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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Joy of Suffering

July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Joy of Suffering

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The sufferings brought by the heat, or cold, or any other inconvenience, the heavy weight of grief or sorrow, may be considered as the eternal decrees of Providence which sends suffering for your own good and proportions it to your strength. In this way, God’s fatherly love and tenderness for you will become evident. It is apparent in the opportunities that He gives you to serve Him in the way that is most pleasing to Him.

Now that you are in a position to please Him more than ever, speak from the fullness of your heart and say: “It is the will of God that is accomplished in me. From all eternity God’s love has chosen me to undergo this suffering today. May He be blessed forever!” – Spiritual Combat, pg. 74-75 (TAN version; Sophia Press counterpart found on pg. 71, from When, for instance…most gracious Lord!”

I have a feeling that I’m speaking to the choir when I state the obvious: that suffering, whether minor or debilitating, should be received as a gift. I’ve read countless spiritual books that put suffering in this proper perspective, and the concept sounds beautiful and glorious. At times I’ve even been inspired enough to want to experience the cross in a “big” way. [You know, all those little annoyances throughout the day are piddly, but the BIG stuff – THAT can move mountains (read with a high degree of sarcasm).]

In reality, though, I think suffering is more like a magnificent painting. From afar it is beautiful, moving and inspirational; but when you get close, it looks like a bunch of messy paint splotches in random order – sloppy and very ugly.

Recently, our family has been experiencing the ugliness close up. Since last Tuesday, my husband Dale has suffered from chronic, excruciating pain. Apparently, he has severe torticollis, which consists of muscle spasms that pinch the nerves in his neck. Consequently, he’s been virtually immobile for a week. We’re hoping for a solution soon – all we’ve been told is that this condition can last anywhere from weeks to months. I know this comes no where close to the horrific suffering that others have experienced, but or course, all suffering is relative.

Regardless, while this experience has allowed time for much prayer and reflection, I’m sure I can speak for my husband when I say that, while we are grateful in a theoretical and mystical sort of way, in reality we would secretly prefer to return this well-intentioned gift to the store for a different size – maybe Extra Small.

Between rounds of pain medication, we’ve had several discussions about how much this has renewed our sympathy for others who have endured suffering, and the amazing examples that we’ve witnessed through our lives. Dale’s father was one of them. He passed away two years ago, after a painful battle with bone cancer.

Because of the admirable way he approached his last days, Dale’s dad has become for us an even greater hero than he was. As a dairy farmer, this man woke before the crack of dawn and worked until late at night seven days a week. Yet for all his toughness, he never forgot the Source of all strength, and was devout in his faith. In the end, despite his debilitating pain, he was joyful, grateful, loving and – most endearingly – childlike. With every shot of excruciating pain, rather than cursing, he’d call out his devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He held fast to his rosary and prayed fervently during his waking hours. As we stepped back from the splotches, we could see that he was a magnificent portrait of Christian life (and death).

In our current political climate, leaders have set their sites on erasing all the splotches. They want to eradicate suffering on every level, to the point of promoting abortion, euthanasia and many other evils. But by erasing all the splotches, they destroy the masterpiece that God Himself created.

As long as it is approached with resignation and not bitterness, suffering can be redemptive and leads to greater union with God. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Mother Theresa said, “…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.” Blessed are those who suffer – how counter-intuitive in today’s society!

Well, after my little pep rally above, here we sit. In the midst of suffering. Our pom poms aren’t waving quite so high behind closed doors. But we are learning slowly but surely how to be thankful. The question is, will we stand too close to the painting and focus on all the “splotches?” Or will we appreciate the masterpiece that it truly represents? With God’s grace as the paintbrush, we’re hoping for the latter. Perhaps I should place Scupoli’s words around the house as a reminder for us and our children: “[This] is the will of God that is accomplished in me. From all eternity God’s love has chosen me to undergo this suffering today. May He be blessed forever!”

For Discussion:

1. What has brought you the most comfort in your suffering – either from a theological perspective or on the personal side (i.e. the generosity or kind words of friends and loved ones?) Note – sharing your experiences could help many of us serve others more effectively.

2. How do you explain the concept of suffering to others who may have bought into the culture’s lies?

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

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