carpet on the floor, and food on the table. I want the bills paid and the kids clothed and, doggone it, time for what I want to do.

I don't want to come face-to-face with forgiveness or sorrow or loss. I don't want to consider that the people I know who are closest to God, who have witnessed to me through their lives of faith, are those who have suffered the greatest and who have been at the foot of the Cross with Mary.

The thought of suffering sends me hiding under my fuzzy blanket, hugging my pillow for dear life.

And yet the experience of suffering in the last few years has given me a sliver of insight as to what St. Teresa means in this letter when she refers to the “blessing” of suffering.

Five years ago, while we were driving down one of my favorite country roads in the bright sunshine of a warm January day, the phone rang and our family changed forever. My brother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack, leaving his young wife and two young daughters breathless and shocked.

I've watched my sister-in-law in those five years, and I was already watching her. It seems she is particularly blessed by the kiss of suffering: her life and example began shining for me before I married into the family, after watching her deal with the death of a second child.

She's the kind of person who smiles and gives unconditionally to those around her. You might never suspect what her life has held.

Her life, her suffering, has touched me. Though it isn't mine per se, it's impacted me deeply. It's made me look at the gift of the Cross as more of an investment and less of a pretty present to unwrap and enjoy and then forget.

In referring to these mysterious blessings, [St. Teresa] does not mean that all suffering is good or that God wants us to suffer. On the contrary, she knows that understanding the wisdom of God, in a lived way, takes prayer, time, careful discernment, and loving obedience. Yet the effort is worth it because it leads to invincible peace.

Day 15, paragraph 1 of the reflection

I didn't realize it until recently, but I've longed for peace for years. I thought I wanted happiness, or financial stability, or comfort. I thought I would finally have enough when I accomplished this or that milestone.

As it turns out, there was a longing that could only be filled from the fires of sufferings, an understanding that could only be found in the tears wept at the foot of the Cross. Suffering as a blessing? It makes me shudder: I don't want to suffer, or to see those I love suffer, or to be around suffering. I don't.

And yet, despite my weakness, suffering comes. There is suffering in this life. There will always be suffering in this life. Thankfully, as St. Teresa points out, we have a God who has been there, who understands, who gives us a gift that's eternal.

Reading Assignment:

Days 21-27

Discussion Questions:

1. How have you been impacted by suffering in your life? In what ways has it drawn you closer to God?

2. When have you been unexpectedly blessed by suffering or the results of suffering?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at SnoringScholar.com and is the author of a number of books for families.

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  • Donna Sullivan

    Sarah,
    I wonder if you have read Searching for God and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Philippe: 110 pages of pure gold. Highly recommend.

    • bob gorski

      Amazon has a “Searching and Maintaining Peace” by Father Jacques Philippe. Is that the one?

      • LizEst
        • Patti Knudsen

          One of the best books I have ever read. And re-read. Praying that my husband will read it…as he says he is searching for peace. Liz…you know him…and how big a challenge this is. Happy to report that Steve was confirmed this past Lenten season. Please keep us in your prayers.

          • LizEst

            Patti — Congrats to Steve on his confirmation! How wonderful! That would be a great book for him. It would also be great for him if he had a spiritual director, especially a priest that he could really talk these things through. A good director can help a lot.

          • Patti Knudsen

            Liz, I’ve been seriously seeking a spiritual director for at least 4 years. Our parish priest is wonderful, and a Carmelite. Good news. He is Indian, and very hard, sometimes, to understand. But We like him a lot. We’ll be in Norrh Dakota all summer, attending Sacred Heart, where Fr. Chad Wilhelm is the pastor. Great priest. He might be a great choice if he’s not too busy. Loving the current book choice. “Confessions” might be a tough read…but I’m willing to try.

          • LizEst

            Yeah, getting a good fit is helpful. And, once a spiritual direction relationship is established, they should be able to write, email, or use use the phone during the rest of the year.

