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The Blessing of Suffering: 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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