I just went through a difficult time.
As I sat there closing one eye, then opening it while closing the other, going back and forth looking through each one, I thought that maybe the reason why there seemed to be a dark blotch covering half the view of my left eye was because I was tired. I went on with my day thinking it would go away after a good night’s sleep. I was wrong and found out that I was experiencing retinal detachment.
I had a great doctor, self-described “eye butcher”, who took care of me. At first I was told by others that I might need to stay on my back or stomach for 2-3 weeks. However, after one 24-hour period of staying on my back for 45 minutes of every hour (I was not allowed to even lie down at all the night before), I was able to go back to semi-normality.
This meant no restrictions in my positioning, but I was not able to pick up more than 5 lbs, including my two daughters and infant son, and was told to take it easy. I took two weeks off work and was unable to perform the tasks I was used to as a husband and father. Because of this I took kind of a tough hit. Maybe I felt like I lost my identity, maybe the seclusion and bed confinement were giving me cabin fever. I definitely felt a dark cloud descend, but I got through it and the cloud has since lifted.
Many people have it much worse than this and go through some extremely harsh trials. This causes them to question God’s goodness, power, and love. It seems like a fair question. Why would an all loving all-powerful, all-loving God allow us to hurt?
The answer to the question comes to us in the story told by the Gospels. Who knows suffering more than the Son of God, Who out of great love, came down to earth to be rejected, scorned, tortured, and killed by the very ones He came to save? And even in the midst of our greatest suffering, remembering this fact reminds us that we are immensely loved.
Furthermore, Jesus’ suffering on the cross takes away our sins. We choose sin out of free will, which is given to us by God. It is in this freedom to choose that we are able to reject God. However, without free will, we are merely robots programmed to obey, but with it, we are sons and daughters choosing to lovingly obey our Father.
Everything God created is good. It is human free will that has brought sin and the consequential suffering into the world. He allows this suffering to help us remember not to sin again and for a greater reason.
Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross to take away all sin, however, when we choose to sin, it still hurts us. It hurts our relationship with God, either venially or mortally, and every time we sin, we make it easier to choose to sin. This is done through our choice of pleasure over God.
Therefore, to undo the habit of choosing pleasure over God, we need to continually choose God over pleasure. This can come to us by choice (penance, fasting, and almsgiving), or those pains out of our control (sickness, vision loss, death of loved ones). Either way, any acceptance of suffering can make up for our sins and the we can offer it up for others.
Furthermore, it is during these times of suffering that we can unite our pain to that of Jesus’ on the cross. This is how Jesus transforms and gives value to our suffering. He takes our suffering, unites it to His own, and uses it to save us and others. In this way our suffering merits grace.
This means that a headache could help someone get to heaven. Or my eye surgery and subsequent healing process made up for many of my sins.
How good is that?! God took a consequence of Original Sin and made it into a treasure. We have a treasure in suffering in that we can help others with our pain. And really anything that causes discomfort can be offered up. This includes rejection, stubbed toes, not getting our way, burning dinner, not eating ice cream after dinner, a stomach flu, a minor cold, and much more.
Jesus came to set to the world on fire with His suffering. We can do the same with offering up our own. Our world currently commands us to avoid suffering at all costs, but imagine what it would be like if everyone embraced it like Christ embraced His cross.