  • Susan Bailey

    After going through a long season of loss I learned of the transforming nature of suffering, that if I just give in and accept where I am and let God lead me, that it will come to something better. You will never regain what you lost and there will be holes in your heart because of them, but you also gain greatly in so many ways. Jesus suffered as much as anyone could; he was destroyed bodily all while having his reputation dragged through the mud. His friends deserted him and one even betrayed him, leading to the crucifixion. Yet Jesus rose again to new life in a glorious resurrected body. He not only took on our sins but promises us the same kind of resurrection. We don’t have to wait until after we die to experience it. The life, death and resurrection cycle plays out in big and small ways every day of our lives. Nobody wants suffering (Sarah, I want what you want!) but when it comes, it presents an opportunity for growth and transformation if we but see the possibilities and trust God to lead us.

    p.s. just started The Interior Castle; wish I had found it sooner!

  • My wife (20 year anniversary on May 14 this year!) has not been blessed with good health. I often resented it because it caused such distress and turmoil on our lives. It makes me feel particularly helpless.
    Like Sarah’s sister-in-law, she is a much better person than me because she takes these health challenges in stride. I spent most of our marriage frustrated, angry and confused in this matter. I was not a patient and loving husband. Ugh.

    Seeing her suffering physically has not only given me a great appreciation of my health but also the opportunity to practice patience. The quote from the Day 3 letter: “Life is short; our troubles last a moment…” is true for me during these episodes.
    When I have to shoulder extra duties, I realized through prayer that I am uniquely created to handle it. Instead of my misery, I realized with the help of Fr. Felix that it’s my mission. I am much more peaceful because of it. God gave me this cross and his son to help me carry it.
    Finally, my children are learning that not everyone is blessed with health and that it is OK. It’s also creating opportunities for empathy when mom can’t go to the {insert kid activity}. They love her like children and do not hold on to lost moments of time. It’s a true blessing.

    • Camila

      “My wife (20 year anniversary on May 14 this year!)”
      God bless you and your wife Jeff.

      Marriage, I believe, can be an immense source of blessings in the most profound way. It truly makes us live on our knees, begging God to enlarge our hearts. Children that grow up seeing the face of patient suffering grow up witnessing a love not of this world – a lesson many nowadays have no idea what this looks like. The gift of this witness, both you and your wife have given to your children, will most certainly bear fruit. They are children who have seen God’s love firsthand and will come to understand that what the world offers as ‘love’ will never satisfy the human heart – for they have been fed with real food.

    • Jeanette

      Another way to look at your situation is to realize that you are helping your wife carry her cross, like Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross. I heard this once and have never forgotten it. It really made sense to me to look at it this way. I try to make it part of my prayer for my husband, who suffers from long term depression. It helps me to be patient, understanding and helpful in all that he goes through…to help him carry his cross. Jeff, God bless you and your wife!

      • Camila

        Jeanette, you bring up one of my favorite events in the passion (right after the conversion of the good thief) Simon carrying the cross of our Lord!

  • Camila

    It is mercy that sheds light on suffering and makes is desirable. God sanctified suffering on the cross, He blessed it and anointed it. If embraced for love of God, it is no longer a useless endeavor, but an anointed one – one that draws us closest to Him. The heart that is willing to suffer for love, is a heart filled with God’s mercy, and there is no greater peace than to live immersed in the profound reality of His mercy; of His total gift of mercy, unmerited, and freely given to all that will humbly accept.

  • Joan

    So sorry for the loss of your brother in law Sarah. My sister died nine years ago through illness leaving a husband and two young boys and without our faith in God and especially my sister’s faith I honestly don’t know how we would have come through it. She drew us all closer to God because of her certainty in Him and heaven. She used to comfort other patients and although at the time it felt as though our prayers were not being heard its only in hindsight that you realise it was Jesus giving her the peace and strength to accept the situation. One of the last things I remember saying to her was “it’s going to be beautiful when you wake up” and she said “I know”.

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