By Andrew Kreye
When I was reading the dictionary the other day, I found the word ‘suffer.’
The definition stuck out to me: “to submit or be forced to endure” (Merriam-Webster).
As is the way with dictionaries, I just had to look up ‘endure’ next.
“Endure: to undergo, especially without giving in.”
“Self-Reflection Mode Activated!” said my brain. And after some reflecting, I started to notice a pattern in my life.
I am more willing to complain about inconveniences than I am to talk about greater suffering.
If I’m tired and don’t want to do my homework, don’t worry, I’ll let you know! But when a relative passes away, you may not know for a week.
This is what I recognized in myself, and it may be very different from what you, dear reader, notice in your own life.
However, it made me wonder, “What does it mean to suffer well?”
“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” – Luke 9:23
1. Grumble, Grumble
“Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish…” – Philippians 2:14-15a
In my earlier example of complaining, was I suffering?
Why? Because I was forced to endure my tiredness and homework. There was no way out of either! (Unless I had blown off my homework and had taken a nap…)
Was I blameless?
Here’s what I mean:
Imagine there are three people. Person #1 is telling a story. Persons #2 and 3 are reeeally bored.
Person #2 thinks, “Wow, this is really boring,” but she tries to stay interested and listen. Person #3, however, says, “Stop talking, you’re boring me.”
Person #1 is sad.
Who is to blame?
Why not person #2?
Because she endured. She did not give in to the temptation of believing “My feelings are more important than yours, and I feel bored,” or annoyed, or tired, or hungry.
HOWEVER. Notice that Person #2, although she is “without blemish”, still recognized that she felt bored.
The blame doesn’t come with the feeling but with what you choose to do in response to that feeling.
So let’s recapitulate (AKA recap).
Suffering is being forced to undergo something. Once we recognize how it makes us feel, we can respond to it. When that response is rooted in love and not in selfishness, then we have chosen not to give in, but to endure.
2. Be Sheep-like
“Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.” – Isaiah 53:7
Suffering is not good, but good can come of it because Christ gave redemptive power to suffering through his death and resurrection.
He changed it into something that can bring good. He made of himself a sacrifice on the Cross, offering himself to the Father to pay for our sins.
As members of Christ’s Body, God allows us to unite our suffering with Jesus’, turning it into a sacrifice, which brings us closer to him.
Every sacrifice involves suffering, but not all suffering is a sacrifice. It depends on how you choose to respond.
When we suffer, and we go, “Feel bad for me because I am inconvenienced!” we make the suffering the focus and the end. It isn’t a sacrifice, because we get something out of it (attention).
This stops the act of suffering from bearing fruit and prevents us from receiving the grace that God wants to give us through it.
Our suffering is no longer united completely with Jesus’ because we are trying to gain comfort from others and from the world.
Turning our suffering into sacrifice purifies us by detaching us from worldly comforts and by refocusing us on the things of Heaven, making us ready to encounter God.
If we want to conform our lives to Christ, and our suffering to His, then we need to suffer like him. To suffer for others.
3. Take Up Your Cross
“It was our pain that he bore, our sufferings, he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, but he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5
When Jesus carried his cross, the soldiers made a stranger help him. Simon of Cyrene carried it with him.
We may be forced to undergo suffering in our lives, and sometimes we won’t understand why, but suffering can always bring us closer to Christ.
Jesus suffered. I’ve heard those words so frequently that sometimes I don’t even react. But they are such a vital part of our faith that we pray them every Sunday at Mass in the Creed: “He suffered death and was buried.”
Jesus had the whole human experience. He knows what we go through because he lived it too, only without sin. Without turning away from God.
St. Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus gives us hope. He conquered death.
Sometimes when we suffer, we want to handle it on our own.
No matter how great or small the suffering is, go to God in it, and fall into his arms. Like a child with an owie.
When it’s more than you can take, tell someone. It’s OK to ask for help.
And always keep hope!
The story doesn’t end with death.
It doesn’t end with the burial.
Because after death comes the Resurrection.
But the Resurrection only comes after the Crucifixion.
“Remember that Jesus has gone before you bearing His cross and has given His life for you upon that cross, so that you may bear your own cross and long to die on it for love of Him. For if you die with Him, you will also live with Him; and if you have shared His suffering, you will also share His glory.” – The Imitation of Christ 2.12, Thomas à Kempis