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The Gift of Suffering?

Suffering is something that people complain about far and wide. As a Catholic, however, I have heard people speak about the gift of suffering. Those people look at me, a faithful, joyful, uncomplaining person crippled and crumpled in my wheelchair, and they believe that I have been given this gift by God. I am a believing and practicing Catholic, through and through, but I don’t believe what those well-meaning, goodhearted people seem to believe.

I don’t believe in the gift of suffering.

I believe in the gift of life.

I believe profoundly and unconditionally in the absolute and terribly beautiful gift of life.

Life naturally includes limitations, imperfections, and hardships — life naturally includes suffering. Everyone who has received the gift of life will suffer at one time or another, or even chronically.

But we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, do we?

© 2019 Christina Chase


Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.

9 thoughts on “The Gift of Suffering? Leave a comment

  1. Interesting point of view on suffering. What would you say to St. Maria Faustina who said, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love (57)”

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    • Thank you for reflecting with me and broadening the conversation! I understand how “love becomes crystallized” in suffering. Suffering in and of itself, however, has no value independent of love. And just because you suffer, doesn’t mean you love.

      In my own experience of physical suffering, I know that suffering can cause a person to be selfish, self-centered, desperately demanding relief so badly that she does not care about anyone else. That isn’t love. It’s not what God wants, of course. God made us for love. And when we truly love someone, then we are willing to suffer for the good of the other. Christ is the incarnation of that love, divine love. People who lovingly give of themselves and make great sacrifices to care for those who are suffering (who suffer in order to relieve suffering) take part in divine love through their sacrifices (“the soul becomes like the Savior”). They choose love, whatever the cost. The greater the cost (the suffering) that is endured lovingly, the more that all of us can see Christ in the love.

      When a person has no choice but to suffer, someone who is in pain or chronically ill, for example, there is no guarantee of love or goodness in the suffering. A choice must be made. We could think of suffering as an opportunity to choose either God’s will or our own wills — but every moment of our lives is such an opportunity, not only the moments of pain and hardship, but also the moments of pleasure and delight. Will we be selfish in our joys? Will we be selfish in our sorrows? Or will we truly love and give of ourselves completely?

      So yes, suffering is an opportunity for grace, an opportunity for love to be “crystallized”, but you will never see me write about suffering as a gift. That’s because I don’t believe that God gives us suffering, and I want to be very clear about that. Suffering isn’t given, it’s allowed. Many people ask why a loving God would allow suffering. We suffer, firstly, because we are given the gift of life and are, therefore, necessarily limited as creatures (think of natural sufferings), and, secondly, because God created us with the gift of free will as creatures in His own divine image (think of the sufferings that result from people’s terrible choices and cruel acts). God gives the gift of life, allows suffering to be part of our lives, because life is such an amazing, eternal gift of divine love, and God knows that He can make something good and eternally beautiful out of even the worst suffering.

      But we have to let Him.

      When I went through a period of terrible pain in my life, I experienced moments of grace when I chose not to close in on myself and away from God’s will, His will for me to love. I accepted that pain, that suffering, and asked God to use it for good, in union with Christ’s pain and suffering on the Cross. This is what the Saints invite us to do, because this is what Christ told us to do: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

      When we love God, we offer the entirety of our lives as a gift to Him. When our lives include great suffering, we are called to dig deep in turning away from self-absorption and toward giving love to God and neighbor. When we are grateful to God for the entirety of our lives, even when that includes great suffering, then we know that we are truly loving. In this way, suffering can enable us to see more clearly whether or not we truly love God. When we suffer, do we curse Him? Or do we let God transform our suffering for the blessings of His kingdom?

      I see that this response is longer than the post itself! I hope you don’t mind my going on and on, a bit rambling in places, but you raise a very important point. The original reflection was not meant to be a deep theological piece, but rather an interesting thought, even a little playful with the reference to the gift horse. I explore divine love and suffering more thoroughly in my book (It’s Good To Be Here, Sophia Institute Press, coming in December, 2019). Although I see the good that God can accomplish through suffering, I will not profess suffering as a gift — I will profess and proclaim the gift of life, honoring the fact that life always includes suffering and that God has loving power over all of life, loving power that can even transform suffering into joy.

      Thank you very much for reflecting with me! I hope that you share your thoughts to this response, so that I may grow in faith and understanding.
      Pax Christi
      Christina

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      • It’s good to be here too. Right here.
        And I am glad that I waited until now

        (now that you have been nudged to reveal
        what you came to know the hard way).

        But actually I feel as though I am here a lot
        In my mind, remembering being here before

        and thinking of the real presence of words,
        your many words, and a few images, like icons,

        that lead towards prayer, the kind without words
        because attending is enough, and bowing.

        . . . .

        Hi Dear Christina ! It is so nice that you are here on my screen, and I can visit whenever, no invitation needed, no appointment, just the need itself, my need to stay alive truly, if you know what I mean, and you do, I can tell, which is why I keep writing little rambling notes (see? rambling is fun, and often it takes you somewhere good and beautiful and true). Oh my, it’s late. I forget myself. But I don’t forget about God thanks to friends like you. Goodbye, goodnight, goodday always. . .

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      • I think all of my writing begins with rambling! Knowledge and experience need to be translated into words. Words — poetry or prose — are not the native language of life. Love is. And love is presence, not pronouncement.

        See? This is where your thoughts have led me, back to your understanding of prayer and that loving attendance is enough. It’s always good to be here with you, Al! ❤
        Pax Christi

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  2. I love your post Christina. I like the part where you say ‘ chocolate is even better when it’s shared. Remember that!!!
    I love you Christina. Your maman

    Liked by 1 person

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